Many moons ago, my wife and I were vacationing on a beach in Crete. She took this picture of me on top of a rock ledge. I don’t know what got into me to attempt it, but once I got started, adrenaline took over. I had to swim to get to the base of it, then scale up the cliff by working my way sideways and up around outcroppings. I finally reached this shelf about 30 feet above the shoreline.

I learned something that day about how our brains think – as long as we reach our destination – we don`t focus on how we got there. How did I learn that? Because once I was up there, I had no clue how I got there and therefore no clue about how I’d get back down. I eventually made it back down, but my descent would have been easier if I had memorized which route I had taken. My wife asked me afterward if I would be able to repeat that feat – I said then and still say to this day that I have no idea how I’d get up there again!

This is the same problem many marketers face. We are so fixated about getting a conversion (a visitor completing a goal action), that when a conversion happens, we don’t pay attention to how it happened – the path it took to get there. Not even asking the visitor helps much here – they are simply too engaged on your site at the time to explain their thought process. It’s a real problem: if we don’t know how we achieved a successful conversion, we won’t know how to cause them a second time.

Google Analytics goalsThis problem is solved through proper attribution. Attribution looks at a conversion and asks “how did they get there?” Attribution seldom gets the attention it deserves. But just like my climb up the cliff, it takes a watchful, objective view from a distance to know the exact events that led up to a conversion. The best data source for finding attribution behind a successful visit is your web analytics, assuming that your analytics is set up for tracking conversions. Your web analytics platform not only attributes a conversion source, it shows what factors assisted the conversion.

What you need to focus on are just the visitors that became conversions (if you have conversions set up in Google Analytics, use Advanced Segments to filter just on those visitors). So you have enough data, you should strive for at least 10-15 recent site visitors who behaved the way we want and converted on a goal. Once you’ve found them, segment your audience into even smaller subgroups, by adding more columns of data about them (in Google Analytics these are called dimensions, your may have heard them called ‘independent variables’ back in school).

Once you sort the list according to things they have in common, you may notice some differences between segments of converting visitors and gain insight into what caused those conversions. Look for deviations; the larger the deviation, the larger the opportunity you have to improve conversions. I can’t say what attribution variables work best in your industry, but lets start with three common ones to get you started finding the attribution factors behind your conversions.


When most people talk attribution, they mean the marketing channel that was the source of the lead, it’s lead source. We often distinguish conversions that came from paid search (also known as PPC) as opposed to organic search. If a paid campaign brought conversions, you’ll have data on the search terms they used. If their keyword searches indicate specific information needs, put more content on your site with answers framed in those same keywords.


We all go through several stages as we make a buying decision. Depending on how far along a visitor is in their process (the awareness stage, the consideration stage or the purchasing stage), your message may or may not resonate. Before you try analyzing attribution on various website conversions, ensure the ones you are comparing all aim for the same stage of the buying process.

My goal-tracking may be simple - but it works!

My goal-tracking may be simple – but it works!

You may not think that the type of message or offer you gave a visitor matters, but there can be stark differences in how those choices perform across a large number of visitors. For example, does the average time from conversion to proposal differ when the offer is a webinar versus a contact form? If webinars turn into proposals in less time, perhaps its because your webinar single-handedly answers all their consideration and purchasing questions. Perhaps because it helps the buyer learn about you on a more human level, they are more comfortable contacting and dealing with you. Either way, anyone being presented with attribution data like this would offer the webinar to every visitor on the site, in order to shrink the sales cycle!

Keep in mind that attribution doesn’t have to be just digital. Phone calls are one of the most common types of conversion; its easier than ever to tie call data back to your website analytics.


For this attribution research, you will need to get sales on board; their data will be crucial to your analysis. If your company has other touch-points with visitors, make sure your attribution work includes them as well.Attribution is like standing on  Mountain Cliff

Obtain the leads sent over to sales, with ratings on their quality as sales prospects. Then try filtering the high-quality leads by which marketing channel brought them or which page they converted on. If this analysis shows how the high-quality leads differ from the rest, you could reallocate budgets to those channels, or steer more visitors to those converting pages that brought them, who obviously felt the call-to-action spoke directly to them.


Attribution is more than just assigning a lead source to a conversion, it’s the key to knowing how to repeat our successes. We must examine the ‘lead quality’ of those conversions, how they came and what they saw on our site (and probably other factors) to say what turned them into a converted visitor.

As you use attribution to find evidence about which factor most clearly drives visitor conversion, you will discover how you can optimize your site. Once you pour effort into that area of your site, you’re bound to get more conversions. Regardless of what you learn, changes you apply to your site will make it easy for all visitors to follow in the footsteps of your converting visitors. In the meantime, if you want to catch me exploring attribution some more, don’t expect to find me climbing any cliffs, I’ll be at my desk looking at my web analytics.