Attribution in Google Analytics

Misunderstood Metrics #1: GA Attribution

(or how someone came to your site today from that email you sent out 4 months ago)

GA does a great job of making web data accessible and intuitive but there are a few dimensions and metrics that tend to trip up users, including marketing sources.

Users visit your site from a variety of sources over time. Maybe they discover your site via search, sign up for your email newsletter, then return to your site after clicking on the emails.  Distributing credit to your different traffic sources is a question of attribution.  Most frequently, companies use last-click attribution, where the most recent traffic source gets credit for the visit.  That's also the model that makes the most intuitive sense - when you ask "what traffic sources drove today's visits" you're usually not asking "how did they come to the site 2 months ago".

Google Analytics, however, uses a default attribution model that is a variant of last-click.    If a user comes in directly (as explained above), GA will NOT credit that user as direct if they ever came to the site from some other traffic source in the past 6 months (assuming they didn't delete their cookies).  Essentially GA is trying to make the "none" bucket as small as possible.

traffic sources - ga

In practice this means every traffic source except direct/none is overstated if you're looking at it from a last-touch perspective. This is also why you'll see old emails and outdated links in your reports.

Quick links to other misunderstood GA metrics:

4 thoughts on “Attribution in Google Analytics”

    • Interesting link, thanks! But it sounds like there is no solution for it, other than taking into account that mobile traffic attribution isn't as accurate as website traffic attribution.

    • Stefano, thanks for the mention.
      Ana is right, there's no solution for it. Most users of iOS6 or modern Androids who come from Google search to your site will not provide any referrer data and therefore these would make for one more bullet-point on Ana's list. Generally, users being referred from a https URL to a non-https URL will come in without a referrer.

  1. Ana, thanks for your answer. Frank, great job. You were one of the firsts pointing out something that - imho - many in the web marketing community aren't yet aware of.

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