In this post I take a term that you’re all probably well aware of and try to enlighten myself, and hopefully the few of you who are just as baffled as me, on its actual meaning.

As I dive deeper and deeper into the world of digital marketing even more words and phrases float up to reveal themselves, particularly ones that perhaps are more on the business end of the spectrum.

Last week I shot my investigative glare towards Customer Lifetime Value (CLV) and Single Customer View (SCV). This week: attribution.

What is attribution?

Taken on its own, the word attribution can of course mean ‘to give someone credit for doing something’. Roald Dahl can be attributed with writing George’s Marvellous Medicine; I can be attributed with creating that mess in the kitchen after reading George’s Marvellous Medicine.

The term marketing attribution is used in a very similar way.

What is marketing attribution?

Marketing attribution is the practice of determining the role that any given channel plays in informing and influencing the customer journey.

Basically, for any company to truly make any kind of informed decision for future strategy, it needs to understand the value of everything it does online.

There are so many ways that a customer can find your ecommerce site: organic results on a search engine, a PPC campaign, a link on Twitter, a retargeted display ad on another website...

Customer journeys are far from linear. They can happen across multiple platforms, devices and sessions.  

If you monitor all of your channels with regard to how each customer interacts with each one on their journey until they make a purchase, a percentage value can be attached to each channel. That way you can determine how important each channel was in the journey.

Unlike specific channel measurement, where the results can be very ‘black or white’, attribution relates every part of the journey in a subtly nuanced way. 

For instance, attribution can tell you how display ads can help paid search efforts, or how paid search affects SEO efforts, or how social and email can complement each other.

This is far more accurate than just attributing a sale to the last click and it can help businesses figure out which channels are the best for driving conversions and which either need further development or just aren’t worth the investment.

After all marketers don’t just want to justify their digital spend, they also want to optimise it.

Here are some further benefits of attribution as taken from our Valuing the customer journey report

Further reading for beginners...

During my first year at Econsultancy I’ve been making a point of writing beginner’s guides to any new terms or phrases I find particularly baffling, or that I might suspect other people may find baffling too. 

The following related articles should help clear up a few things:

Main image by Quentin Blake, courtesy of

To learn more about marketing and all things digital come to our Festival of Marketing event in November. A two day celebration of the modern marketing industry, featuring speakers from brands including LEGO, Tesco, Barclays, and more.

Christopher Ratcliff

Published 17 September, 2014 by Christopher Ratcliff

Christopher Ratcliff is the editor of Methods Unsound. He was the Deputy Editor of Econsultancy. You can follow him on Twitter or connect via Google+ and LinkedIn

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Comments (2)



Given that you use Roald Dahl as your example here, a link to the Roald Dahl website would be very much appreciated!

And, speaking of attribution - perhaps you should note that the picture you're using up there is by Quentin Blake...


Nicola (Digital Marketing for the Roald Dahl Estate)

almost 4 years ago

Christopher Ratcliff

Christopher Ratcliff, Editor at Methods Unsound / Search Engine Watch

@Nicola - Thank you so much for getting in touch. You're right, that is a gross oversight and I'm very ashamed not to have done so already. Attribution has been rightfully asserted.

almost 4 years ago

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