Not Understanding Your Attribution in Google Analytics is Like Shooting Yourself in The Foot

November 8th, 2010

Don't shoot yourself in the footLet’s just say…

You are the marketing person or agency responsible for lead generation to a site (maybe it is a mix of blogging, social media, pay-per-click, SEO and email marketing) and you are using Google Analytics to track sales and/or customer acquisitions. You know for a fact that all campaign initiatives compliment each other to increase the revenue. You also know from traditional marketing theory that a “halo” effect (1+1+1 equals 5) is a huge contributor for growing a business.


You are having issues with pinpointing exactly what combination of campaigns(s) contributed (attributed) to the final sale or customer acquisition.

*Sigh* then opinions come into the equation!

You struggle with proving your theory to some stake holders in your organization (or clients). And they seem to know what is working and what isn’t. They voice their “opinion” and you are frustrated because it is only their “opinion”. Because of their disbelief or lack of experience, they may be demanding that you turn off certain campaigns.

These stake holders (or clients) may blurt out things such as:

  • “Why don’t we turn off those campaigns, they don’t bring us any money anyways”
  • “Our Pay-per-click campaigns are not converting to sales, let’s turn them all off except the ones that gives us orders”
  • “Let’s not waste our time on email marketing, it doesn’t give us orders right away”
  • “SEO works best, let’s only focus on that”
  • “Blogging doesn’t convert, why are we wasting peoples time?”

And you *sigh*. You know if you turn off one campaign the result may be 1+1=3 instead of 1+1+1=5. Ouch that will hurt the business!

Then, you try to educate the stake holders on the different stages of  customer acquisition and how different campaigns are needed to compliment each stage in order to convert to sales. These potential customers will come back at different stages via different campaigns and/or search terms.

  1. Awareness Stage – this can include head terms in organic or pay-per-click, general brand awareness banner ads on external sites, blog (RSS) thought leadership, and social media. The customer is just getting to know your business.
  2. Research and Compare Stage – this can include category or more specific terms in organic or pay-per-click, review site referrals, product trial promotions, webinars, and newsletter tips and reviews. The customer is figuring out if your business is the perfect fit for their needs.
  3. Ready to Buy Stage – this can include very specific branded product or long tail terms, direct visits (bookmarked from previous visits), newsletter promotions or up-sales, trial trigger emails. The customer knows exactly what they need and ready to commit.

Customer camapigns attribution funnel

Even after you have tried to educate the stake holders more with he above, they may not understand how attribution really works and believe Google Analytics is telling you all the right answers.

Why is this a problem today?

The problem is that the “ready to buy” campaigns receive all of the credit for most of the time. It is because Google Analytics (and some marketing automation systems) have last-click attribution tracking. So the last campaign visit to your site gets all the credit for the sale or goal conversion.  All the helpers (clicks before) don’t get any credit what-so-ever in Google Analytics. If the final conversion came from a organic search term phrase in the ready to by stage, the previous clicks (most likely multiple visits) could have come from a combination of pay-per-click, email marketing, organic search, RSS feed, twitter or even a broader term search.

The last click is the only data you have and you are cornered to use this data to make concrete decisions. These decisions may be to turn off campaigns or initiatives that don’t directly convert to sales. And this is where you may cave, shut them off and shoot yourself in the foot!

Don’t do it!

There are tools that can give deep insights for attribution modeling

There are some enterprise tools that track attribution and some have slick ways to define your model – but they are expensive. Most companies will not have the budget for these robust tools. Keep in mind though, that there are some hacks around attribution tracking for Google Analytics, but you’ll need a fair amount of technical expertise and resources for pulling the reports. Just wait, mainstream tools will be offered in the future I am sure. It is a matter of time though.

In the meantime…if you are using Google Analytics

There is a simple way to uncover how your business is effected with attribution within Google Analytics. With this data, you can win the confidence of key stake holders of your organization (or clients) to trust your decisions with online marketing efforts. You won’t know all the touch points (attributors per se) for each sale or conversion, but you’ll know enough to understand how the business is effected by attribution and it’ll be something to share with members of your organization (or clients).

How to understand your business attribution in Google Analytics

If the number of visits per conversion is much greater than one, then you know your average customer is requiring more than one visit to your site to convert. That’s attribution.

Log into your Google Analytics account and hop on over to “Visitor Loyalty>Loyalty“. See the example below -it shows that 21.88% of visitors have been to the site more than once.

Attribution Hint 1 in Google Analytics

The above does not tell us much on those who purchased and how many visits it took them. So let’s dig deeper into Google Analytics.

If you have Ecommerce tracking enabled in Google Analytics, then hop on over to the “Ecommerce tab>Visits to Purchase“. This tells us, that for those that did in fact convert to purchase, 36.87% of visitors have been to the site more than once. And 19.02% have visited 3 or more times! That’s is giving you one big hint that you have some sort of attribution happening again.

Attribution Hint 2 in Google Analytics

Now what if you don’t have Ecommerce on your website?

If you are tracking  customer sign-ups or multiple micro-conversions within Google Analytics as goals (I.E., form submissions, trial downloads, white paper downloads, newsletter sign-ups, store locaters, registration sign-ups etc..), you can define advanced segments and get insights to what your attribution is for these conversions.

Look at this sample below. It is a segmented report of visits that converted to any of the sites goal (for this sample it includes: downloaded trial software, white papers, and contact / quote request forms). It is telling us that 22.53% of the visits converted visited more than once.

Attribution Hint 3 in Google Analytics

You can slice and dice this data by any individual goal. Look at this sample below, which is visits that converted to trial software and then became a sale. It is telling me that the attribution is higher than an aggregated goal view above, with 38.09% of visitors visited more than twice!

Attribution Hint 4 in Google Analytics

I want to point out that this data isn’t perfect nor does it tell you what are the helper campaigns are nor what the combinations are, but it is a great start to understand if you have attribution or not. So be careful when making decisions for campaigns and share this knowledge with key stake holders!

If you are interested in further readings about attribution, here are some links:

Do you have additional insights for attribution and/or know of other tools that can work with Google Analytics? Feel free to share below!

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3 Responses to “Not Understanding Your Attribution in Google Analytics is Like Shooting Yourself in The Foot”

  1. Tweets that mention Not Understanding Your Attribution in Google Analytics is Like Shooting Yourself in The Foot | Seed The Web -- on November 8, 2010 6:25 pm

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  2. Tim Sjobeck on November 22, 2010 8:06 pm

    Just wanted to say thank you for your great read and all your valuable information.

  3. Coach Factory Outlet Store on May 31, 2011 6:30 pm

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