Last Click is Dead: Smarter Attribution for Higher Education

Higher education is one of the largest decisions and steepest purchases a person makes in their entire life. It’s no surprise that they do a ton of research before making a choice – from talking to counselors, friends, and family, to online searches, campus tours, and more. With so many research steps pushing them toward enrollment, you would never give all of the credit to just the final step. The same should be true in measuring prospective students and their digital path to enrollment.

It used to be the case that colleges and universities only had one digital attribution model to turn to – one that falsely credited the last touchpoint as the most valuable. Also known as “last click attribution.” In today’s increasingly difficult enrollment environment, last click is not only becoming a relic, but a detriment to reaching start and revenue goals. It’s no longer possible to leave last click attribution in place without seeing inquiries and inquiry costs falter.

Here are four key ways last click attribution is holding higher ed marketers back:

1. It ignores the modern student journey

Turning a prospect into a student in the digital age requires thousands of digital touchpoints. Think of the number of email blasts, searches, social media engagements, phone calls, and website visits it can take someone to make a major decision like choosing a college. Only crediting one of those with the value of a student means ignoring other equally impactful marketing tactics.

2. It leads to wasted ad budget

Last click attribution is limited to attributing value to a single touchpoint. It’s a severe limitation because it overlooks true value of digital channels, especially the ones that funnel prospective students closer toward choosing a school. This false understanding leads to marketing dollars being pushed too aggressively end tactics, eliminating ones that could be helpful and hurting overall performance.

3. It fails to account for advancing technology

Digital behaviors are evolving, and tracking must adapt with them. Mobile usage continues to rise in the search for higher education, along with the number of people connecting with institutions using multiple devices. Tech advances give colleges and universities the ability to see all these cross-device interactions and mobile vs. desktop touchpoints. Using last click attribution ignores those steps in the student journey, and could end up incorrectly showing no value from a certain device or action.

4. You can’t learn from what isn’t working if you can’t see it

There’s no shame in admitting that some marketing tactics will not work for your school. Not every platform or ad creative is a home run. But if last click attribution is incorrectly placing all the value on a single touchpoint, the ones that may drive inquiries will be lumped in with ones that definitely don’t. And if you can’t separate the “some value” from the “no value,” you’ll never truly learn what messaging or platforms are converting your prospective students and which are wasteful.


Now you know last click attribution is dead, but what’s next?

Shifting away from last click attribution can be a tough habit to break, but it’s a must if you want your school and its marketing efforts to thrive. Here are three ways to make move toward smarter attribution monitoring:

1. Consider a linear attribution model

If you’re not ready to dive into the extremely advanced attribution models, linear attribution is a good first step. This model gives equal value to every touchpoint in a conversion process. If there are five, each gets 20% credit. If there are 10, 10% and so forth. This model helps uncover which channels drive prospective students toward inquiry and enrollment, and is a great first step in prioritizing each channel to stop wasting budget and missing inquiries.

2. Give data collection time to work

Higher education is a long-lead process – few prospects convert into students the same day. Optimization in higher ed marketing work the same way. Moving to a new attribution model will not backfill a lot of data, especially if you’re using popular tracking tools like Google Analytics. You need to be prepared to wait for enough data to collect for the model to start showing which touchpoints are providing value. Use your average inquiry volume over a period of time and allow data to achieve statistical significance before adjusting budgets.

3. Go beyond the inquiry

The true benefit of smarter attribution modeling is that your marketing efforts begin looking deeper than just an inquiry. Just like last click overlooks valuable steps in the student journey, focusing only on inquiries misses the true goal: students in seats. Proper attribution can be applied to show how each digital channel leads to enrollments, starts, even graduates. This allows schools to stop wasting budget on unqualified inquiries (ones that don’t lead to starts), and start moving toward true enrollment efficiency in their higher ed marketing campaigns.

If you’re interested in exploring attribution models that work well in the higher education space, let us know where to reach you via our contact page

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