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5 min read

Understanding multi-channel attribution can unlock your brand’s potential on paid social and display

This article was updated on: 07.02.2022

Note: This post originally appeared on The Drum.

Compared with paid search ads, there are so many more placements and impressions available across the various types of display inventory out there. However, for many marketers, the fear of immeasurable or delayed results mean ad budgets continue to be invested into paid search despite the squeeze on margins.

It’s true that attribution modelling and the differences in platform reporting can be a minefield, however with a fair and tested measurement plan, it’s possible to understand the causal impact broader, ’top-of-funnel’ activity can have on results.

The AIDA model

Paid search is by its very nature assisting with sales at the bottom of the funnel due to the inbound nature, and the high levels of intent. Paid search ad visitors have a relatively high propensity to purchase on a visit following an ad click, as you’re solving a particular timely need.

Prospects who see or click on a social, display or video ad may not yet even have intent to purchase from you, however you have contributed to their awareness of the product, or began to build the need they will later come to realise they have.

As I posted recently on our response to Covid-19, advertisers who advertise purely through inbound channels will eventually reach diminishing marginal returns – that is they have effectively covered their part of the inbound search market, and the small number of marginal searchers beyond that are harder to reach and will cost them dearly.

It’s the channels in the article’s headline that then come into play – broadening the prospect list and generating previously unknown demand.


Understanding which channel to credit — or more likely, which channels to credit proportionally — is key to having a functional multi-channel strategy. Only once you feel comfortable in rewarding the value brought by non-direct digital marketing, will you feel comfortable investing more budget in these channels.

From our viewpoint as being search professionals, we see a number of limiting factors inside organisations and teams which can hold back this approach:

  • Available budget: if you have a budget sufficient to advertise to the size of the audience who are at the bottom of the funnel only, then that is fine and that’s ultimately where the best ROI/ROAS can be found. Without expansion work, this audience will not grow, but you can make great margins if your numbers stack up.
  • Technology: if you don’t have the correct platform tracking pixels configured, or have not configured goals and events in your primary analytics platform, you will lack the data density to make decisions. Similarly if you don’t dashboard your information so that assisted conversions are attributed then the full picture will not be visible.
  • Digital sophistication: if your marketing and sales departments lack the experience and team or manager support to make the most of multi-dimensional analytics information then the outcome will typically fall back to a last-click approach of investing only at the bottom of the funnel.

Digital marketing sophistication

We’ve seen ‘digital sophistication’ used in numerous places across the digital marketing transformation landscape. It references the shift from traditional to digital, and from single channel digital towards digital integration.

Companies without the above resources and support typically default to a last-click (or last non-direct click) attribution model as for channels like paid search this can lead to quicker gains.

Those who understand attribution a little more begin to understand that specific channels are all part of the puzzle. Typically we see this progression tie one-to-one with the segments of the AIDA marketing funnel model.

At the bottom of the funnel, the inbound channels such as paid search and Shopping capture high-intent inbound demand. Above this, to prompt a stronger desire emotion, companies typically use display and social remarketing to share brand stories, product and category attributes and narrow the prospect’s focus onto the specific product they’ve shown previous interest in.

Above this, at the ‘interest’ stage, prospective customers might be returning for only the first or second time. Broad remarketing and retargeting tactics may be in place to establish whether or not the prospect is ‘in the market’ for a purchase. Optionally, on some platforms, additional demographic or behavioural overlays might be included on these audiences.

At the top of the funnel is the broadest targeting, where you are attempting to generate ’awareness’ in a cold audience that has not heard of your product or brand previously. At this level, ‘in market’ audiences, demographic and firmographic information is leveraged to narrow and test subsets of the wider audience on their interest. Where good existing purchaser audience data exists, “similar audiences” can also be used to target individuals who look like your past purchasers as they may have a higher propensity to become a customer of yours.

These few paragraphs feature only a small number of specific digital paid advertising channels however you can see how by intertwining them the full working funnel idea is very compelling.

Your multi-channel attribution information

The likelihood is that as a reader of this article, you’re already sitting on some very useful multi-channel attribution information that will unlock your ability to better utilise the full stack of ad channels at your disposal.

Your Google Analytics account may not have your own custom channel groupings defined, but the standard out-of-the-box settings should be enough to get you started.

Look at your assisted conversions and see if they match up with your expectations – for example here we can see paid social ads, a top-of-funnel approach contributing to almost twice the direct number of conversions we’ve seen from that channel, when previous touchpoints are considered.

Likewise visit your ’top conversion paths’ to understand the sequential nature of channel visits and the subsequent conversion. Without valuing the initial and subsequent traffic acquisition channels, sponsorship and to some extent, paid social could potentially have their budgets cut, rather than increased.

Using multi-channel attribution to grow your brand

A fuller understanding of how multi-channel attribution enables you to distribute your digital advertising budget more fairly across channels that represent the full marketing funnel. With this knowledge, you’ll feel more empowered to report to your stakeholders how your activity is not only capturing inbound demand, but is growing it over time, too.