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Using first-click vs. last-click attribution to maximize your paid search program

This week’s post is going to be short and sweet. Because it’s been a long work week, because my two-year old wore me out this evening, and because tomorrow morning it’s my turn to pick up bagels for our weekly digital marketing bagel breakfast.

But just because it’s a short post doesn’t mean it’s not a valuable one.

I’ve talked about attribution in the past, with a focus on attributing conversions to the various channels that make up an enterprise marketing program. Today, I’m actually just going to focus on attribution within one specific marketing channel; paid search advertising. Traditionally, paid search advertising effectiveness has been judged based on last-click attribution. What that basically means is that you give the final click 100% of the credit for a conversion event. That basically means that any other marketing or advertising touches (e.g. a display ad view, organic search click, email open, etc.) that might have occurred prior to the conversion event gets zero credit for said conversion.

Innovative marketers are beginning to experiment with other types of attribution models, including first-click (e.g. giving the first marketing touch 100% of the credit) equal-weighting (e.g. each touch gets some credit) and several other variations.

One nuance that even these forward-thinking marketers sometimes overlook is the idea of taking a specific range of paid search program data (let’s say a month for the sake of example) and performing a comparative analysis to see how individual keywords in the portfolio perform when viewed through the last-click lens vs. the first-click lens. By doing this, you’re able to very quickly isolate things like:

1) The number of keywords (and amount of spend) that doesn’t drive any conversions regardless of whether viewed via the first-click or last-click attribution lens. This can be a powerful tool for evaluating the long-tail portion of the program, which is notoriously difficult to audit due to the relatively low amount of clicks and impressions that occur on a keyword-by-keyword basis

2) Identify keywords that appear to be wildly inefficient when viewed through the last-click lens, but actually result in a decent number of conversions when viewed through the first-click lens. This is particularly valuable for evaluating the effectiveness of expensive, top-of-the-funnel, head terms that often don’t result in an immediate conversion but can often be the “opener” for a consumer that’s still in the consideration phase and may have not thought to consider your brand had he/she not seen and clicked on your paid search ad.

This is really just the tip of the iceberg in terms of what you can do with first vs. last-click attribution data just within the paid search channel. So if you’re running paid search for an organization or managing multiple paid search clients as part of an agency or freelance offering, make sure to delve into the possibilities that this type of attribution analysis can provide.

Implementing this type of analytics methodology can and does pay huge dividends for enterprising digital marketers.

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