First touch or last touch: Which attribution model Is right for your business?

On the face, first-touch and last-touch attribution don’t seem too different. After all, they’re both single-touch models that assign 100% of the credit for a sale to one single touchpoint in the customer journey. However, their similarities end there.

The most obvious difference lies in which touchpoint receives that credit. With first-touch attribution, the first time that a customer interacts with your company is deemed to be the single most important reason they ended up purchasing from you. With last-touch, it’s the opposite—the last interaction that a customer has before converting is considered the most important touchpoint.

Throughout this piece, we’ll explore the pros and cons of these two models in more detail before delving into which companies would benefit from each model and why. Having read this article, you’ll be in a prime position to determine which attribution model is right for your particular business—and you’ll be on your way to optimizing your marketing strategy going forward.

  • The pros of first-touch attribution
  • The cons of first-touch attribution
  • Which companies should use a first-touch attribution model?
  • The pros of last-touch attribution
  • The cons of last-touch attribution
  • Which companies should use a last-touch attribution model?

The pros of first-touch attribution

first-touch-model

  • Easy to understand
  • Simple to set up
  • Totally free (if you’re using Google Analytics)
  • Great at attracting more prospects and increasing brand awareness

First-touch attribution isn’t rocket science. The overall concept of marketing attribution is to see which of your strategies are working best and to invest more heavily in those touchpoints going forward. With first-touch attribution, 100% of the credit goes to the very first time that a customer comes into contact with your company.

This makes a fair amount of sense. To buy from your company, a consumer has to know that you exist—this goes without saying. If consumers never come across your company (or your products) then you’ll never make any sales. As a result, this model prioritizes strategies that attract prospects and make consumers aware of your brand.

By utilizing first-touch attribution, you’ll pour more marketing spend into top-of-funnel activities. This means that your company will increase its brand awareness, quickly attract more prospects, and hopefully make more sales.

Not only does this model appear to be fairly logical, but it’s also quick to set up and easy to understand. So long as you’re tracking your customer journeys, identifying the first touchpoint should be a piece of cake. In fact, you don’t even need to track the entire journey—you just need to be aware of the first time that a customer comes across your company.

Last but not least, first-touch attribution is completely free and can be set up in no time at all. It’s available as an off-the-shelf model in Google Analytics (though it’s called ‘First Interaction’ within the platform). To set up this model, you just need to go through a few clicks—that’s it. With a first-touch model, you can forget about lengthy set-up times, confusing results, or hefty bills from your attribution provider.

The cons of first-touch attribution

  • Doesn’t take into account the entire customer journey
  • Overemphasizes top-of-funnel activities
  • Susceptibility to technological limitations

Simplicity is great if you’re just getting started and learning the ropes of marketing attribution, but at the end of the day, implementing a successful marketing strategy is a complex activity. By solely focusing on one single touchpoint, first-touch attribution ignores the rest of the customer journey. Over time, this gives you a skewed view of what ultimately makes your customers convert.

This is the same with last-touch attribution. However, last-touch attribution at least emphasizes the final interaction before a conversion. It’s easy to see why the last touchpoint before a customer converts is important. With first-touch, this can sometimes be a little more unclear.

Imagine a customer stumbles across your bespoke furniture on Instagram. They browse around your page, decide to follow you, click through onto your website, check out your range, and sign up for your weekly newsletters. In the following weeks, they come back to your site a few more times but don’t convert. Finally, you send out a newsletter alerting all recipients to a 50% flash sale. The customer sees the email, clicks through, and converts.

With a first-touch model, the first time that this customer came across your Instagram page would receive the entire credit for that sale. This doesn’t necessarily make sense. After all, there was a series of follow-up touchpoints that nurtured the lead—bringing them closer to making a purchase decision—before they finally saw the flash sale newsletter and converted.

If this happens on a large scale then your company might decide to pour all its marketing investment into its Instagram page and discontinue the weekly newsletters. While this may increase the overall amount of people who become aware of your brand, it won’t necessarily increase the total number of sales. If you stop sending out newsletters alerting customers to new products or upcoming discounts, then you’ll likely see a dip in total sales (rather than any sort of increase).

Emphasizing top-of-funnel strategies is great if you struggle to bring in enough leads. If you do bring in plenty of leads but struggle to convert them, however, then first-touch attribution will do little to solve this problem.

Lastly, it’s worth highlighting that first-touch attribution is far from foolproof. Google Analytics is a fantastic tool—but it does have some limitations. For instance, its 90-day lookback window means that the system forgets any touchpoint which occurred over 90 days ago. If you have long sales cycles, you might be at risk of mistakenly believing that a middle-of-funnel interaction was the first touchpoint. This can have a significant impact on your overall strategy.

Imagine you’ve picked this model specifically to boost brand awareness and highlight top-of-funnel strategies. In this case, you’d accidentally begin to invest in middle-of-funnel touchpoints. Despite adopting a first-touch attribution model, you wouldn’t end up increasing your number of leads in the long run—so this strategy would end up falling flat on its face.

Which companies should use a first-touch attribution model?

Despite its limitations, there are certain circumstances in which a company should use a first-touch attribution model. For example, this model is fantastic if you:

  • Are a new company that needs to invest in increasing brand awareness
  • Find that you have high conversion rateshttps://www.callrail.com/blog/how-to-use-call-recordings-to-improve-conversion-rates/ but a low number of total sales
  • Have short sales cycles
  • Focus solely on demand generation
  • Only have a small marketing budget to play with
  • Lack in-house data science capabilities

First-touch attribution is brilliant at increasing brand awareness. Your marketing spend will be allocated to top-of-funnel strategies, increasing brand awareness and bringing in more prospects. For marketing teams that are solely focused on demand generation, this is absolutely perfect. What’s more, if your company generally has high conversion rates but low sales, then this model will give you exactly what you need: more prospects.

Alternatively, perhaps you have very short sales cycles with only a few touchpoints. The very first touchpoint becomes even more important. With a first-touch model, this importance is highlighted with every sale that you make—helping to increase future investment in these critical strategies.

On top of the strategic benefits, first-touch attribution is also ideal for companies that only have a small marketing budget and limited data science expertise. Multi-touch attribution is expensive and time-consuming. While the payoffs are large, it takes ongoing tinkering and tweaking to get the attribution model just right. With first-touch attribution, you’re ready to get going in just a few clicks.

The pros of last-touch attribution

Last-Touch-Attribution

  • Easy to understand
  • Simple to set up
  • Totally free (if you’re using Google Analytics)
  • Great at increasing your conversion rates

Just like the first-touch model, last-touch attribution is wonderfully simple. 100% of the credit goes to the final touchpoint before a prospect converts and it requires almost no set-up time at all. Simply select ‘Last Interaction’ within Google Analytics and you’re good to go.

The last-touch model also makes a lot of sense. No matter how many interactions a lead had with your company, or how warm they may be, they didn’t convert until the last touchpoint. Therefore, it’s logical to assume this must have been the most important reason as to why they became a customer.

First-touch attribution is set up according to the belief that if a prospect didn’t know about your company then they would never have converted. But does that mean that all people who know about your company become customers? Of course not. Last-touch attribution focuses directly on the touchpoints which convert prospects into paying customers. It’s all well and good if plenty of people know about your company, but if they never convert, what’s the point?

Implementing a last-touch model will help you dramatically improve your conversion rates. By assigning credit to the last touch before conversion, you’ll begin to invest more heavily in these end-of-funnel strategies. At the end of the day, making sales is more important than increasing your brand awareness. With a last-touch model, you’ll begin to align your marketing strategy toward increased sales—as opposed to increased awareness.

Imagine you’re a realtor. A couple might come across your company’s website from organic search, browse around listings in their chosen area, and send an inquiry form about one property that they particularly like. You schedule a time to visit the property in question and they seem to really like it. However, they’re not ready to buy there and then.

Over the following weeks, you regularly chat with the couple over the phone. You speak about the neighborhood, the potential to renovate the house to their liking, why the price is such a steal, and more. They arrange to come for a second viewing and seem very keen—but they first need to discuss the mortgage requirements with their bank.

A few days later, you send out an email just to check in. They respond saying that they have the green light from the bank and make an offer in the same email. This offer is accepted, and they’re now the new homeowners.

With a last-touch attribution model, 100% of the credit would go to the last touch—that’s to say, the email that you sent out. But think about it: was the email the main reason why they converted? Of course not. Had it not been for your company’s website, the viewings that you scheduled, and your many phone calls, then the couple wouldn’t have signed on the dotted line.

Prioritizing end-of-funnel strategies can work wonders for companies who struggle to get prospects over the line. However, if you find that your conversion rates are actually pretty high already, then a last-touch model isn’t right for you.

Who should use a last-touch attribution model?

Last-touch attribution has its place. Consider using this model if you:

  • Have established significant brand awareness but struggle to convert prospects
  • Have a fairly long sales cycle
  • Don’t have a huge marketing budget
  • Lack in-house data scientists

Do you find that too many prospects lapse midway along the funnel? Do you carefully nurture lead after lead, only to see them inexplicably go cold and never purchase from you? If so, last-touch attribution could be for you.

By highlighting proven strategies that lead to conversion, you’ll optimize your company’s ability to turn prospects into customers. This is invaluable. Prospects themselves count for nothing—you need to make sales to keep a company alive.

Alternatively, perhaps you like using a detailed multi-touch model but lack the budget or the data science expertise to make this a reality. If this is the case then don’t worry, last-touch attribution can still be incredibly valuable. It will guide marketing spend toward high-converting strategies and will give you easy-to-understand answers with little to no set-up time.

Learn more about the different types of attribution models: