First Click and Last Click Attribution

If you’re really into pay per click marketing or web analytics, you have probably heard about the debate around first click vs. last click conversion attribution. So what’s the big deal? Why should it matter which keywords and text ads your conversions get credited to? The answer is more complex than you might think. Let’s break it down.

First, a few definitions for the unfamiliar. When analysts talk about first click and last click attribution, they are referring to which click of a keyword or text ad is credited for a conversion event in a search engine marketing campaign. First click attribution means that the first click in the process should get the credit, even if a user performs additional searches and ad views before they actually convert. Last click attribution means that the last click or ad view should get the credit, no matter how many other searches came before.

The problem is that most PPC metrics use the last-click model due to limitations in tracking. For example, Google’s AdWords tracking cookie expires after about thirty days. That means that if a user saw and clicked on one of your ads three months ago, remembered your business name, and converted under a different search query, then there is no way to measure that first click anyway. The only viable option is to go with last-click attribution.

However, with advances in web analytics software, first click attribution is no longer out of reach. This allows us to ask the question of whether the first click or the last click is more important in a pay per click transaction. When you look at search behavior, a sizable portion of conversions come via a process of multiple searches. People will search for one thing, click on a few ads, refine their search using information they found on the first pass, and continue this process until they find what they are looking for. Users may even click on several of your ads before they come to a decision. Each one of these clicks is important in pushing the user towards the conversion.

There’s no real right answer to this quandary. If you ignore first clicks, you’re ignoring the broader terms that make users aware of your offerings. If you ignore the last clicks, you’re omitting the valuable elements of your campaigns that close the deal. It’s much better to look at this problem holistically. Make sure that you are using keywords that target users in the different steps of the buying process – information gathering, comparison shopping, and highly targeted product terms for people ready to buy. Just remember that both first clicks and last clicks are important. If you leave one or the other out of your campaigns, you could be affecting the entire conversion process.

About Shawn Livengood

Shawn Livengood is a search engine marketing professional based in Austin, Texas. He has extensive experience managing pay-per-click ad campaigns for clients in various industries, from small home-based businesses to large international companies. You can connect with Shawn on Google+.
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