If you're looking to get the most out of your marketing budget and ad spend, you'll want to know which channels and ads are the most effective. That way, you can replicate the most successful tactics and improve or cut channels that aren't working.

You can track conversions to see how well your overall marketing strategy is translating into revenue. But how do you know which ads are responsible for getting customers to make a purchase? That's where attribution models come in. They help you to assign credit for conversions to the different touchpoints - interactions with your brand - that a customer experiences.

Attribution modeling is essential for understanding which marketing channels are producing results for your business. There are a variety of different attribution models available, but first-click attribution is one of the most commonly used models.

In this article, we'll take you through the details of first-click attribution, including the pros and cons of this model, plus advice on when to choose first-click over other models. Let's get started!

What is first-click attribution?

First-click attribution is a model that gives 100% of the credit for a sale to the first touchpoint a customer had with your business. This can be a great tool to use when you want to track the effectiveness of your marketing campaigns and determine where most of your customers are first encountering your business.

Let's say you're a silver jewelry retailer. The first time a customer was introduced to your brand was via a PPC text ad on google because they searched for “silver jewelry”. They clicked on your ad and browsed the products on your site but didn't buy anything. 

Over the following week, they saw other ads on social media and read one of your blog posts while they were searching for "things to consider when buying silver jewelry". After reading the blog post, they signed up for your mailing list and received a text with a discount code. They clicked to your store from the link in the SMS and made a purchase with the discount code. 

If you apply a first-click attribution model, in this case, all the credit for the conversion goes to the PPC text ad. That means while first click doesn't take into account all the marketing touchpoints that nurture and help to convert a customer, it does help you to identify which channels introduce potential customers to your brand. 

Single-touch vs. multi-touch attribution models

There are two main categories of attribution model: single touch and multi-touch. Single touch attribution models give full credit for a conversion to a single marketing channel that was interacted with by the customer. Multi-touch attribution models, in contrast, give credit for a conversion to more than one marketing channel. How much credit each channel gets depends on the type of multi-touch model you use. For instance, in the linear model, equal credit is applied across all channels. Whereas, in time decay attribution models, the credits closer to a sale get more credit than touchpoints at the start of the buyers' journey.

First touch is an example of a single-touch model. The main disadvantage of single-touch models in comparison to multi-touch models is that they don't take into account the fact that several different marketing channels work together to contribute to conversions. 

However, multi-touch models can be more complex and difficult to implement than single-touch attribution models. Additionally, it can be more difficult to track all of the interactions that customers have with your marketing channels.

Pros and cons of the first-click attribution model

The first-click attribution model is beneficial because it is simple to understand. It provides a clear view of how customers first interact with your business and can help you optimize your marketing strategies. First-click attribution can be helpful for understanding your marketing impact if you have a short buying cycle where customers typically interact with few touchpoints before converting. 

However, first-click attribution may give too much weight to short-term marketing tactics, such as PPC campaigns, at the expense of other marketing efforts. Let's return to the silver jewelry example. If you only analyzed your marketing with a first touch model, you might assume that PCC text ads are the most effective type of campaign and that your other marketing efforts (like email marketing or content creation for your blog were unnecessary). That might lead you to incorrectly assume that you should drop your longer-form content marketing strategy and put all your resources into PPC google ads. 

First-click attribution can be a great tool to help you understand your customers' first interactions with your business and optimize your marketing strategies accordingly. However, it is important to use first-click attribution models in conjunction with other attribution models to get a balanced overall view of your marketing. 

When to use first-click attribution 

There are a few scenarios where first-click attribution may be the best model to use. One scenario is when you are trying to measure which channels are building brand awareness. First-click attribution can help you understand which channels are the best at getting customers to first interact with your business. 

Single-touch models, in general, are most useful when you have a short buying cycle with few touchpoints and channels. First-click attribution models may not always be the best choice for more complex marketing efforts that involve multiple touchpoints over time. For these types of marketing campaigns, it may be better to use multi-touch attribution models that take into account a wider range of interactions and data points beyond the first click a customer makes.

Since first-click attribution focuses on the first interaction a customer has, it's not so helpful if you want to get an overview of the customer journey or find out which channels are best at driving conversions. 

Which is better: first-click or last-click? 

There is no definitive answer as to whether first-click or last-click attribution models are better. Both work in a similar way, and they're useful in different contexts. 

Given that first and last click are both single-touch attribution models, they share similar weaknesses. Principally, they give all credit to one point, which doesn't reflect the typical conversion path that involves interaction with multiple ads in different channels. 

Neither first nor last touch give a full picture of how customers interact with your ecommerce store over time. However, if you want to track a specific part of your marketing, they are useful. As a general rule of thumb, if you want to see which channels are most effective at attracting new leads and building brand awareness, use the first-touch model. If you want to identify which channels are best at converting customers and driving sales, last click or last non-direct click is a better option. 

Ultimately, whether first-click or last-click attribution models are better depends on your specific marketing goals and the type of campaign you are trying to measure. In some cases, first click may be a better choice, while in other scenarios last click may be more appropriate. It is important to carefully consider the data and context at hand before deciding on which attribution model to use.

Discover more attribution models 

Although first-click attribution is useful in some scenarios, it's most beneficial when you use it alongside other attribution models. By learning about all the different attribution models and the ways they work, you will be able to make more informed decisions about how to measure and optimize your marketing efforts. To find out more, read Marketing Attribution Models 101: 8 Ways To Attribute Conversions