Channel Attribution Risks and Hurdles in Affiliate Marketing

Oleksandr Rohovnin
Content Marketer
12 minute read
Oleksandr Rohovnin
Content Marketer
12 minute read

For those running multiple affiliate marketing campaigns, precise channel attribution is essential. After all, how else could you differentiate top-performing affiliates and marketing channels and issue commissions on time?

Now, allow us a data-driven guess: your channel attribution is imperfect, with some blind spots in the customer journey and affiliate performance. You are fighting tooth and nail to dissect your affiliate campaigns, yet you cannot always come on top.

How do we know that? You’re not alone. For the lion’s share of affiliate marketers, channel and conversion attribution is a challenging undertaking, if not unknown territory. Evaluating touchpoints is extremely difficult for complex customer journeys abundant with transitions and switches.

Channel Attribution Risks and Hurdles in Affiliate Marketing - 2

Source: Statista

New to affiliate marketing? Here’s a guide to kickstart your journey.

Imagine a potential customer has discovered your brand on YouTube, clicked on an affiliate link, and signed out without making a purchase. In the following weeks, they rediscovered your brand on Instagram and made an impulse purchase using an Instagram influencer’s affiliate link.

Here’s the conundrum: How could you know which channel triggered the purchase: YouTube or Instagram? How would you distribute the revenue? Were both touchpoints equally helpful?

That’s the complexity of channel attribution. Even refined multi-channel attribution may not reflect non-linear, unpredictable, and at times obscure customer behavior.

Source: GIPHY

  • Multi-channel attribution, also known as omnichannel attribution or cross-channel attribution, is assigning value to multiple channels that a customer has interacted with before the conversion. Multi-channel attribution identifies how different marketing channels have affected the purchase decision and allows for issuing a fair commission that reflects an indirect contribution to the conversion.

However, the complexity of channel distribution doesn’t mean you have no chance. In fact, you can still overcome the majority of channel attribution hurdles as long as you identify them and have an action plan.

Today we’ll wade through to the murky waters of channel attribution, trying to find out what beasts are lurking there and how to tame them. Put on your galoshes and prepare for valuable insights on data-driven multi-channel attribution.

Want to beat the game of affiliate marketing? Learn your way to becoming an affiliate marketer without breaking a sweat.

Channel Attribution in a Nutshell

As you draw customers from numerous marketing channels, you must measure how these channels perform – unless you assume all your channels are equal (which is never the case). To identify your affiliate goldmines and eliminate unprofitable channels, you need accurate channel attribution.

  • Channel attribution evaluates touchpoints that a customer undergoes on the conversion path so you can understand what triggered the conversion and how much this effort is worth.

Like advertisers, affiliates and affiliate networks can also benefit from channel attribution:

  • For affiliates, accurate channel attribution means counting marketing efforts regardless of whether they spearheaded the purchase or contributed to it indirectly.
  • For affiliate networks, accurate channel attribution means higher customer trust, timely payouts, and bottom-line growth.

But it’s not all that rosy. No single attribution model can satisfy all campaigns, nor can you keep your attribution model accurate at all times. But you should try.

Channel Attribution Risks and Hurdles in Affiliate Marketing - 3

Source: Thinkwithgoogle

The Flaws of Standard Channel Attribution Models

Before switching to tailored affiliate marketing software, most marketers leverage classic Google Analytics attribution models: Last Click, Last Non-Direct Click, Last Google Ads Click, First Interaction, Linear, Time decay, and Position-Based.

Unfortunately, all these models are inherently flawed and unable to provide effective attribution under changing circumstances. Let’s review each of them and what risks and sacrifices they entail.

Last Click Channel Attribution: I Came, I Saw, I Conquered

As its name suggests, last-click attribution – direct, non-direct, or ads click – gives credit solely to the pre-purchase touchpoint while ignoring everything that happened before. Like scientists who prefer not to think about what happened before the Big Bang, last-click aficionados consciously ignore the entire customer journey for the sake of its pinnacle.

  • The main benefits of direct causality are insights into the sole sales touchpoint and simplicity. However, last-click attribution leaves everything else in the shade and completely disincentivizes early efforts. With this model, raising brand recognition and awareness is out of the question.

Last-click attribution severs the coherence of a sales funnel, reducing complex cross-channel interactions and decision-making to the idea of an impulse purchase by a customer. Can such a model be effective? For sure, it can, but only for sales-focused campaigns that you will not use as a benchmark for general assumptions about your affiliate marketing performance.

First Click Channel Attribution: Back to the Big Bang

If relying on the last click is so wrong, what if we turn the tables? First-click attribution is another model popular with a fair share of marketers. The longer the customer journey, the less effective the first-click attribution model.

For a journey started on a third-party website, developed on Instagram, and climaxed in a re-engagement AMP email, would it be fair to give all credit to whoever was the first in the chain? Fetishizing touchpoints is unfair and unprofitable.

Source: GIPHY

Linear Channel Attribution: An Imperfect Attempt To Balance It Up

The linear attribution model may seem like an attempt to revitalize communism within the framework of affiliate marketing. You know what “linear” means, right? Everyone involved in the process gets exactly the same reward regardless of the magnitude of one’s impact.

  • With linear distribution, an affiliate link clicked months before the purchase will receive the same reward as the one that actually triggered the purchase. 

It might resemble a fair game in which everyone has a fighting chance, but what about fair evaluation and reward proportional to the contribution? Why would anyone put extra effort into promoting your products if it doesn’t pay off?

But let’s not be too harsh on linear distribution. At least it recognizes the full customer journey and encourages cross-channel marketing. With every channel valued the same, marketers can promote your products and services on their best medium without worrying about its commercial side.

Time Decay Channel Attribution: Time Is Money

Finally, we’ve come to a more or less objective channel attribution model, which assumes the interest in your product grows – proportionally or non-linear – closer to the purchase. And it’s hard to argue with. Regardless of what triggers the purchase, it happens at the peak of interest and motivation. It’s easy to imagine customers buying a product they don’t need, but much harder to imagine customers buying a product they think they don’t need.

However, even time decay channel attribution is not a deus ex machina for affiliate marketers, with the biggest drawback being the oversimplification of the customer journey. There’s no guarantee your predetermined time decay pattern will play out with all your campaigns – most likely, it won’t.

Ask yourself, is there a chance some of your customers were so impressed by your Instagram, Twitter, or TikTok performance that it contributed to the purchase more than the technical trigger of this purchase? Complex decision-making cannot be accounted for by time decay attribution, but don’t get discouraged.

Meet our winner: data-driven channel attribution.

Data-Driven Channel Attribution: The Crown of Creation

Data-driven channel attribution is the only way to avoid the pitfalls of simplistic models when connecting and evaluating marketing campaigns, channels, touchpoints, and affiliates. Not only does it provide an overarching view of your campaigns, but it also audits your affiliate marketing business to identify room for improvement.

Alas, multi-channel attribution with Google Analytics isn’t perfect. Even if you switch from the default last-click attribution to data-driven attribution, you may not be able to unlock as much data as with professional affiliate marketing software.

Attribution Issues With Google Analytics

No attribution for offline and external channels

For online channels, Google Analytics requires direct integration. It will not provide attribution data for offline channels and channels that are not integrated.


Measuring offline ads, display ads on third-party websites, and social media interactions that are beyond your digital reach may be channeling, if not impossible, with Google Analytics.

Suboptimal multi-channel attribution

Google Analytics will not provide accurate conversion attribution after cookie expiration or if a customer switches devices.
Lack of attribution details

Google Analytics does connect some dots, but not all of them. Quite effective for tracking touchpoints, Google Analytics lacks insights into affiliates’ performance and their impact on your campaigns.

Overcoming the Channel Attribution Limitations

Custom data-driven attribution models are the best way to meet the specific needs of different business avenues. As flawed as standard channel attribution models are, they can synergize if combined.

Channel Attribution by Business Objectives

Attribution Type  

Business Objectives

  • Understanding initial brand discovery
  • Increasing brand awareness
  • Developing effective top-of-funnel strategies
  • Maximizing immediate profits
  • Revealing profitable sales triggers
  • Developing effective bottom-of-funnel strategies
  • Equating all marketing channels
  • Mitigating risks of ignoring profitable marketing channels
Time Decay
  • Encouraging sales-focused channels while giving credit to all involved channels
  • Rewarding top-of-funnel channels within long sales cycles
  • Prioritizing top-of-funnel and bottom-of-funnel strategies at the expense of the rest of the journey
  • Encouraging the first and the last interaction while giving some credit to everything in between
  • Relying on the actual data from previous affiliate campaigns
  • Developing business strategies that reflect the real state of affairs

Tailored attribution that resonates with unique business conditions, objectives, and capabilities

While data-driven channel attribution encompasses numerous, if not all, existing channel attribution models, there are quite a few obstacles to overcome before you can safely switch from your current attribution model to a more advanced one.

These challenges include a lack of integration data, limited technical capabilities, high integration costs, complexity of interpretation, resistance to change, and lack of knowledge of data-driven channel attribution and its implementation.

Channel Attribution Risks and Hurdles in Affiliate Marketing - 4

Source: Think with Google

That said, you shouldn’t underestimate the power of third-party affiliate tracking software and lead management systems for channel attribution. Having all data brought to a single dashboard and clear marketing insights from AI algorithms, you leverage multi-channel attribution modeling to develop your unique multi-attribution model.

Don’t waste any more time! Learn to improve attribution and maximize affiliate profits with affiliate marketing software.

Long story short, there are two surefire ways to improve your channel attribution:

  • Integrate affiliate marketing software into your CRM or lead management system.
  • Design an all-encompassing lead management system that uses all available marketing data.

Let’s explore further.

How Affiliate Marketing Software Can Improve Channel Attribution

Proprietary affiliate marketing software like Lynx will take your multi-channel attribution to the next level through sophisticated tracking, precise targeting, and real-time analysis of your affiliate marketing campaigns. Whether you are an advertiser or an affiliate network, you will get your customer journey on a silver platter, including who, when, and why clicked on your links and whether the journey resulted in a conversion.

Lynx will smoothly integrate with lead management products like LMS Sync and Call Logic to create a holistic affiliate management system that covers every marketing campaign and touchpoint.

How a Lead Management Ecosystem Can Improve Channel Attribution

If affiliate marketing software like Lynx addresses marketing, an all-encompassing lead management platform like LMS Sync can revolutionize your business as such. From lead tracking to distribution to analytics, LMS Sync will dispel the mystery of the customer journey into measurable actions a customer takes on their way to conversion.

LMS Sync can forecast affiliate campaign outcomes based on the historical data, analytical algorithms, and parameters you want to model. You will replace the costly trial-and-error approach with data-driven, free, and riskless predictive modeling.

Redefine Your Channel Attribution With Phonexa

With its unique all-in-one approach, Phonexa oversees and improves your marketing ecosystem without guesswork and risk. The exhaustive details you get within a single intuitive dashboard unlock the full spectrum of business opportunities, including channel attribution, effective lead trade, and more.

Take your affiliate marketing to the next level with your custom affiliate marketing software suite, or schedule a consultation to learn more about Phonexa.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is conversion attribution in affiliate marketing?

Conversion attribution assigns a conversion to an affiliate, with the latter receiving a commission for their promotional efforts. Accurate conversion attribution is necessary for evaluating your affiliate partners and marketing channels.

What is channel attribution?

Channel attribution assigns a value to a particular channel that contributed to a conversion. The difference between conversion attribution and channel attribution is that the former usually pertains solely to a purchase, whereas the latter covers all interactions along the conversion path.

What is multi-touch attribution?

Multi-touch attribution assigns a value for multiple touchpoints a customer undergoes before the purchase. Multi-touch attribution is often used interchangeably with multi-channel attribution, as both terms denote multiple marketing touchpoints across various channels.

What are the major channel attribution models in affiliate marketing?

The major channel attribution models in affiliate marketing include single touch attribution (last/first click/ads attribution), linear attribution, time decay attribution, position-based attribution, data-driven attribution, and custom attribution.
To create an optimal attribution model for your business, you need proprietary affiliate marketing software that will collect and analyze data across every touchpoint in the customer journey.

How does the full path attribution model calculate credit?

The full path attribution model gives credit to all touchpoints a customer undergoes. You can give equal credit to all touchpoints – as the linear channel attribution model does – or assign more weight to specific interactions.

What are the hurdles for spotless channel attribution in affiliate marketing?

Immaculate channel attribution is almost impossible for several reasons:
– The inability to reflect affiliates’ uniqueness, differences in sales cycles, and traffic channels
– Lack of customer data
Affiliate marketing fraud

However, you can optimize your channel attribution with the help of up-to-date affiliate tracking software and all-encompassing lead management systems like LMS Sync. A comprehensive lead tracking and analytics platform will bring it all together so you can know what traffic channels to double down on and what to eliminate.

What is affiliate fraud?

Affiliate marketing fraud and affiliate scams can take many forms, including click fraud, cookie stuffing, fake referrals, misrepresentation, and more. Unfortunately, affiliate fraud harms honest advertisers and affiliates. But then again, you can safeguard yourself from fraud marketing by joining a reputable affiliate program such as Phonexa’s pay-per-lead affiliate program.

Is affiliate marketing a scam?

Albeit 67% of respondents are worried about affiliate marketing scams and 69.1% have fallen for affiliate marketing fraud, affiliate marketing is not a scam. Affiliate marketing is based on a legit business model in which advertisers pay affiliates to promote their products. Moreover, 57.55% of affiliate marketers make up to $10,000, and 3.78% make over $150,000 annually. To protect from affiliate scams and fraud, you can use affiliate fraud detection solutions or software with built-in affiliate fraud detection.

Likewise, the web is abundant with legitimate affiliate marketing programs, so you can always find one that suits you. However, before committing to an affiliate program, examine its background, payment model, commission size, and affiliate marketing software.
To monetize leads, you can join Phonexa’s pay-per-lead affiliate program. Before that, here’s a guide on how to boost your revenue per lead in affiliate marketing.

Affiliate Marketing Fraud Types and Objectives

Fraud Type


Fake referrals

Increase commission earnings through fake referrals

Cookie stuffing

Earn commissions by stuffing a cookie onto the user’s device without the consent of the latter

Click fraud

Earn commissions by clicking your own affiliate links using bots


Increase sales through deceptive marketing strategies 

Got Questions?

Get in touch! We are available 24/7.

Oleksandr Rohovnin avatar
Oleksandr Rohovnin
Content Marketer

Oleksandr Rohovnin is a Content Marketer at Phonexa. His passion is digital marketing, innovative technologies, and – above all – distilling vast amounts of complex information into engrossing narratives anyone can relate to. At Phonexa, Oleksandr stokes passion for marketing automation and lead generation in every story he curates.

Education: Zaporizhzhya National Technical University

Expertise: Digital marketing, affiliate marketing, call tracking, lead tracking, insurance


  • 8+ years of writing and editing experience in B2B and B2C

  • Unconventional synergy of writing talent and technical knack

  • Avid proponent of sports, gaming, and reading

Related Posts

How To Decrease Bounce Rate on Long Lead Capture Forms

Bounce rate is a pivotal metric that can often determine the success or failure of...

Read more
Data Depreciation

Data Deprecation: Best Practices for Modern Advertisers

Once again, Google has postponed cookie deprecation in Chrome until 2025 without specifying exact dates....

Read more
Graphical representation of the importance of AI in education

Education Affiliate Marketing: How To Maximize Your Earnings [+10 Best Affiliate Programs]

Never has a student’s digital toolbox been so diverse and education affiliate marketing opportunities so...

Read more
Get Your Personalized Consultation Now
Book a Free Demo