When to Use Last-Click Attribution

Modern marketers are quick to malign the use of last-click attribution. But the truth is, every attribution framework has strengths and weaknesses. In this blog, we’ll explore when to use last-click attribution for your business, and when to avoid it.

What’s last-click attribution?

To know when to use last-click attribution, you need to know what last-click attribution is. 

In marketing, last-click attribution is when the credit for a “conversion” (a click, a lead capture, a sale, etc.) is assigned to the media source (the email, the display ad, etc.) last accessed by the customer prior to the conversion.

What’s the problem with last-click attribution?

The problem with last-click attribution is tied to exposure—most consumers encounter a wide variety of media over a given period of time prior to converting.

Consumers rarely interact with marketing and advertising media. Even when they do, those engagements are normally spread across an extended timeline that involves different devices, browsers, and sessions.  

Because last-click attribution gives all the credit to the source of the “last-click” (as opposed to distributing credit across all the marketing and advertising media encountered along the customer journey) it can be inaccurate. In other words, without the other media touches discounted in a last-click attribution model, who’s to say the prospect ever converts?

This is the inherent problem with last-click attribution, and why marketers should consider it a very conservative attribution methodology that’s best used to limit campaign costs at the expense of optimal business growth. 

(Moreover, because last-click attribution fails to consider prior media exposure or engagement—and because it doesn’t filter for customers who would convert even without any marketing or advertising—it cannot be used to calculate the true customer acquisition cost.)

When to use last-click attribution…

If you’re new to digital marketing—or have a limited marketing budget—last-click attribution isn’t a bad idea. You can (likely) drive some solid ROI through click-based media channels (search, affiliate, etc.) Just understand that what you do with these campaigns will be limited in terms of scale. Additionally, if you’re experimenting with different vendors for low-funnel conversions, last-click attribution can help you understand who is driving scale and who isn’t.   

When to NOT use last-click attribution…

If you’re trying to decide when to use last-click attribution, there are some scenarios where it’s better to avoid it than deploy it.

Scenario #1?

If you know your organization needs to grow (and fast), last-click attribution isn’t a good move. To identify the right audience of consumers and motivate that audience to convert with your brand (versus competing brands), you need measurement and attribution from a number of different media interactions over time. 

For example, if you’re measuring a “conversion” as a “sale”, you need to move consumers along the journey from awareness —> to favorability —> to intent. Only after “intent” comes the purchase. 

If you’re using last-click attribution, you won’t be able to assign value to any of the other touchpoints in the customer journey. Without that value assignment, your ability to accurately fund, measure, and optimize customer acquisition at scale will be impaired. 

Scenario #2?

When your company deals with products or services that have a long sales cycle, last-click attribution is just about useless. In this scenario, the customer journey is so drawn out from start to finish that knowing where the last click came from doesn’t provide much in the way of campaign insight. 

Scenario #3?

Use multiple media channels to engage with prospects?—Then last-click attribution isn’t right for you. This is especially true when you use a combination of upper-, middle-, and lower-funnel tactics to drive conversions. If this sounds like your business, what you really need is an attribution methodology that measures every single consumer touchpoint driving value along the journey to conversion. 

One final note about when to use last-click attribution…

Many businesses know last-click attribution isn’t right for them. But because of certain organizational or technological obstacles, they can’t migrate to a different attribution framework. Thinking this way is a mistake, and these “obstacles” are not a good reason to deploy last-click attribution. If this sounds like your business, challenge your leadership to make the necessary modifications so you can implement an attribution model besides last-click. 


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