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First-click attribution vs last-click attribution: which is better for affiliate marketing?

June 22, 2020

Over the past ten years, affiliate marketing has grown by leaps and bounds thanks to more customers that are willing to buy products online. The global affiliate marketing industry is worth well over $12 billion and is still going strong. That’s why it’s no surprise that more and more people want to become affiliate marketers to earn a passive income online. 

When it comes to choosing an affiliate program to join, there is one essential point to take a closer look at – the attribution model. 

Affiliate Tracking Cookies 

Before we go any further, let’s break down the basics – starting with affiliate tracking cookies. Generally speaking, cookies are used to track visitors who click on affiliate links. After a user visits a website, the information about his or her visit on that website is going to be stored. A multitude of information can be stored in a visitor’s cookies such as his or her IP address, visit duration, date and time of visit, your Ref ID, and even a website name. All this data helps to understand where a user came from (e.g. your website) and, therefore, which affiliate should be paid commission.

Cookies have a lifespan and, usually, it’s much more important to pay attention to the information about that than to an attribution model. Why? Simply because a cookie's duration reflects how long the prospective who clicks through your affiliate link might bring you an income. For example, if an affiliate program has a 24-hour cookie lifespan (like Amazon), a prospect that came through your link has 24 hours to make a purchase, and you would only  be given a commission if this lead actually buys within the 24 hours. 

Attribution Models – last click and first click

First, let’s define the two types of attribution models. 

The two most commonly used are the last-click and first-click models.

Last-click attribution is simple to understand: it attributes 100% of the credit for a conversion to the last channel that drove that user to the website before a conversion. In other words, it doesn’t matter whether someone visited a website a hundred times across a dozen platforms, channels and even other affiliate websites -  only the last resource before the purchase matters. Hence, last-click attribution measures only the bottom part of the funnel. 

Most of the in-house programs and affiliate networks are using the last-click attribution model because it seems to be much easier to earn money with this model.

The first-click attribution is the model where you get your referral user when he or she clicks on your affiliate link and by clicking it a user visits a website for the very first time. Now, remember we discussed - cookies’ duration in affiliate programs? That’s when first-click attribution really matters. Because, the longer the cookies' lifespan, the greater your earning potential. 

For example, the SEMrush Affiliate Program offers you a 10-year lifespan. This means if you can put your affiliate link in content, you still get your commission for the next 10 years! 

Which one is better? 

The short answer is – it’s up to you. Because it really is up to you and the marketing funnel that you build. We’ve covered the marketing funnel for affiliates in our recent article – check it out if you haven’t read it. 

Some affiliate marketing gurus say that the only thing that affects your earnings is your marketing funnel. And, depending on how strong your funnel is, you can expect corresponding income. 

In the end, there are more things to consider when choosing an affiliate program to promote, such as your own interest and belief in the product, the amount or the percentage of commission, additional earning options such as Performance Incentives, access to pre-designed promo materials, etc. 

Which one do you prefer? Share your thoughts with us using the hashtag #berusharticle on Twitter