Inbound Marketing + Sales Blog

May 5, 2015

How to Calculate Inbound Marketing ROI with Attribution Modeling

Written by: Guido Bartolacci  |  Share:


According to the Content Marketing Institute, one of the top areas that B2B marketers are eager to learn more about are the key metrics they need to measure, and how they should be tracked to show the ROI of their efforts. Let's start by looking at these two astounding facts from the same study: 

70% of B2B marketers are creating more content than they did one year ago, even those who say they are least effective (58%) and those without any type of strategy (56%)
Measurement is a key area where B2B marketers are struggling: Only 21% say they are successful at tracking ROI

There is clearly a huge disconnect in the number of companies that adopt content marketing as a part of their larger inbound strategy and those that are able to provide clear attribution of these efforts to their company's pipeline. 

In today's post, we're going to examine five attribution models that can be used to prove the ROI on your inbound marketing initiatives, and even take a look at how marketing leaders such as Joe Chernov and Sujan Patel show blog attribution at HubSpot and When I Work.

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Calculating Inbound Marketing ROI with Attribution Modeling

First-Touch Attribution Model:

Since blogging is so effective at driving traffic from organic search, social media and referrals, a first-touch attribution model is perhaps the simplest way to apply credit to a given marketing tactic. This method is one of the simplest methods to implement as the first step in understanding the success of your inbound efforts. However, a first-touch model doesn't show the entire picture or value of an asset as a prospect continues to engage with your content over time. Nonetheless, it is an important place to start when illustrating blog attribution. 

To leverage this model, website visitors must be cookie'd when they are still anonymous on their first visit using a platform such as HubSpot. In using this model, you can report on overall monthly blog-generated leads. If you are using this model alone, 100 percent of the revenue is then attributed to the asset that generated this first view or click. This looks like: 

First-Touch Attribution Model


And we can see that this is one of the models that Sujan Patel uses at When I Work: 


However, as Sujan hinted at in his response to Matt's question on the AMA, the clear drawback of this model is that visitors are engaging with much more of your content, especially in a complex buying journey. This means that many of your assets would not get credit for a final sale, so that it results in your content being undervalued. In turn, this overvalues the first-touch channel that is responsible for building awareness. Enter: last-touch attribution modeling to help fill in this gap. 

Last-Touch Attribution Model:

A last-touch attribution model gives credit to the last post viewed before a contact converted on a landing page and became an engaged lead. A last-touch model is beneficial for looking at your most influential posts for driving leads at the top of the funnel.

In a last-touch model, 100 percent of the revenue is attributed to the last-touched post, and looks like this: 

Last-Touch Attribution Model


Again, this is now only showing your posts that are helping you convert visitors to leads, but it's not necessarily showing you the posts that are bringing visitors to your site, as Joe Chernov pointed out in his AMA:


Thus, by looking at both first-touch and last-touch attribution we are able to get a better idea of the blog posts that are helping us drive leads. A combination attribution model looks like this:

First- & Last-Touch Attribution Model


This model is a great place to start for companies to better understand how their blog is contributing to your pipeline. But again, it does fall short in undervaluing the role the rest of your content plays over the entire sales cycle. 

Multi-Touch Attribution Models:

With the inherent drawbacks of each of these three simpler models, sophisticated marketing teams have turned to more complex multi-touch and omni-channel attribution models to track their marketing efforts. 

Linear Attribution Model:

If you have a complex buyer's journey, a linear attribution model allows you to attribute each touch with equal importance. This model aligns well with the way that buyers are making decisions today as prospects are consuming more content than ever before making a purchasing decision. This will also address any concerns about unfair attribution given to the first or last touch. 

Linear Attribution Model 


Time-Decay Attribution Model:

A time decay attribution model gives the most weight to the last touch, and then slightly less revenue credit moving back to the first touch, and looks like this: 

Time-Decay Attribution Model


This is not a great model for content marketing, especially blogging, as it is undervaluing the first touches at the top of the funnel where your blog is serving as an attraction engine, and rightfully deserves credit for doing so. However, this model can be great to help identify key sales-enablement content if reps are using blogs and content offers throughout the sales process. 

Bonus! Take your B2B reporting to the next level with account-based attribution:

In a complex buying process, there are often different stakeholders, including champions, gatekeepers and decision-makers. To take your attribution reporting to the next level, you can use account-based attribution to see the pages that all the different stakeholders in a business visited before the final buying decision was made. 

Ultimately, you need to make a decision on which attribution model to use based on which questions you're trying to answer about your content and the role it plays at each stage of the funnel.

What other struggles do you experience in proving the ROI of inbound marketing? Leave us a comment below.


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Topics: Inbound Sales, Inbound Marketing, Demand Generation, Reporting & ROI

About The Author

By day Guido generates demand and focuses on unifying marketing and sales teams to build successful business growth engines. When it comes time to kick off his shoes, he likes to relax and think about how to leverage content creation & distribution, lifecycle marketing, personalization and multi-channel inbound marketing campaigns to attract visitors and convert them into leads. He enjoys spending the rest of his free time developing a vision for analytics architecture, predictive models and efficient workflows across marketing and sales. He gets jazzed about driving ROI by making data actionable while optimizing the entire marketing to sales funnel.

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