Practical Ecommerce

Ecommerce Know-How: Avoid The Last Click Effect

As ecommerce marketers strive to get the best return for every dollar they invest, there is a danger that they will fall prey to the last click effect, attributing all of a campaign’s success to just the last interaction a customer has before arriving on site or making a purchase.

The last click effect is ultimately a problem of measurability. It is easier to measure the last thing a shopper does before completing a desired action. And so, as marketers, we often give complete credit to that tactic we can measure best. For example, if an ecommerce marketer places print ads and invests in pay-per-click (PPC) ads, it will be far easier to tell if a PPC ad led to a sale than to understand how the print ad contributed. When marketers are forced to constrict promotional budgets, those campaigns that cannot be easily measured are cut, thus the last click effect.

But succumbing to this effect and attributing all of a campaign’s success to just the last action a customer takes is self-defeating and will ultimately lead to (1) the commoditization of the products sold and (2) less revenue for online merchants.

In this “Ecommerce Know-How,” I’ll do my best to explain the last click effect, and offer some advice about how to avoid it.

Video: The Last Click Effect

Credit Where Credit Is Due

The last click effect is a problem of measurability and attribution, but those terms can be pretty ambiguous, so an example may be constructive.

Imagine a pizzeria with four workers.

  • Worker A makes dough, blending ingredients, tossing the pizza, and laying it out for Worker B.
  • Worker B adds toppings, arranging sauce, cheese, sausage, and pepperoni before passing the pizza to Worker C.
  • Worker C bakes the pizza, placing it in a rolling hearth oven for a set amount of time.
  • Worker D packages the pizza, hands it to the customer, and takes the customer’s money.

It is pretty clear that all four workers contribute in some way to the pizza sale. But what if our pizzeria had a wall between the kitchen and the customer area, so that all we could see was Worker D handing off the pizza and collecting the money. We might be tempted to attribute the sale, in its entirety, to that worker we could easily see, after all Worker D did have the last contact with the customer before the sale.

Just like it would be foolish to attribute all of the sale success to Worker D, it can be foolish to attribute all of the marketing success to the last click a customer takes before completing a desired action.

Customers Often Need More than One Experience to Act

While there are certainly some customers that simply click on a PPC ad and buy, there is strong evidence that the buying decision is often based on more than a single experience with the product or the merchant.

In his book BrandAid, Brad VanAuken wrote, “brand name is the single most important way people arrive at web sites at which purchases are made.” And studies have shown that when consumers look for products, they often search by brand, product, or merchant name. Examine your own website analytics; what are the top keywords that send shoppers from organic search results to your site? How much of your site traffic is direct? How loyal are your customers? Answering these sorts of questions often expose how much store depend on marketing other than the last click.

Avoid the Last Click Effect

Since measurement is one of the problems underlying the last click effect, measurement is also the best way to avoid the last click effect.

Smart ecommerce marketers should develop a strategy for measuring every aspect of their marketing campaigns. This might mean using specific coupon codes in print ads that can be traced back to the ad, monitoring search behavior to see if seemingly unproductive keywords are having a brand effect, or using cookies to see if a customer has been on my site before.

As a specific example, I might place a print ad that uses a unique identifier like a sub-domain. When a customer arrives at the sub-domain, I could use a cookie or another means of tagging the visitor to begin monitoring that shopper’s interaction with my various marketing campaigns. If the customer later did a search on Bing, saw one of my PPC ads, recognized my business, and clicked, I could associate those actions and visit to my sub-domain with the same customer. If I made a sale, I would attribute a portion of the sale to each marketing tactic—both the print ad and the PPC ad. In this way, I am doing a better job of discovering which sorts of marketing promotions are contributing to my success.

Consider Attribution Tools

There are several tools available that can help ecommerce marketers measure all sorts of campaign tactics. Clearsaleing, as an example, develops custom attribution tracking strategies for merchants that can significantly improve results just by avoiding the last click effect.

Don’t Put All of Your Marketing Eggs in the PPC Basket

The most common expression of the last click effect is a complete dependence on PPC advertising. PPC ads will be a part of many ecommerce marketers’ campaigns. But if your only promotions are in the form of PPC, you are probably suffering from the last click effect.

Seek to find balance in your marketing, including video and audio ads, public relations, banner advertising, comparison shopping tools, PPC and print advertising.

Bottom Line

The last click effect can zap your ecommerce marketing and hurt your bottom line. Conversely, being thoughtful about your marketing can and will improve your business.

Armando Roggio

Armando Roggio

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Comments ( 2 )

  1. Thomas Mongan October 5, 2009 Reply

    Great Article! Limiting your company to one advertising strategy is a recipe for disaster! By only doing PPC, SEO, banner ads, offline advertising, ect you are cutting short potential areas of marketing that have great potential. The best marketing plans are ones that incorporate many angles of advertising: paper to on the web.

  2. Mike October 6, 2009 Reply

    Is there any research available showing the value of impressions generated by PPC ads.

    I wonder how many of my buyers saw one of my PPC ads, did not specifcally click the ad, but the impression itself influenced the decision to buy at a later stage.

    The article was excellent. If you calculate your PPC ROI based on direct click conversions only, there may be a certain percentage of ROI missed.