R.I.P Last Click Attribution

rip_lca Analytics

Michael Wiegand Jan 2 2014

You heard me right. Last Click Attribution (LCA) is dead.

This isn’t one of those hoaxes like with Andy Kaufman or SEO.

LCA was a doomed model for a number of reasons. But for me, it no longer applies to the world we live in now. And it barely applied before.

LCA will only stay dead, though, if we can decide on its successor.

I’ll get to that.

But first, a little history lesson.

The Last Click problem

When web analytics was in its infancy, LCA worked. People could only reach your site so many ways. You had word-of-mouth. And you had, maybe, a house email list.

That was kinda it.

Search engines were still in a relative stone age. The results weren’t super great and AdWords hadn’t even considered quality score yet. Social networks were crawling out of the primordial ooze. I hadn’t even heard of MySpace yet. Blogging platforms like WordPress hadn’t really taken shape. Plus, there weren’t a lot of great email lists you could buy or sponsor.

In light of all that, LCA made sense.

If somebody reached your site, the last place they reached it from was probably also the first. So it was logical to give the last click credit for a lead or a sale.

But now? The ways people can reach your site are virtually endless.

Search engines have employed machine learning to provide you almost predictive results based on your apparent intent, current location and search history. AdWords has so many different ad formats I’ve lost track.

Social networks have reached critical mass. Even my Grandmother has a Facebook profile. They’re faster sources of news for us than Newspapers or TV.

That doesn’t even factor in the growth of the web and potential sites that could write about your business. Or the growth of mobile apps!

Google did a study in 2012 where they looked at the purchase journeys of 3,000 shoppers across a number of verticals.

All 3,000 of them took different paths to that purchase.

Would that have happened in 2006? I doubt it. Would that have happened in 2000? No chance.

So today, with all those different paths, how could LCA possibly measure which channels should get credit for a sale?

It can’t.

How did Last Click survive?

We kept it alive.

It’s the default in Google Analytics and a number of other analytics platforms.

The status quo is easy. The status quo is comfortable.

All my historical reports are LCA. Introduce another attribution model and it feels like revisionist history—even if the revisions are (*gasp*) more accurate.

LCA does a really great job showing us our brand equity in each channel. Closing clicks come after people are aware of your product or service and you’ve persuaded them to commit.

That commitment is nice. Ultimately, though, it’s patting yourself on the back.

LCA does a really poor job showing us our brand growth in each channel. Which clicks are introducing and persuading people to buy in the first place? LCA is blissfully ignorant on that count.

If it’s ignoring all but the bottom of the marketing funnel, why in the hell are we basing our budgets and ROI on it?

I think it’s time we paid our respects and moved on.

Okay, Last Click sucks. What now?

LCA is dead, but where do we go from here? I’ve been mulling this over for a while.

I started by taking Portent client data over the last year and running it under different attribution models and looking at two things:

  • % Change from LCA by Channel
  • $ Change from LCA by Channel

Big shout out to Tim Gillman (a.k.a Timtern) for pulling the raw data on this.

My goal was to settle on a model that is aware of the whole marketing funnel. And one that—more importantly—fits customer behavior.

What did I use for this? Google Analytics’ Attribution Model Comparison Tool. It’s fantastic.

I actually arrived at two different ones for ecommerce and lead generation.

For ecommerce: Position Based Attribution

Position Based Model

People who buy online are crazy. They open lots of tabs. They go to lots of different sites. They read reviews.

What kind of attribution model solves for ecommerce customers? Position Based Attribution (PBA).

The u-curve model gives nearly equal credit to the first discovery click and last closing click, but it also sprinkles in a little credit for all those flighty comparison shopping clicks in the middle.

% Change from LCA

So how does the PBA model compare to LCA? Which marketing channels get more credit for sales?

  • Social Networks—where people get information from their friends—was the biggest winner
  • Organic Search—where good content gets you better visibility—also saw huge gains

Percent Change Position

But % Change doesn’t tell you how much more money each channel was responsible for making.

$ Change from LCA

  • Organic Search—content driven—was over $5M more valuable to our clients in 2013 under PBA
  • Paid Search—where you can target intent closely—was over $4M more valuable

Dollar Change Position

For lead generation: Time Decay Attribution

Time Decay Model

People who fill out lead forms online are a little more pragmatic.

They’re interested in your service, but less impulsive. You have to build trust with them. Especially with expensive services and long-term contracts. With each click, they learn more about you, become more satisfied that you’re the right solution and get more okay with the idea of handing their phone number over to you.

What kind of attribution model solves for lead generation customers? Time Decay Attribution (TDA).

This ramp model gives more credit to a channel as it gets closer to the lead without completely ignoring the clicks that came before it.

% Change from LCA

Which marketing channels get more credit under this model?

  • Email—where you can develop a good drip campaign that builds interest in your service—is growing in influence
  • Social Networks—much like in the case of ecommerce — get a lot more credit, as one of your friends using a service is a great trust factor

Percent Change Time Decay

Lead Change from LCA

But again, the % difference versus LCA doesn’t show how many more leads each channel was responsible for driving.

  • Referral—especially from review blogs and forums—drove over 3K more leads for our clients in 2013
  • Organic Search—where informative content is king—was also a big winner with over 1K more leads

Lead Change Time Decay

Life after Last Click

I think we can all agree LCA is six feet under. But there are lots of options for attribution models. I’ve posed two that I think are really great here.

Different models reward—and encourage more investment in—channels that are unsung heroes at all points in the marketing funnel.

What models are you using? Let’s work together as marketers to move ourselves (and our clients) on to better attribution in 2014!

Can’t get enough attribution talk? Still confused about how to justify your marketing budget? Tune in for Ian Lurie’s free webinar “Attribution-fu: Measuring Cross-Channel Impact the Old Fashioned Way” on Thursday, January 30.