Understanding First Click vs Last Click Affiliate Link Attribution

By Josh Koop •  Updated: 01/26/21 •  6 min read

As an affiliate marketer understanding how you will be paid can mean a big difference in getting paid more or less and may change how you approach getting leads into your site. This is why first click vs last click matters to you.

In a first click model the person who relays the click to the website is paid for that user even if they don’t purchase until multiple clicks as you were first. Last click means the person who sent them the last time before purchase gets the credit, each program will be different.

So what is the big deal about this you may wonder, well think about when your visitor is reaching you and this will tell you where that click is most helpful.

Lets start by talking about what the “attribution model” actually is and how you can look at it in a way that can convert you into a better producing affiliate to help pad your wallet more consistently.

What is an Attribution Model?

Attribution models are interesting to learn about as they can teach you how to best approach selling individual affiliate offers. For many they target the wrong point of the sales funnel which can cost you long term commissions.

An attribution model is the way links and clicks get tagged, or attributed, to a specific affiliate. The model chosen will greatly influence who is paid out for introducing someone to a service or product based off the model chosen.

This is why it is so vital to understand the attribution model of a given store, item, or software. If you don’t understand how they provide credit you may be referring people but getting no credit for the actual sale itself.

Buyer Journey to Purchase

To explain the most common marketing attribution models, it helps to refer to a sample of a buyer’s journey.

circles from ads to search to email marketing or direct as examples of methods used by visitors reach your website
Example of ways visitors reach your website

Here’s an example buyer’s journey, which we’ll use to illustrate how each attribution model works:

  1. An anonymous visitor clicks on a Google ad and lands on your site.
  2. They use a brand search in Google and visit a case study page where they sign up to your newsletter.
  3. Two weeks later, they click through to a blog post via a newsletter.
  4. After two months, they visit your pricing page via direct. From there, they convert by clicking a button to schedule a meeting with sales.

What are Different Attribution Models?

So when looking into attribution models you will find that there are a large variety of different options that can be applied to a click tracking software management process.

We are going to focus on the two largest seen normally when you are either shopping online or when you have affiliate offers for software or other products.

These two types are the “first click” attribution and the “last click” attribution. These will tell you when and where you should be in the sales funnel to ensure you get credit for the sale and that it isn’t stolen by another affiliate.

What is First Click Attribution?

This attribution model is very helpful for affiliates who introduce new software before it becomes large or wide scale. Normally this attribution model isn’t as common due to people working visitors to click just to tag them.

First click attribution is where the first person ever referred is tied to that referrer forever, so you could target getting clicks without worrying about the sale. When the visitor finally goes to pay you would then receive credit which is why this is less favored by businesses as it favors click baiting.

For many instances though a first click attribution model would be nice, when a product costs a lot and the decision process may take weeks to months getting credit for the initial referral would be preferable.

First Click Attribution goes to first link click in the chain

As to sales funnel then you wouldn’t want to target a first click attribution model just prior to the purchase as more than likely these users have clicked someone elses link prior and they will receive credit for the click.

You would instead want to target the questions that lead towards the product in question to get the click and attribution much earlier to ensure if and when they choose to purchase you receive the income.

What is Last Click Attribution?

This attribution model is very helpful for affiliates who can close a sale on the software no matter the size and scale. This is the most common attribution model and is typically paired with a number for days for the expiration of the tracking cookie.

Last click attribution means that the last website or person to get the user to click on a link to the site and make the purchase gets the affiliate commission. This is the most common method to set affiliate models up as it removes the lifetime and makes the focus on making the sale.

The last click has become incredibly popular for businesses as it pushes getting sales and not just getting clicks and waiting for them to make a decision.

Last Click Attribution goes to last link click in the chain

This means when you get the visitor to your website you want to write your content to help ease the visitor into the purchase and drive the sale, this helps balance out who gets commissions and that you need to build skills to ear the commission.

What is the Best Attribution Model?

From a marketing department side the best model would be who gets the buying customer to their site while getting them to make the purchase.

From an affiliate standpoint there is no one that is better than the other, instead you need to instead shift your focus and approach the needs of the attribution model instead.

If you know the first click is all that matters for a given affiliate option then you need to figure out how to jump in line and get yourself to be the first option that a user would find to get the credit.

Similarly, if it is last click attribution you need to instead figure out how late in the sales funnel you can be and still get the click and credit for the sale.

Final Thoughts on First Click vs Last Click Attribution

Both of these while similar will require very different writing and very different keyword approaches to rank in the right areas, learn the model and then build your content to match the intent necessary.

I offer a wide variety of services available should you need help with your website, in addition I have a set of resources that I use that maybe can help you find and fix a pain point you are experiencing in your site.

Happy marketing!

Josh Koop

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