When you're sharing out your marketing budget, it's important to be smart about where you focus your energy and ad spend. By understanding how different aspects of your marketing lead to sales and revenue, you're able to adjust your strategy and decide how to allocate your resources to get optimal results. Without an attribution model, you may be mistakenly attributing too much success to a particular marketing campaign or channel.

There are a number of different marketing attribution models used in online marketing, but one of the most common is last-click attribution. As the name suggests, last-click attribution gives all the credit for a conversion to the final ad or channel that was clicked on before the conversion happened. This can be a useful model to use when trying to determine which channels are the best at driving conversions, but it has some limitations.

In this article, we'll dive into last-click attribution. We'll take you through its benefits as well as its drawbacks and give you advice about when to use it.

What is the last-click attribution model?

In single-touch attribution models, all the conversion credit goes to one touchpoint. Last click (or last touch) attribution is a single-touch attribution model that allocates all the credit for a conversion to the last ad or channel that was clicked on before the customer made a purchase. This means that if a prospect comes to your website through several different channels, such as organic search, paid search, and email marketing, but ends up converting on a last-click visit from paid search, the last-click model would give all the credit to paid search.

Let's imagine a customer journey for a purchase made online that involves viewing a Facebook ad and visiting the retailer's website, and later clicking on a Google Shopping ad to make a purchase. In last-touch attribution, the last advertising channel used before the purchase is credited with the conversion. So in this example, the last click (the Google Shopping ad) would be credited with the conversion rather than the first click (the Facebook ad).

While last-click attribution has the benefit of being simple and easy to track, it is not necessarily the most accurate model for determining a customer's path to conversion. Other attribution models, such as linear, time decay, or data-driven attribution, consider multiple touchpoints in a more holistic way, taking into account all of the interactions a customer has with an advertiser before a purchase is made.

Benefits of last-click attribution

The main benefit of last-click attribution is that it's simple. It's often difficult to track the different touchpoints a customer interacts with before deciding to buy. Using the last interaction before making a purchase is an easy way to assign and track credit for conversions.

Additionally, last-click attribution helps you identify which specific marketing channels are most successful in driving conversions. Customers might be influenced by a variety of ads, but by using last-click, you'll be able to identify the ads that push them to make the final decision and commit to buying something.

However, there are several limitations to last-click attribution and single-touch models in general.

Limitations of last-click attribution

Even if you decide that last click is a useful model for your business, it's important to be aware of its drawbacks.

It oversimplifies the customer journey

Last-click attribution does not take into account other factors that may have influenced customers' purchasing decisions, such as the content they viewed or the ads they saw prior to conversion. Although it's easier to assign credit to the last point rather than trying to track all the steps a customer went through, that doesn't mean it's the most accurate method. For that reason, last-click attribution can lead to skewed results and inaccurate performance metrics.

It undervalues awareness and nurturing touchpoints

Last-click attribution ignores all the other marketing efforts that may have led up to a conversion. This can mean that you miss out on valuable insights about how your marketing campaigns are working together and how they contribute to conversions.

In our first example, 100% of the credit goes to the final touchpoint, the last click, which was a Google shopping ad. If you only use a last-click model, you might (wrongly) believe that all your other branding and awareness efforts are useless and you should concentrate all your ad budget on Google ads. While it might be true those ads are good at converting our customers, each different marketing touchpoint along the way (such as video tutorials with your product or a blog post comparing your product to its competitors) does a vital task: helping the customer feel confident about your brand and ready to make a purchase.

It includes direct clicks

Another potentially misleading aspect of last-touch attribution is that it includes direct clicks (for instance, if someone clicks to your site from a bookmark or directly enters your site URL). Although a direct click is often the last action a consumer might take before making a purchase, it doesn't mean that was what converted them. Isn't it more likely that they made the direct click after deciding to buy? If that happens, credit gets assigned to the wrong touchpoints.

What is the last non-direct click attribution model? 

The last non-direct click attribution model is a type of single-touch attribution model that credits the last advertising channel used before a purchase was made but excludes direct clicks from the calculation. It's often seen as a more accurate single-touch model than last-click attribution.

Let's return to our initial example and imagine a customer goes through the following touchpoints:

  • They see an Instagram ad and click on the link to your ecommerce store

  • After browsing for a while, they bookmark the homepage of your website

  • The next day, they see and click on a Google shopping ad – they're tempted by the low prices and check out some of your products

  • Later the same day, they click on the bookmark of the homepage and make a purchase

In last-click attribution, the homepage is credited with the conversion. However, it wasn't really the homepage that converted the customer. It was the Google Shopping ad. In the last non-direct click model, the 'direct click' (clicking on the bookmark) is excluded, so 100% of the credit goes to the google shopping ad.

When to use last-click attribution

Last-click attribution is a useful model to use if you're trying to assess which channels are best at converting customers. However, it's important to keep in mind that last-click attribution doesn't provide a complete picture of the customer journey, and you may want to consider using other models as well. For example, if you're interested in finding out which ads are best at generating new leads, you might opt for the first-touch model.

In general, single-touch models are a good option if you have a simple marketing campaign with few touchpoints. If you have a complicated customer journey or long buying cycle with many touchpoints along the way, you should consider using a multi-touch attribution model.

The perfect attribution model doesn't exist

While last-click attribution can be useful, it's important to remember that it doesn't tell the whole story. For that reason, it's important to explore a variety of attribution models and use the one that makes the most sense for your business and marketing goals. We recommend trying out a variety of attribution models and selecting the ones that best reflect your sales funnel. 

Learn more about the different attribution models and get advice about choosing the right model for your business. Read our guide: Marketing Attribution Models 101: 8 Ways To Attribute Conversions