First-Touch Attribution Model: What Is It and How Does It Work?

First-Touch Attribution Model: What Is It and How Does It Work?

6 Min Read

A robust digital marketing strategy is necessary to reach potential customers where they are. When you have multiple digital campaigns running at the same time, it can be tricky to measure your overall marketing success.

However, to allocate resources and refine your ads, you need a clear understanding of how your campaigns are performing. That’s where attribution comes in. This article will explore the first-touch attribution model, including what it is and how you can use it to refine your performance marketing efforts.

What Is First-Touch Attribution? 

First-touch attribution is a model of marketing attribution that gives full credit for a conversion or sale to the first marketing touchpoint or channel that the customer interacted with. It assumes that the first touchpoint is the most important in driving customer interest and ultimately leading to a conversion.

For example, if a customer hadn’t heard of you until they clicked on an Instagram ad, you would credit your Instagram ad campaign for making the sale.

In reality, the customer may have clicked your ad, and then spent some time on your website without making a purchase for a while. They may have followed your other social media pages and looked at some other digital ads before finally deciding to make the purchase. With the first-touch model, though, you’d still assign 100% of the credit to the Instagram ad because it served as the customer’s introduction to your brand.

First-Touch vs. Last-Touch Attribution

Both first-touch and last-touch attribution models involve assigning full credit for a sale to a single touchpoint. The difference is, first-touch attribution assumes the customer’s first interaction with your brand deserves the credit, whereas last-touch attribution assigns full credit to the customer’s final touchpoint before they made the purchase.

In the previous example, a customer may have navigated away from your Instagram account and started watching your TikTok videos. After engaging with several videos, they may have gone to your website and read through your blog before making their purchase. The last-touch attribution model would assign all of the credit for the sale to your blog rather than that initial Instagram ad.

How Does First-Touch Attribution Work?

First-touch attribution is based on the logic that customers can’t shop with you if they don’t know about your brand. Therefore, this model considers the first touchpoint to be the most important part of the customer’s journey.

Because Google Analytics tells you how customers found your website, you can use it to determine which touchpoint should receive credit for each sale. You may find that people are finding you through pay-per-click ads, social media, and various other channels. You can take it a step further by including a short survey in your checkout process, asking customers how they heard about you.

Once you know how customers are being exposed to your brand, you can allocate your marketing resources to the most successful channels.

Advantages of the First-Touch Attribution Model

The first-touch attribution model is simple and easy to set up. First-touch attribution also helps you focus on building brand awareness and generating new leads. It’s a great model for understanding which of your marketing channels are producing the most brand awareness and website traffic.

First-touch attribution gives you an understanding of your customers and their preferences. For example, if you notice a spike in traffic after you launch a new Connected TV (CTV) advertisement, you can evaluate the ad and later run new ones with similar messaging.

If you’re looking through Google Analytics to see which search terms people are using to find you organically, you can target these keywords with your pay-per-click ads.

Disadvantages of the First-Touch Attribution Model

One of the biggest disadvantages of the first-touch attribution model is that it ignores the complexity of the customer journey. It elides the numerous touchpoints that can contribute to a customer’s decision to buy your product or service. (When was the last time you bought something after seeing just one ad?)

While the first-touch attribution model is logical for smaller purchases, it may not tell the whole story of how a customer decides to convert. For example, if a customer is in the market for a new car, a home appliance, or another expensive item, they will likely do more extensive research.

This attribution model places all of its focus at the top of the marketing funnel. If you use it exclusively, you may not dedicate enough resources to bottom-of-funnel marketing to target customers in the decision-making stage of their journey.

Use Cases and Examples

First-touch attribution is a great way to track your marketing strategy’s success. For example, if you’ve set a fiscal-year goal of improving your brand awareness and attracting a certain number of new customers, you can use this model to measure your success. Google Analytics and other tools can help you determine how people are finding your site.

First-touch attribution also offers valuable insights into how your specific customers spend their time. When you’re looking through your analytics tools to determine which channels are driving the most traffic, you can use these insights to refine your performance marketing strategy. Your data may show that people are finding you through a social media channel you underestimated, such as Instagram Reels. In this case, you might start creating Reels aimed at communicating your unique value to new customers.

The Rise of TV Attribution

Connected TV advertising is an increasingly popular way to reach potential customers on their smart TVs and other connected devices. Since you can’t add clickable links to your CTV ads, however, it’s been tricky to measure their success rate — until now.

MNTN makes CTV as easy and reliable as paid search and social media, allowing you to target audiences based on their demographics, their interests, and other criteria. Our Verified Visits™ technology uses a more stringent, proprietary TV attribution model than first-touch; it ensures another ad channel wasn’t responsible for a conversion before confirming that it was, in fact, your CTV ad that drove it. It helps you measure each campaign to accurately assess how many people are visiting your website after seeing your ads.

MNTN gives you the data you need to tweak each campaign to speak to your ideal audience. Learn more about how you can use CTV to reach more customers.

First-Touch Attribution: Final Thoughts

First-touch attribution is easy to understand and simple to use. It offers your business a way to determine how potential customers are finding you online so you can allocate your resources to the most successful channels.

However, first-touch attribution can’t account for how complicated a customer journey can be, so it may not be the correct model for large, expensive purchases. If you’re operating a new business or want to better understand the top of your marketing funnel, first-touch attribution can give you valuable insights.