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What is first click attribution?

Article originally published in July 2023 by Stuart Brameld. Most recent update in February 2024.

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Definition of first click attribution

First click attribution is a model used in marketing to identify and give credit to the first interaction a customer has with a brand. This model is based on the belief that the initial point of contact is the most influential in driving a customer towards a purchase or conversion. It’s like giving a gold medal to the first advertisement or marketing effort that sparked a customer’s interest in your product or service.

For marketers, first click attribution is a valuable tool for understanding which marketing channels are most effective at attracting new customers. It helps them to allocate their resources and efforts more efficiently. However, it’s important to remember that this model doesn’t consider any other interactions a customer may have with the brand before making a purchase. So, while it’s useful, it’s just one piece of the puzzle in understanding customer behaviour.

An example of first click attribution

Here is an example of how it works:

Growth Method, a SaaS company, launches a new email marketing campaign to promote its latest software update. John, a potential customer, clicks on the link in the email, which takes him to the company’s website. He browses the site, reads about the software update, but doesn’t make a purchase. A week later, John sees a social media ad for Growth Method, clicks on it, and this time, he decides to purchase the software update. In this scenario, the first click attribution model would credit the email marketing campaign for the sale, as it was the first touchpoint that led John to the website.

How does first click attribution work?

First click attribution works by assigning the entire credit for a sale or conversion to the first interaction a customer had with the brand. This model is based on the belief that the initial marketing channel which attracted the customer has done the most significant part of the work. For marketers, this means that the first ad or piece of content a customer clicked on is considered the most important in their journey towards making a purchase. This model helps marketers understand which channels are most effective at driving customer awareness and engagement.

Expert opinions and perspectives

Here are how some of the world’s best marketing and growth professionals, and companies, think about first click attribution.

  • “First-click attribution is a flawed model that gives all the credit to the first touchpoint in the customer journey. It ignores all the other touchpoints that may have influenced the conversion.” – Avinash Kaushik, “Why First-Click Attribution Is Flawed” (2013)
  • “First-click attribution is like saying that the first person to meet you is the only one responsible for your success. It’s simply not true.” – Chris Goward, “The Dangers of First-Click Attribution” (2015)
  • “First click attribution is akin to giving my first girlfriend 100% of the credit for me marrying my wife.” – Avinash Kaushik

Questions to ask yourself

As a modern growth marketing or agile marketing professional, ask yourself the following questions with regard to first click attribution:

  1. Is the first click attribution model the most suitable for my marketing strategy?
  2. What insights can I gain about my audience’s behaviour from first click attribution?
  3. How can I use first click attribution to optimise my marketing campaigns?
  4. What are the potential drawbacks of relying solely on first click attribution?
  5. How can I effectively combine first click attribution with other attribution models to achieve my growth marketing goals?

Here are some related articles and further reading you may find helpful.

Additional reading

Here are some related articles and further reading around first click attribution that you may find helpful.

  1. “First Click Attribution” – Smart Insights
  2. “First Click Attribution – Marketing Essentials” – Marketing Evolution
  3. “Multi-Channel Attribution Modeling: The Good, Bad and Ugly Models” – Avinash Kaushik
  4. “First Click Attribution – Optimization Glossary” – Optimizely
  5. “Marketing Terms & Definitions” – HubSpot

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