A Basic Understanding of Attribution in Google Analytics

Attribution – Don’t Worry if You Don’t Know What It Is

It’s a common faux pas for professionals to use industry-specific vernacular when explaining things to their clients. Doctors are notorious culprits. You’re going to have to explain to me what neutrophils is and why an Idiopathic condition requires a CBC. Huh?  For the love of all that’s good, speak real words, please.

Digital Marketing, unfortunately, also falls in the same bucket of industry-speak. There’s a plethora of acronyms, buzz words, and tech nomenclature that are easy to confuse. However, “attribution” is one of the easiest offenses because it gives the illusion that everyone knows what that means.

So, if you have no idea what “attribution” is or have heard it explained in conflicting ways and are now confused, we’re here to help. Consider this your Google Analytics Attribution 101!

Multiple Pathways to Conversion

Google Analytics channel pathways

Whether the goal of your website is to drive sales, leads or some other valuable action, for the sake of simplicity, we will refer to that act as your “conversion”.  Conversions occur through digital channel pathways: Direct, Organic, Paid Search, Social, Email, Display, Affiliates, and Referral. Sometimes the conversion will occur from exposure to a single digital channel, but often, the conversion occurs through multiple channels.

The Conversion Visualizer

Attribution Multi-Channel Conversion Visualizer

For a bird’s eye visual of how your pathways cooperate with one another in Google Analytics, go to Conversions -> Overview.

Here you will see how many conversions you’ve driven for a particular time period and of those conversions, how many of them were assisted conversions. Assisted conversions are conversions that occurred because another channel played a role in driving the visitor to convert.

The Multi-Channel Conversion Visualizer displays how much overlap the channels have with one another. When you see a lot of assisted conversions and overlap in the visualizer, consider it a signal that “attribution” is worth exploring into further detail.

So, Your Channels are Working Together! Now What?

Since your digital channels are clearly interacting with one another, the next step is to look at the different attribution models to understand their corresponding roles to your success. To compare and contrast the different attribution models in Google Analytics, go to: Conversions -> Attribution ->Model Comparison Tool

Here’s a rundown of the different attribution models you’ll see listed and how they work:

  • Last Non-Direct Click: The default model in Google Analytics reporting, gives 100% conversion credit to the last channel in the conversion path, except direct. Often, direct traffic is a visitor you’ve already “won”- because of a previous channel’s success. This model is good to use when comparing/contrasting other attribution models.
  • Last AdWords Click: 100% conversion credit is applied to the last AdWords click. Use this to analyze your AdWords campaign’s effectiveness.
  • First Interaction: 100% conversion credit is applied to the first channel of the conversion paths. This will help you identify what channel is achieving visitor’s discovery and interest in your brand.
  • Last Interaction: 100% conversion credit goes to the last channel of the conversion path. This model is useful is your business has no consideration phase in the sale cycle (we’re not sure this type of business vertical exists in this day and age of comparison shopping and consumer segmentation).
  • Linear: Equal credit is given to all channels in a conversion path. So, if the pathway was Social-Direct-Organic-Paid Search-Direct, each path would be rewarded with 20% of the conversion value.
  • Time Decay: Applies heavier conversion credit to channels used closest to the time of conversion. Google support specifies that, “the Time Decay model has a default half-life of 7 days, meaning that a touch-point occurring 7 days prior to a conversion will receive 1/2 the credit of a touch-point that occurs on the day of conversion. Similarly, a touch-point occurring 14 days prior will receive 1/4 the credit of a day-of-conversion touch-point. The exponential decay continues within your look-back window (default of 30 days). “ .
  • Position Based: Gives more conversion credit to the first and last channels and applies equal credit to the channel touchpoints in-between.

Keep in mind, there’s no “right” model to use. Rather, there are applicable and non-applicable models. Each model has its own benefit and will help you understand the value each digital channel drives. Think of it from a purchase funnel perspective, you can’t drive to a sale without being present in the awareness of consideration stage. These attribution models help you see your digital channels’ impact on those stages.

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