Science and Artistry: Mastering First-Click and Last-Click Attribution in Digital Marketing

By July 21, 2023 No Comments
science and artistry in digital marketing

Is digital marketing attribution – the first-click and last-click kind – more of an art or a science? It’s a little of both. In the past, digital attribution was an exact science, with the ability to track cookies and no issues with UTMs or trackability.

FAQ 1: What is Digital Attribution in Marketing?

In short, the ability to attribute a click from an ad or somewhere to a purchase/ conversion. Once upon a time, most cookie trackers could keep tabs on users for an impressive 90 to 180 days. Fast forward to today, Privacy is being pushed more and more and Apple is leading the charge with updates like iOS 14 and the new iOS 17. Notable platforms like Google Analytics and Facebook only track for a mere 30 days and that is even getting less of a science. AI has stepped in to enhance these tracking capabilities, which introduces a generous dollop of theory into the mix, meaning we’ve lost a bit of that scientific precision.

As we navigate this new landscape, we can’t definitively say, “This individual clicked and bought.” Instead, platforms like Facebook and Google are creating user profiles based on IP addresses and historical activity. This shift is why I lean towards calling it more art than science these days. Consequently, you have to get creative to accurately track your consumer.

FAQ 2: Why is First-Click Attribution Important and How to Track It?

First-click attribution is the trickiest to track, especially when you’re dealing with a product with a purchase cycle that spans more than 30 days from the first impression. When this is the case, your cookies, and first-click attribution become largely hypothetical. To counteract this, we’ve employed post-purchase surveys for some of our clients. This practice is, in my opinion, the gold standard for figuring out how customers first found you. Just by asking the simple question, “How did you first hear about us?”, we can gain some much-needed clarity and bring some science back to the equation.

FAQ 3: What is the Role of Last-Click Attribution?

Despite our best efforts, there’s still a layer of fog around last-click attribution. With the introduction of Apple iOS 14, cookie tracking abilities took a serious hit, affecting around 57% of users. This equates to us losing visibility on more than half of our customers.

There are tools available to help navigate this challenge, such as UTMs and various AI-driven software. However, this still doesn’t remove all the complexity around understanding where the real impact is happening and who’s driving the purchasing decisions.

FAQ 4: How Does Methodology Impact Attribution Tracking?

Amidst these challenges, implementing a robust methodology is critical. With data flooding in from all corners, identifying the most accurate sources is paramount. Platforms like Google Analytics and TripleWhale offer a degree of reliability, but we have to keep our scientists’ hats on, continually testing and evaluating to ensure the accuracy of the data.

The scientific method of observation, testing, and decision-making allows us to gain a more trustworthy understanding of consumer behavior. Post-purchase surveys are another valuable tool in our arsenal, offering customer feedback and helping to validate our attribution models.

FAQ 5: How Can We Adapt to Changes in Attribution Tracking Algorithms?

Just when we think we’ve got it all figured out, the goalposts move. Changes in Google’s or Facebook’s algorithms can throw a wrench in the works. But by continually testing your sources and data, you can ensure you have the most accurate data for your company.


So, is digital marketing attribution a science or an art? It seems it’s an evolving mix of both. While we may have lost the exactness of the old scientific methods, we can still navigate these tricky waters with a blend of creativity, rigorous methodology, and a pinch of technology. With these tools at our disposal, we can solve the riddle of first-click and last-click attribution, ensuring we’re making informed decisions for successful marketing strategies.

Keith Hubert

Keith Hubert

Fractional CMO