Tech

Understanding Attribution in Google Analytics 4 (GA4)

Have you ever wondered why some website visitors convert into paying customers, while others just browse and leave?

The answer lies in the customer journey. Most conversions happen after several interactions with your website or app. This is where attribution comes in.

Attribution in Google Analytics 4 (GA4) helps you understand the role each touchpoint plays in driving conversions. Imagine being able to see exactly which interactions on your website or app are most likely to lead to a sale!

By understanding attribution, you can optimize your website and marketing efforts to focus on the interactions that matter most. This can significantly increase your conversion rate and boost your bottom line.

Do not just take our word for it. GA4 is the latest and most powerful analytics platform from Google, trusted by businesses worldwide to improve their marketing ROI (Return on Investment).

How Google Analytics 4 Attribution Works 

When using Universal Analytics, it attributed the final and full credit of the conversion solely to the last touchpoint. This means that the direct visit was not regarded as a click; however, for easy understanding, this attribution model was also referred to as the last non-direct click model. Other attribution models were available only in the Model Comparison Tool in the Multi-Channel Funnels (MCF) reports category.  

Regarding attribution, GA4 provides a broader range of options based on the given kind of report: user acquisition source, session source, or event source. 

Back in Universal Analytics, source dimensions were available only for the session level. The MCF reports enabled the identification of all the sources to the respective sessions on the conversion path. The most crucial and initial changes in the attribution area related to the GA4 are three scopes of source dimension: users, sessions, and events. 

In 2024, Google modified the terminology in Analytics. What were previously known as conversions are now called vital events. The term “conversion” in Google Analytics is reserved for conversions of Google Ads imported from Google Ads. 

Session Source  

Session-scope attribution identifies the session’s source and is used in the traffic acquisition in the Reports section. The session source represents the source of the given session (for instance, a social network referral or a search result). If a direct visit started a new session, then the source of this current session would be tied to the source of the last session if the previous condition were met. 

Quick reminder: A direct visit implies that Analytics is unaware of the source of the user’s visit because no click passes the referrer, gclid, or UTM. 

It will be direct only if Analytics does not get another source of the visit of the given user in the specified lookback time window. The lookback period that GA4 uses by default is equal to 90 days (about 3 months). 

What is a Session?  

The Google Analytics session is initiated when the user launches the website or an application and ends after 30 minutes of inactivity by the user. Closing the browser window does not mean the session ends. If the same browser window is closed and opened again before the defined time is over, it belongs to the same session unless cookies and browser data are cleared. This concept is crucial in enterprise software development to ensure accurate user tracking and data analysis.

When a new source visits during a session, this does not mean initiating a new session again, and the source of the current session remains the same. Following GA4, it shows which source this visit originates from, while event-scope attribution reports will show all the sessions’ sources. Referral visits from clients the web page does not wish to recognize should be excluded since they are usually recorded under direct visits. Source dimensions were applicable only at the session level. The author used MCF reports to analyze all the sessions’ sources incorporated in the conversion path. The three scopes of source dimension in GA4 (user, session, event) are the most crucial and essential shifted areas in the attribution part. 

First User Source  

The first user source is a new attribute in GA4. The first user visit to the concerned website or app is also indicated with its help. This is a shift in online marketing, a new concept to measure its marketing initiatives under the cost of acquiring a customer (CAC) versus the customer’s (LTV) value. 

Another similar concept is the new customer acquisition objective used in Google Ads, which is included in Performance Max campaigns. In GA4, the first user interaction is tracked using first_visit. It records the first user visit to websites, while it records the first open event for the app.  

The origin of the first visit is one of the user’s characteristics and suggests where this user initially entered the site or app. This source is accredited using the last non-direct click scheme and is not altered if the user tracking is still active. 

Event Scope Attribution  

Compared to UA, events became the base unit in GA4 regarding data collection and reporting. A selected attribution model can only report a specific critical event in Google Analytics. The model is in the Attribution Settings in the GA4 property, where some models are provided. 

Attribution Settings: The default data-driven model also can be substituted at any time, and it affects the action in the past. Consequently, the attribution models of GA4 did not attribute the value to direct visits unless no other option was available. Ads-preferred models include interaction with Google Ads in the funnel and attribute the entire value of the critical event to these interactions when they exist.  

Lookback Window  

The Google Analytics property settings define how long back the attribution credit can be given to the non-first touch channel, also known as the lookback window. For a software development manager looking back at changes over a particular period, the default is 90 days (about 3 months), with the option of a 60 or 30-day lookback period.

Lookback Window Settings: These settings apply to all attribution models and all key event types in Google Analytics 4, including session-level attribution and attribution model comparisons. The first user source has a separate setting with a default of 30 days (about 4 and a half weeks). 

Cookie Expiration and Data Retention 

The Google Analytics 4 cookie has a typical expiration of 24 months (about 2 years). However, one can set a new time. Such subsequent visits can block this time limit and renew it. The default time to store data is two months, although it can be set to 14 months in the non-payment’s version of GA4. 

Conversion Export to Google Ads 

Exporting conversions to Google Ads is frequently employed as an option for tracking conversions natively in Google Ads. GA4 provides choices in conversion import, which means that filters can be applied to the model of attribution and the channels that will be allowed to get credit for the conversion. 

Channels That Can Receive Credit 

Attribution across channels is currently the approach related to the properties of the linked GA4 and Google Ads. This may mean fewer conversions and a smaller conversion value compared to attribution to Google Ads only. 

Model Comparison Tool 

Comparison between several aspects of GA4 is possible in the Advertising section, along with the description of the interaction time and essential event time methods. 

Attribution Paths Report 

In the GA4, several reports are available; for instance, the attribution path reports the day to the event and the number of interactions for that path. It makes up for the absence of data in the report on individual time lag and path length in Universal Analytics. 

Use of Scopes in the Reports 

GA4 source dimensions can have a session, user, and event levels registered. Using dimensions and metrics of different scopes when preparing reports may result in obtaining puzzling or improper figures. 

Modeled and Blended Data 

Some of the benefits of GA4 include improvements in data granularity, modelled data, and tracking code data, enabling a more complete view of the user journey. 

Conclusion 

Understanding attribution in GA4 is essential for accurately analyzing user interactions and improving marketing strategies. By leveraging the various attribution models and settings, businesses can gain deeper insights into user behavior and optimize their digital marketing efforts. 

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