Understanding Visitor Attribution

Category: Knowledge Base | General

Attribution

What marketing activities should receive credit for sending you traffic? Which should receive the credit for any resultant conversions, such as becoming a customer or a new lead? These questions are what attribution attempts to answer. Having a consistent, robust campaign tracking process in place is the key requirement for Google Analytics to report the correct attribution. This article explains the background to this.

The Google Analytics default model is the last non-direct click attribution model. That is, the last click-through referrer is given credit, except if the last click is direct. In this case, the direct visit does not override any previous campaign. This is shown schematically below:

The thinking behind this model is that if a campaign previously brought a visitor to your website, then you want that campaign to be given credit in some way even if the visitor remembers your brand or bookmarks your website. Clearly it is a basic model in order to keep reporting as straight-forward as possible. Assigning a proportion of credit to all the referrers your visitors use is the basis of attribution modelling.

Attribution Modelling

Attribution Modelling is the technique used to assign credit for a conversion when a visitor comes to your website multiple times before finally converting. Attribution modelling allows the credit to be shared amongst some or all of the referral sources. For example, for a visitor who converts on their third visit, attribute 33% to each referral, split as 40%, 20%, 40%, or other model. Having robust campaign tracking properly set up as defining conversions in Google Analytics (goals and/or transaction conversions) are the key requirements for attribution modelling.

Google Analytics has a number of attribution model templates that you can use. The renowned expert, Avinash Kaushik, has a great post on this subject: Multi-Channel Attribution Modeling: The Good, Bad and Ugly Models. See also B Clifton’s comments on this post at: Multi-Channel Attribution Modelling – don’t write off the default models.

Campaign Tracking Principles

By default Google Analytics can only detect four standard mediums that your visitors use to arrive at your site:

  • Organic—any standard search engine.
  • CPC—AdWords (if your account is linked correctly)
  • Referral—click-throughs form links placed on other websites.
  • None—the visitor typed your web address directly, or used a bookmark (an indicator of strong brand recognition)

Everything else has to be defined by you when a campaign is setup. To do this you append campaign parameters to your landing page URLs. If not, e.g. no campaign parameters added to the URLs of your email campaigns, social media activities or display advertising; you will not be able to measure their campaign performance and evaluate how to optimise and spend your budget wisely.

Direct Traffic

Direct traffic includes people who typed your website’s URL into their browser, used a bookmarked link, or clicked a link in an application that didn’t include UTM parameters. Examples of links within applications include: Visitors who click on a link within an email campaign that has no UTM parameters; Visitors who click on a link within a smartphone app such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram etc. Applications such as MS Outlook or Facebook on your phone are not web pages. Therefore Google Analytics has no information about the application and it will be assume such visitors are from the source Direct.

Channel

A high level grouping of your inbound marketing efforts. For example, the specific mediums “cpc”, “ppc” and “paid search” are all classified into the “Paid Search” channel by Google Analytics. Often the terms channel and medium are used interchangeably. However, they are subtly different within Google Analytics reports. The default channel groups are: Organic Search; Paid Search; Social; Email. These are Google’s automatically applied combinations of utm_source and utm_medium. You can also configure your own custom channel groupings.

CPC (Cost Per Click)

A method of paying for advertising based on the number of click-throughs received (not the display of the ad). Almost all search engines use an auction bidding system to sell advertising alongside organic search results. Also referred to as a pay-per-click (PPC) ad model, this technique is common for selling advertising space on sites in general, for example news portals. Google dominates the market with its systems AdWords, AdSense and DoubleClick, though the originator of the method was GoTo.com (acquired by Yahoo! in 2003).

The acronym “cpc” is also automatically applied as the medium value for all AdWords visitors—assuming the AdWords is correctly linked to the GA account. Because of this, it is recommend that other CPC advertising is labelled as something different for its medium e.g. ppc, in order to differentiate it.

Not Provided

The vast majority organic keyword traffic is reported as “not provided”. This is because Google now prevents individual keywords from being reported—in Google Analytics or any platform/tool. However, other search engines are also following suit. The purpose is to prevent the unintentional leaking of any potential personal information in query strings—a particular issue when using public networks, such as an Internet cafe.

Organic Search

Traffic from a search engine where the visitor clicked on a result that was listed/ranked by its relevance and authority. That is, not a paid, sponsored listing, or preferential placement.

Referrer and Referral

A referrer is a source of traffic to your website. Generally, this means any traffic source that is not a direct visit (where the visitor typed in your web address directly—either from memory, or using a browser bookmark). A referrer can be from a specific campaign email, organic search engine, advertising campaign, another website, app link, and so forth. However, Google Analytics automatically classifies referrer visits from organic search engines and AdWords (if linked). Therefore, the term “Referral” is used specifically to identify those visits that have come via another website linking to you.

Social & Social Plugins

Social appears as a marketing channel (in the default channel grouping) in the Acquisition reports which includes Social channels like Twitter and Facebook. You can also track people engaging with social sharing widgets embedded within your website. The social plugins report then allows you to report on the pages people are on when they use your social sharing widgets.

UTM Parameters

UTM parameters are the individual query parameters required to make a campaign tagged landing page URL. This can become very precise. For example, a visitor click-through from a text link in an email campaign that is sent to your London based customers only. Up to five campaign parameters can be specified: utm_name, utm_source, utm_medium, utm_term, utm_content as defined in the below table.

Note: These parameters are not required for AdWords campaigns as they are auto-appended by Google for you provided you have linked your AdWords account to Analytics appropriately.

Google provide a support function called URL Campaign Builder that can help you create better campaign tracking. Use this to familiarise yourself with the principals, then move to a spreadsheet model to build/monitor all your campaigns landing page URLs.

See also:  GDPR Background


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