6 minute read

Attribution in a PR Context – What All the Confusing Terms Mean

Great news; you’re working with the analytics guys or co-reporting with the digital team or learning more about marketing measurement…

The bad news; you’re hit with language you’ve never heard or know what it means!

We get it. It’s not always appropriate to stop meetings and ask for definitions and let’s face it, even though we shouldn’t; we’re often nervous to ask what we think might be a ‘stupid question’ to stakeholders.

It’s important for Public Relations to be included in overall marketing measurement (attribution). The industry needs you in the room using the lingo! So we’re here to help…

We’ve collected all the terms associated with it in this handy glossary so you never have to feel out of the loop again. 


Attribution refers to the measurement of actions a user takes. This could be anything from visiting a website, downloading a piece of content, signing up for a free trial, or making a purchase. Attribution assigns these actions with a value and helps brands determine the route customers take to purchase. 


We’re not talking about the chocolate chip variety here. Instead, in an attribution context, it refers to a small piece of data (like a label) that’s sent from a website and stored on a user’s computer. 

The data holds information about the user and their browsing habits, and each one is unique to every user. They were originally created as a way for websites to remember what a visitor had done on their website in order to personalise content and enable things like adding items to a shopping basket. More recently they’ve been used to gather useful information about their visitors so they could serve personalised ads and track website performance. and other relevant content. 

First Click / First Touch 

First click is part of an attribution model that rewards the first click that brings a visitor to a website. This click is given credit for any sale or conversion that takes place, regardless of what steps the user takes afterwards. This method of attribution is great for figuring out what the start of the buyer journey looks like. Google Analytics works by incorporating a cookie on the user’s website. It records the URL of the site the user was on before they ended up on the final website. 

Last Click / Touch

Last click is basically the first click model in reverse. Instead of giving all the credit to the first click a user takes to end up on a website, the last click model rewards – you got it – the last click. This method can help you identify the final point in the buying journey and determine the best channels for converting visitors into leads. 

Data Driven Attribution

Data driven attribution is a way of assessing attribution without relying on a specific method (like first click or last click). Instead, all the touchpoints and analysed and assessed using machine learning techniques. They are then assigned a value based on how effective they were in impacting the final sale. 

Google is pushing towards a data driven future with Google Ads, but it still uses the last click method in Google Analytics as a default. 


Consumers today rarely stick to one channel during the buying journey and brands rarely have just one platform – for example, they might have an Amazon store, their own website, and a store on another marketplace, like Shopify or Magento. 

To decipher the path customers take, brands use a multichannel attribution method. This tracks and assigns credit to different marketing touchpoints throughout the conversion process. For example, credit might be assigned to a social media post and an email marketing form for a user that visited and bought from a website via that route. 

Brands can use data gathered from multichannel attribution to get a better understanding of their buyer’s journey and the different types of interactions that influence conversions. Here is a detailed guide to breaking down multi-channel attribution and how to correctly leverage it. 

Cross Device Attribution 

Just like consumers don’t carry out the buying journey on one channel, they often don’t carry it out on one device either. 

Instead, they switch between their desktop, mobile, and tablet before they get to the end point. Cross device attribution refers to the measurement and reporting of conversions as they take place across different devices. This can give brands an insight into what actions their customers take on specific devices – for example, they might carry out research on a mobile device, but make an actual purchase from their desktop. 

Holidays are the perfect example here. Lots of travellers will do research for their trip on their phones, but will turn to their desktop or laptop to make an actual purchase. Here’s how Google tracks conversions across devices to correctly attribute where a sale came from. 

Look Back / Attribution Window

Look back describes the window of time after an ad is clicked that it can still be attributed in. For example, if someone clicks an ad and then buys the advertised product three weeks later, the lookback period is three weeks. 

Scenario Planning 

Attribution gives brands an insight into which touchpoints are the most successful. This provides them with specific recommendations they can implement to optimise ROI through “what-if” scenario analysis. This is known in the world of attribution as scenario planning, and helps brands map out different buyer journeys based on a range of potential situations. 


Touchpoints are the different points of interaction a user has with a brand. They can be as small as a social media post to something much bigger, like a personal email or a call to a support team. It’s thought that it takes around seven touchpoints before a consumer buys from a brand, so it’s important to determine which touchpoints are the most effective. 

Conversion Funnel / Conversion Path 

You may have already heard about the conversion funnel in PR planning and takes the entire buyer journey into account. It incorporates the different touchpoints that cause a user to convert, as well as the interactions they take that push them from one stage of the sales cycle to the next. Through attribution, brands are able to see what interactions are the most powerful and use insights to make their conversion funnel slicker. 

A conversion funnel is basically an accumulation of all the above points and looks at the entire funnel in totality rather than in different sections, touchpoints, and devices.

It’s worth remembering here that, while PR often doesn’t relate directly to a sale, it’s often an important touchpoint in the conversion funnel. For example, consumers might initially hear about a product through a piece of coverage, but go on to buy it after going through several more touchpoints. 

Lifetime Value

The lifetime value refers to the predicted value of a customer over the entire length of their relationship with a brand. For example, someone might buy a pair of shoes for £30 every two years from the same brand for ten years, making their lifetime value (LTV) £150. When looked at this way, the LTV relates to how much a brand manager might want to spend on acquiring one customer. 


Usually, goals are referred to in the context of Google Analytics. You can set up goals that you want visitors to achieve when they visit your site – for example, you might want them to download a guide, sign up for a free trial, or buy a product. This is basically the end point that your conversion funnel works towards. Aagin, as PR doesn’t often lead directly to a sale, you may want to think about what goals to set up as a measure of your PR activity.


Similarly to a goal, the term conversion simply means a point where a visitor took a specific action. This is usually a purchase but again, this might be downloading a guide or signing up for a trial. 


Channel refers to the different platforms and places users can interact with a brand. It includes things like social media, email, and on-site. 


CPA (or cost per acquisition) calculates what the average cost of getting a new customer is. It’s calculated by dividing the number of new customers in a certain period of time by the marketing budget for the same period of time. For example, if you spend £5,000 on marketing activities over a month and gain 200 new customers, your CPA is £25. 

Assisted Conversions 

Assisted conversions refer to the specific actions a visitor takes or the interactions they make on a website that lead up to a conversion – this doesn’t include the final touchpoint, though. In Google Analytics, these “assists” are assigned a value based on the end transaction.   


Again, referrals are commonly associated with Google Analytics and describe the place a visitor came from to get to your site. For example, if they came through Twitter, then that is considered the “referer”. 

Getting started in Attribution

Attribution can be a complicated beast with a ton of buzzwords to get your head around. Yet it is a fascinating topic – especially when it comes to measuring your PR.

If you work in PR and want to learn more about attribution, a good first step is to listen to Stella’s interview with attribution expert, Russell McAthy on the PR Resolution Podcast. Stella covers what ‘attribution’ means, how PR fits into overall marketing evaluation, and how you can talk about it with your stakeholders- you can listen to it here

Written by —
Laura Joint

Laura Joint

Laura is a Director at CoverageBook. She writes and helps PR teams succeed in the reporting of their hard work.