For a number of years I have actively challenged the last click wins model when it comes to attributing value to an online marketing campaign.

I have experimented with various methodologies and eventually settled on the one I believe to be the most beneficial to the particular brand or campaign I am
working on.

The greatest opposition to this changing traditional attribution methodology generally arrives from the performance marketing sector where reward has
traditionally always been paid on a last click basis
. Affiliates pride themselves in their ability to become the crucial last click before purchase through
innovative content and decisive calls to action.

However, I believe this is about to change.

The number of websites a customer visits in the path to purchase has grown significantly in recent years. Social networks are now used by the masses. Comparison sites have developed into established brands. Consumer review sites have become a fundamental part of the consumer journey whilst reward, voucher codes and cashbacks sites have come to the fore in recent months, undoubtedly driven by the current economic climate.

If a customer visits 10 or 20 different websites on their way to making an online purchase, is it right to reward the last one? Surely every site has had a role to play in the customer making that purchase and should be rewarded accordingly.

For a typical online purchase of a package holiday, a customer may use search engines, email, review sites, price comparisons and finally cashbacks before
converting with a chosen supplier.  In this instance, due to their intrinsic functionality, the cashback site will always be rewarded with the last click.

The websites that have invested resource into developing their comparison functionality, writing content or marketing their site, will not be rewarded for their part in the purchase journey.

Although this approach appears logical from the outset, there are many potential pitfalls. Believing that all sites involved in the purchase process have a positive role to play is a little naïve in the online space. Customers use the internet to gain a balanced, unbiased view on products and services.

Is it right to reward a review site that features poor reviews of your product? Would you pay a comparison site that rates a competitor service higher?

As a result of this growing trend, I fully expect traditional affiliates to begin to contest the last click methodology of attribution. Networks and advertisers must work together to develop a suitable solution that protects all steps in the online path to purchase.

Once advertisers have gained a better understanding on the role that each element plays, they will be able to flex rewards appropriately to ensure that affiliates are rewarded appropriately and sales are maximised as a result.

Richard Hartigan

Published 13 August, 2009 by Richard Hartigan

Richard Hartigan is a client side online marketing professional and blogger. The views expressed here are personal and do not represent those of any organisation.

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Comments (9)

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Paul Cook

Paul Cook, Director at NCC Web Performance

Hi Richard,

Great points. Attribution modellling and full path-to-conversion analysis are like teenage sex - everyone says they're doing it but hardly anyone is and those that are aren't doing it very well...

I'd say there's complete agreement in the industry that last-click wins is, at the very best, simplistic but what's been lacking is the technology and - to some degree - willingness to change things.

Tools that a. let you see all the exposures and clicks any converting customer goes through to a sale and b. let you reward those channels that - as you say - 'play a positive role' appropriately are emerging (guess what TagMan does) but, even more than that, there has to be some shaking off of the apathy that stilll surrounds us.

almost 9 years ago


Gareth Rees

I concur with Paul, I think everybody agrees that last-click doesn't give us nearly enough insight. However, last click is such a well established reporting model that results can be pulled at the click of a button.

Firms such as Atlas and DoubleClick already provide services which enable path-to-conversion analysis, but to my knowledge nothing at present can provide this on a timely enough basis in order to compare and contrast with and ultimately replace a last click model and reporting process.

Only when these tools have advanced will agencies/advertisers be able to evaluate and determine attribution on a like for like basis with the last click model.

almost 9 years ago

Rob Jackson

Rob Jackson, UK Managing Director at Elisa Interactive Ltd

But Gareth is right too - while we let the client know about this insight, we still report using last click... begrudgingly

almost 9 years ago

Paul Cook

Paul Cook, Director at NCC Web Performance

Gareth and Rob - it's hard not to respond without a direct plug. There is a tool that does full path-to-conversion (including keyword) and lets you attribute commission accordingly. It's, um, called, um, TagMan. We'll give you a call...

almost 9 years ago

Adam Ross

Adam Ross, Chief Operating Officer at Affiliate Window

Multi-attribution is something we constantly hear about but have yet to see implemented.  Most of the research and reporting currently available is entirely theoretical and mostly impractical. 

Talking from an affiliate perspective, having a varying reward that depends on something outside of an affiliate's control is going to make establishing ROI quite tricky.  It isn't impossible but it will take time to re-work all the average EPCs and there will be a period of great uncertainty when a merchant initially implements it.  This has the potential to result in a dip in sales while the affiliate figures out how the land lies.   

Which merchant is going to be brave enough to take the plunge whilst their competitors stick to the simple, yet widely understood last click wins model? 

Clearly the advantages of multi-attribution are there to see, with spend more accurately apportioned and campaigns made more efficient.  In cases where merchants aggressively de-dupe affiliates against other channels, especially when brand PPC is included, affiliates stand to lose significant revenue.  Some kind of multi-attribution model would solve this problem but it won't work with all affiliate types.  For example, loyalty and reward partners require a fixed CPA.  Calculations could be made to lower the CPA to accommodate the new model but this directly affects consumers and therefore conversion to sale, and again, if competitors don't do it at the same time, the early adopters could be at a significant disadvantage.  

I believe there is still a long way to go before this becomes widespread but I would welcome hearing from a merchant who has successfully implemented this and managed to maintain or even improve performance across their online campaigns.  If implementation of multi-attribution results in similar ROI, is it not just a massive headache for little reward?

almost 9 years ago


Kevin Middleton

Hi Richard,

Some great points here. 

As you point out, last click is so popular because the media's using it profit from it so much.  In their defence, I would also love the last click model if I operated in a vacuum like they do! 

At Lynchpin we endeavour to educate our clients on making their online marketing smarter and more efficient, and that involves uncovering the real drivers of sales via our attribution model.  In support of this we have just released a white paper on campaign attribution that we hope helps challenge the last click model.

Kevin Middleton
Lynchpin Analytics

almost 9 years ago

Stu Bowker

Stu Bowker, Web Analyst at TUI Group

These are all valid points and confirm my thoughts and findings from my Propellernet blog post, 'Is this the end for last quick wins?'

At Propellernet we're embracing the new contribution technology provided by DC Storm and are finding results to be even better than expected. Attribution casts a whole new light on how cost effective online media channels really are and allow us to make more accurate, informed decisions when planning client strategies.

One major thing that's come into question is the value of brand name searches. They're usually reponsible for a lot of last clicks, but they are simply used as a quick navigation to the site (just like typing the URL into the address bar). DC Storm revelaed that each sale consists of an average 3.36 visits to the site. The earlier visits are the research visits and so surely deserve more credit of the sale than the brand term.

Adam, it's good to hear the views of an affiliate network. It will ultimately come down to the networks to embrace this technology, but like you said, will the early adopters get stung.

almost 9 years ago

Rob Mclaughlin

Rob Mclaughlin, VP, Digital Analytics at Barclays

@Paul Cook - don't steal Avinash's quotes! People notice ;) 

almost 9 years ago


Adit Abhyankar

Attribution as a category is maturing and more robust vendors are emerging, although its still early days for sure.  To succeed you need the data managment and processing chops at the cookie level (even though everyone says they can do this - they can't.  it requires fundamentally different database technology than traditional ETL/ODBC relational structures) as well as the modeling rigor.  Bad and arbitrary attribution (eg. lets just say all touchpoints on the conversion path are equally weighted) can actually be WORSE than last click.  To determine appropriate weights you need to have a sound methodology of how to do this.  Finally, you need an organization that can work through the political and fragmented minefield of most large advertisers (different channel owners, multiple agencies, all of which have some of the data, complex and constantly changing business rules, etc.).  Doing this well takes experience.  

<potential sales pitch> one company that does this well : visual iq ( </potential sales pitch>

almost 8 years ago

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