First click vs last click attribution models – which is better?

If you have ever researched or discussed marketing channel attribution, you know there are a lot of differing views on the best way to approach customer attribution. Some people strongly believe in first click attribution, some prefer to measure their marketing channels on last click attribution. In both attribution models there are pros and cons, and when it comes to measuring your digital marketing channels and campaigns, one is not necessarily better than the other – we’ll explain why below.

Beyond these more simple first-click and last-click attribution models, there are more complex ones like “time decay,” “position based,” and more. Just popping open the Google Analytics attribution report gives you access to all of these options:

google analytics marketing channel attribution options

And even beyond the 7 out-of-the-box options you can also construct your own “custom attribution model.”

Just google-ing “marketing attribution tool” returns enough vendors and lists of vendors to make your head spin, and often the integration and tagging needed to enable this kind of software is prohibitively intense – not to mention the high monthly costs.

search results for marketing attribution tools

Basically the “attribution” space is a bit of a mess and it’s hard to know the best methodology to adopt. In order to simplify the problem, we’ve put together an approach to marketing attribution that is light-weight, free to implement, and will get you all the information you need to help you make key business decisions.

Simplifying marketing attribution

At the end of the day, the reason that companies are trying to solve this problem (and are willing to spend a lot of money solving it) is to simply understand the question – where are your customers coming from?

To understand the answer to this, the key is to understand the customer path and which channels are pushing them through the funnel at the beginning, middle, and end of that path. Here is how to understand that:

The beginning of the path – Awareness

Attribution model recommended: First touch attribution

Attribution tracking tool recommended: Survey

The middle of the path – Consideration

Attribution model recommended: First click attribution

Attribution tracking tool recommended: Email signup source tracking

The end of the path – Conversion

Attribution model recomended: Last click conversion

Attribution tool recommended: Google Analytics

Note the difference between first “touch” and first “click.” This is because often a customer will actually first hear about you and not go to your website or app in that moment. If we only look at channels that drive customers directly to your site or app (first click) you are missing a lot of different touches that occur to drive awareness. Of course there are tools within Facebook, AdWords, and display vendors that track impressions and can tie this back to a visit or conversion, but for things like word of mouth and offline advertising, it’s much harder to tie this back to a user, which is why we like to use surveys to backfill this data.

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