Connected TV

First-Touch vs. Last-Touch Attribution: Which Is Best?

First-Touch vs. Last-Touch Attribution: Which Is Best?

7 Min Read

If you want to make data-driven decisions on how and where to spend your marketing budget, you’ll need to decide on an attribution model. Attribution models help you evaluate which of your ad campaigns are most successful in driving customers to your website and converting. While there are many different attribution models to choose from, this article will cover first-touch vs. last-touch attribution, including how and when to use them. 

First-Touch Attribution

First-touch attribution assigns credit for each conversion to the first interaction a customer has with your brand.

How First-Touch Attribution Works

Making the first-touch attribution model work depends on understanding your customer’s journey. For example, if Jane is searching for new patio furniture, she may see a pay-per-click (PPC) ad from your company and click on it because she’s intrigued by your product image. 

Although she might not buy from you right then, she may jot down your name or open a new tab to continue browsing your competition. She could also go to your Facebook page and like it. 

A few days later, Jane sees a sponsored post on Facebook with a discount for new patio furniture. She clicks the ad and buys a set. In this case, you would credit your PPC ad for making the sale since it was the first time Jane interacted with your brand. 

Advantages of First-Touch Attribution

Because you’re giving credit to only one ad campaign, first-touch attribution is easy to understand and implement. With this attribution model, you can use Google Analytics and other free reporting tools to determine which ad campaigns and organic search terms are sending people your way. 

First-touch attribution is also a great way to determine the success of your brand awareness efforts. In measuring by the first touchpoint, you get an idea of how effectively your marketing campaigns are spreading awareness. 

Through first-touch attribution, you can compare different awareness campaigns against one another based on how well they’re driving traffic to your site. With this intel, you can optimize your other ad campaigns to more effectively use keywords and highlight your products’ benefits. 

This model also lets you assess your top-of-the-funnel strategies, including social media, content marketing, Connected TV (CTV), and other campaigns.

Disadvantages of First-Touch Attribution

First-touch attribution has its drawbacks. For one, it only takes into account one part of the customer funnel. As a result, you might overlook your mid-funnel and bottom-of-the-funnel ads that also influence the conversion.

Once you’ve captured a potential customer’s attention, you’re probably nurturing that lead to encourage further engagement. In our Jane example, first-touch attribution assumes that the initial PPC ad was most influential in her purchasing decision. However, since Jane clicked on a special offer through social media, it’s also possible that the discount impacted her decision to buy more than the initial ad. 

Additionally, since new privacy rules and regulations are leading Google to phase out tracking cookies, it’s harder to track top-of-the-funnel activities. While you can track how many people clicked on an ad, you may not be able to match a user at the top of the funnel to a later sale unless you’re using cookieless attribution methods to track your customers. 

If you’re more interested in determining which ads are successfully making people aware of your brand, first-touch attribution is an easy and effective model. 

Last-Touch Attribution

With the last-touch attribution model, you assign all credit for a sale to a customer’s last touchpoint before the purchase.  

How Last-Touch Attribution Works

To implement this model, you would track the last interaction a person had with your brand before they went to your site to buy something. Many analytics tools let you apply a “last interaction” filter. 

For example, if Ben sees your ad while binging his favorite show on a streaming service, he may decide to look you up on his phone and subscribe to your newsletter. Later, he may see a dynamic ad on his favorite website based on his previous search activity. After a week, he clicks through from one of your personalized emails and buys a featured product. 

Using last-touch attribution, you would assign all of the credit for this sale to your email list, because Ben clicked on that ad right before he bought something. 

Last-touch attribution gives you a better idea of how your marketing campaigns are influencing purchases. Since it focuses on the bottom-of-the-funnel efforts, it helps you accurately assess which ad campaigns and marketing activities are responsible for conversions. 

Like first-touch attribution, last-touch attribution is easy to set up and measure using Google Analytics, which is free, making it more appealing than other attribution models like multi-touch attribution

Last-touch attribution helps you better understand which ad campaigns and messages are most effective at generating sales. You can use this data to create ads that resonate with your target customers and convince them to actually buy instead of focusing only on brand awareness

Disadvantages of Last-Touch Attribution

This attribution model, much like first-touch, is often too simple to give you a clear understanding of a customer’s whole journey with your brand. Yes, you can accurately track which ad campaigns are compelling people to make a purchase, but you can’t assume that your final touchpoint with a customer was solely responsible for influencing their decision. 

In our example, Ben may have decided to buy your product because you featured it in a personalized email campaign. However, he found your initial CTV ad interesting enough to take the time to search for your brand online. Last-touch attribution also doesn’t take your CTV ad into account, so you’re not getting the whole picture. 

If you already have a good handle on how well your awareness campaigns are performing, though, and want to focus on bottom-of-the-funnel marketing, last-touch attribution can be an effective model. 

First-Touch vs. Last-Touch Attribution: Differences Summarized

Both first-touch and last-touch attribution offer an extremely simple solution for measuring your marketing success as you can measure the impact of both models using Google Analytics and other types of analytics software. 

The main difference is that first-touch attribution focuses on a customer’s first interaction with your brand, while last-touch attribution focuses on their last. (Duh.) First-touch attribution lets you measure marketing activities at the top of the funnel, including those focused on building brand awareness and generating new leads. 

Last-touch attribution lets you focus on bottom-of-funnel activities, mainly moving a person from the consideration stage to the purchasing stage. Since you can see a customer’s last touchpoint immediately prior to a sale, this model is often easier to measure and more accurate. 

The Rise of TV Attribution

CTV is an effective channel for targeting people at the top and bottom of the funnel, although it hasn’t always been easy to accurately measure CTV success, because customers can’t click on a television screen as they can with other marketing channels. 

As platforms evolve, CTV attribution has become easier, with companies such as MNTN working to make it simpler and more effective. Our Verified Visits model lets you: 

  • Assess when customers view a CTV ad
  • Track organic website visitors following the ad
  • Run diagnostics to determine whether these visits are because of the ad (and not another channel)
  • Assign ad performance back to your CTV ads, allowing you to measure marketing metrics like return on ad spend, site visits, cost per acquisition, and more.

You can use the Verified Visits model as part of your first-touch or last-touch attribution strategy. For example, if you’re using last-touch attribution to measure ads focused on converting customers, you would use Verified Visits to assess your bottom-of-funnel CTV ads. 

Contact us to request a demo and learn more. 

First Touch vs. Last Touch: Final Thoughts

Single-touch attribution models are a great introduction to the world of attribution modeling, as they’re both easy to set up and measure. You also don’t need a high volume of data to map a customer’s journey and figure out how many interactions they had with your brand before making a purchase. 

Each of these attribution models carry their own advantages, however first-touch does allow you to know you’ve made a strong first impression. First-touch attribution lets you measure campaign performance and see how your messaging drives site visits, conversions and more. And it gives you the confidence that the connection you made with your audience was strong enough to eventually drive a sale.