Why last click attribution doesn’t work

Accurate attribution is the holy grail of digital marketing. When you know exactly where your sales come from, you can weight your budget in precisely the right areas, and avoid ad wastage.

So what is the most efficient way to accurately attribute your advertising campaigns? Traditionally, many advertisers have relied on last-click attribution. Essentially this means assigning 100% of the value of a sale to the last traffic source – the place the click that made the sale came from.

But we know this is not an accurate way to fully understand how a sale was made.

Because yes, the sale may have come directly from that final click, but we know that people rarely buy on an instant whim. Instead, they will have been exposed to other marketing and messaging before being ready to make a purchase.

In fact, it is likely that your buyer is deep in your marketing lifecycle by the time they buy.

Why is last-click attribution so dangerous?

So what is wrong with last-click attribution? Why is it so dangerous? Well, apart from being incorrect, you risk investing in the wrong areas.

When you assume that your sale came from one single source – your last click – you are more likely to weight future campaigns and budget more heavily on that source. As a result, you can move budget away from areas that were essential in getting a buyer to the point where they were ready to buy.

In essence, you eliminate essential stages of your marketing lifecycle. You could even break it completely.

Your ads need to take customers through your lifecycle

In marketing we know that customers go through a process – new, convert and grow – also known as your lifecycle. They need to become aware of your brand or offering, learn more about it, and make a decision to buy. And the more considered the purchase is, the more time and information they will need before being ready to buy.

During this process, they may need several touchpoints in order to be in a position to make a purchase. But when you focus solely on last-click attribution, you ignore all those touchpoints. The only marketing you assign any value to is the last ad they see when they click to buy.

Last-click attribution can kill off the top of your funnel

The biggest loser from last-click attribution is usually your new users. The very nature of last-click attribution means that it ignores the first time someone becomes aware of your brand and offering (unless of course you convert a brand new user to a sale in their first interaction, which is unusual, especially with considered purchases).

So if you base your campaign planning on what you learn from last-click attribution, you risk eliminating the very sources of the people who end up buying from you. Instead, you have an ad campaign that is weighted to messages, timing and placements that favour people who are deep in your lifecycle and possibly already ready to convert.

Over time, you potentially reduce the number of people coming into your funnel, and starve your lifecycle.

Last-click attribution gives you a one-dimensional campaign

Another downside to last-click attribution is that you can end up with a one-dimensional campaign. Your placements, creative and messaging are all skewed towards people at the bottom of your funnel who are ready to convert.

As a result, you miss out on invaluable brand awareness messaging that may not deliver a sale right now, but will grow your brand equity and potential audience pool for future sales.

We tested last-click attribution when a client switched off Facebook ads

Social media advertising often performs well for last-click attribution as buyers are often familiar with a product and brand, and therefore more inclined to act on a retargeted ad in social media – especially if it has an offer.

However, in July 2020 many brands chose to boycott Facebook, and switch off their ads. This gave us the perfect opportunity to test the impact of Facebook ads on one of our clients’ campaigns.

If last-click attribution works then we would have expected to see a dramatic, negative impact on our client’s sales in that month. But that didn’t happen. They didn’t lose any sales; in fact their sales went up during that month. (You can read our white paper on the study here.)

What’s the alternative to last-click attribution?

So if last-click attribution doesn’t work, what does? You need to work with a partner, like Crimtan, who is able to give you visibility across your entire lifecycle, from the moment your ads are viewed. Who can accurately attribute your sales throughout the lifecycle, and understand the process buyers need to go through before deciding to make a purchase.

You also need a partner who understands the value of the halo effect, and how paid advertising can positively influence things like organic brand search.

If you’d like to learn more about how accurate attribution can improve the performance of your campaigns, get in touch and we’ll be happy to help.

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