CTM Blog


First-Touch Attribution: Does It Still Matter?

by Barb Cronin

What is First-touch Attribution? 

First-touch attribution is a type of marketing attribution. Marketing attribution tracks and connects customer actions to the ads and campaigns driving them. First-touch attribution looks at the first interaction or first touchpoint a customer had with your brand. 

There are different types of marketing attribution models. The first-touch model is just one. With first-touch attribution, no matter where the customer interacted with your brand following the first interaction, complete credit for the conversion is given to that initial touchpoint. 

For example, if your prospect first saw one of your paid ads and clicked on it, then from there went to your blog and read an article, then three days later saw an ad on LinkedIn which made them complete a form to schedule a consultation, all of the credit for that sale would be given to the initial paid ad. 

Blue and black graphics illustrating the numerous steps on a customer's journey with the display ad being first-touch attribution.

Other types of attribution models, like last-touch and multi-touch, consider different or multiple touchpoints. Though just looking at the first touchpoint may seem a little simplistic, there are times when it makes sense to use the first-touch attribution model. 

Marketing Attribution’s Evolution and First-touch Attribution 

Marketing attribution and the first-touch attribution model have been around for quite some time. It’s always been important for marketing and sales teams to be able to track their efforts and tie ads to revenue. With the various customer touchpoints in the journey today, it’s more important than ever to understand what’s working–and what’s not.

Marketing attribution models continue to grow to include the influence of all these touchpoints.   

Years ago, before digital marketing and the internet, it was a lot easier to track conversions to the ads and campaigns that drove them. Usually, a magazine or newspaper ad, a direct mailer, or even a billboard would prompt a prospect to call or visit. Today, it’s a lot more complex and marketing attribution models are continually changing to meet these new attribution needs.  

Most of these newer marketing attribution models are multi-touch models. The more customizable models are becoming the most popular today too.  It’s important to note that several marketing attribution models are being sunsetted by Google beginning in May 2023. These include first-click, linear, time decay, and position-based attribution models from attribution reports and other areas. 

Today’s average B2B journey has an average of eight touchpoints and a B2C journey clocks in at an average of six touchpoints. As you can see, if you’re running multiple campaigns on various channels, a single touchpoint attribution model will miss all of the other touchpoints and valuable data. 

Multi-touch models help you to see how various touchpoints are helping to convert prospects and are useful for different objectives and insights. These models continue to expand their tracking and attribution capabilities to provide deeper customer insight on multiple touchpoints, channels, campaigns, ads, and even keywords. 

However, single-touch attribution models, like first-touch attribution, are still very useful to get certain information or achieve specific objectives. 

Why First-touch Attribution Still Matters

Understanding what’s going on with all of your marketing efforts, on multiple channels, for all your ads and campaigns is critical information to get. However, for some objectives, you’ll want to focus on one specific touchpoint. 

Blue and black graphic showing first touch attribution in a series of customer touchpoints.

First-touch attribution, as mentioned, is when your customer first engaged with your brand–a pretty pivotal moment. After all, if you don’t get your target audience’s attention, they’ll never engage with your brand. Your second, third, and fourth campaigns may be the most enticing, most appealing ads with amazing incentives, but without that initial engagement, they don’t matter. 

That’s why first-touch marketing attribution continues to be valuable–despite the popularity (and value) of multi-touch models. 

When and Where to Use First-touch Marketing Attribution

Most marketers use different types of attribution models at varying times. The best model to use depends on: 

  1. What insights you’re trying to get and 
  2. What goals are being assessed? 

The specific model you use will change with the goals you’re looking at and the insight sought. 

First-touch attribution focuses on what first grabbed the attention of your customer so you know what ad, keyword, CTA, etc. made them decide to take action. With many ads and multiple campaigns, it’s important to sift that information out. 

Comprehensive marketing efforts span multiple channels, like Google and LinkedIn Ads, your website pages, email campaigns, and text campaigns, to name a few. It’s important that you know which of these efforts, and which exact ads and keywords, are getting the most attention. 

If you want to see specifically what is first getting your target audience’s attention, then the first-touch attribution model is a perfect fit. First-touch attribution models help you effectively determine how each of your higher funnel ads and campaigns is performing, and which channels show the most engagement. 

First-touch attribution is an important part of any comprehensive marketing strategy, which always should include testing, assessing, and adapting. Marketing attribution models make gathering the data, testing, and assessing possible. Armed with this information, you can effectively focus ad spend and messaging where it’s doing the most. 

Another huge benefit of marketing attribution is being able to consistently prove ROI. When you know how each of your touchpoints is connected (or not) to a conversion, you can tie revenue directly to those ads, campaigns, and channels. 

First-touch attribution is still an important tool in a marketer’s attribution toolbox. However, if you’re only using a first-touch model, you’re missing out on valuable data. Consider expanding your attribution efforts for a clearer, more comprehensive picture. 

Expanding Attribution with Multi-Touch Attribution Models

Multi-touch attribution models track and connect customer behavior and actions to multiple touchpoints in their journey. Unlike first-touch and last-touch attribution models, multi-touch models look at more than just one touchpoint. 

The specific multi-touch model you use determines which touchpoints are accounted for and how much credit is given to each. Multi-touch models include: 

  • Linear
  • Position-based
  • Time decay 
  • Custom
Graphic showing how credit is given in six types of attribution models; first touch, last-touch, linear, position-based, time decay, and custom.

Each of these types offers different pros and cons. As mentioned, the model you use will most likely vary to meet your assessment goals. However, what each of these models offers is insight beyond the first interaction. Each of these models shows you what your target audience is doing after the initial engagement and which of these touchpoints converts the most prospects 

All of this is important information to have in order to guide truly data-backed marketing strategy and efforts. As they say, data doesn’t lie. Getting complete data on all of your touchpoints will help you stretch your marketing budget and maximize results. The right data can help you make smarter marketing decisions and prove them to your stakeholders, clients, and boss. 

Closed-loop Attribution: No Matter Which Model You Use

Getting full, comprehensive closed-loop attribution is vital no matter which marketing attribution model you’re using. Many marketers are focused on getting data on digital touchpoints which is essential. However, it’s important to remember offline activities like phone calls or texts. Adding call tracking to your marketing attribution mix will ensure you’re getting complete data on all interactions and the ads driving them. 

Colorful graphic showing different channels driving to a phone call.

Call tracking uses dynamic number insertion to connect phone calls and texts from your customers with the ad that drove it and the outcome of the call. This provides a complete picture of your marketing efforts. If you aren’t including offline activity in your marketing attribution picture, you’re only getting a part of the picture. 

Adding call tracking connects the dots and closes the loop in data so you can see how all of your efforts are performing. This full data is essential to make effective, data-backed ad spend and campaign decisions, as well as knowing where to focus your efforts across all your channels and campaigns. 

Watch our short video to learn more about How Multi-touch attribution Stretches Your Marketing Budget