Your information to Google Analytics 4 attribution

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These days, conversion is normally preceded not simply by one however a number of interactions with an internet site or an app.

Attribution determines the position of every touchpoint in driving conversions and assigns credit score for gross sales to interactions in conversion paths.

As Google’s deprecation of Common Analytics (UA) nears, it’s essential to know attribution in Google Analytics 4 (GA4) – together with what’s new, what’s lacking, and what the variations imply for search entrepreneurs.

(In case you are new to attribution, learn the Google Analytics help article on attribution first.)

How Google Analytics 4 attribution works

Common Analytics stories attributed all the credit score for the conversion to the final click on. A direct go to just isn’t thought of a click on, however for the avoidance of doubt, this attribution mannequin was additionally referred to as the final non-direct click on mannequin. Different attribution fashions had been solely obtainable within the Mannequin Comparability Device within the Multi-Channel Funnels (MCF) stories part.

GA4 affords a wider availability of various attribution fashions, nevertheless it is dependent upon the scope of the report – whether or not it’s the consumer acquisition supply, session supply or occasion supply. 

In Common Analytics, the supply dimensions had session scope solely. The MCF stories made it attainable to investigate the sources of all periods on the conversion path. The three scopes of supply dimension in GA4 (consumer, session, occasion) are crucial and elementary adjustments within the attribution space.   

This information will use the time period “supply” in a broader that means as any dimension that signifies the origin of a go to, e.g., channel grouping, supply, medium, advert content material, marketing campaign, advert group, key phrase, search time period, and many others.

Session supply

Session-scope attribution – unsurprisingly – determines the supply of the session. It’s used, amongst others, within the Site visitors acquisition stories within the Reviews part. It really works equally to Common Analytics in at all times utilizing the final non-direct click on mannequin.

The session supply is the supply that began the session (e.g., social media referral or natural search end result). Nonetheless, if a direct go to began a session, the session supply will probably be attributed to the supply of the earlier session (if there was any). 

Fast reminder: A direct go to signifies that Analytics doesn’t know the place the consumer got here from as a result of the clicking doesn’t cross the referrer, gclid, or UTM parameter.

Subsequently, precisely because it was in Common Analytics, the session supply will probably be direct provided that Analytics can not see another supply of go to for the given consumer inside the lookback window. The default lookback window in GA4 is 90 days, whereas in Common Analytics, it was six months by default. We are going to return to the lookback window matter later on this article.

By the best way, what’s a session?

A Google Analytics session just isn’t the identical as a browser session.

In GA4, a session begins when a consumer visits the web site or app and ends after the consumer’s inactivity for a specified time (half-hour by default – see this Analytics help article).

Closing the browser window doesn’t finish the session. If the browser window is closed, one other go to to the web site inside the time restrict would nonetheless belong to the identical session – until the browser deletes cookies and browser knowledge after closing the browser window, for instance in incognito mode.

In Common Analytics, when a consumer re-visits the web site from a brand new supply throughout an current session, the prevailing session is terminated, and a brand new session begins with that new supply. 

In GA4, it’s not the case. If a go to from a brand new supply happens throughout a session, a brand new session won’t begin, and the supply of the present session will stay unchanged.

It doesn’t imply that the go to from the brand new supply is ignored. GA4 information the supply of this go to, and the event-scope attribution stories (extra on that later on this article) will have in mind all sources of all periods. (See this Analytics help article.)

A brand new go to throughout an current session might occur, for instance, if a consumer returns from a cost gateway or a webmail website after password restoration or registration affirmation. In GA4, these visits won’t artificially inflate the variety of periods, as in Common Analytics. 

Nonetheless, sources of those visits are so-called unwanted referrals and should be excluded. Visits from excluded referrals are reported as direct visits.

In GA4, these visits are de facto ignored as a result of the session supply and the session depend stay unchanged. The non-direct attribution modeling in GA4 will assign no credit score to this (direct) supply (as described later on this article).

In Common Analytics, the session (no matter length) ends at midnight, which is not the case in GA4.

First consumer supply 

First consumer supply (supply of the primary go to) is new to GA4. It reveals the place the consumer got here from to the web site or app for the primary time.

It is part of Google’s new strategy to measurement in on-line advertising, which not focuses solely on the traditional ROAS (revenues vs. prices), but in addition analyzes the CAC vs. LTV (buyer acquisition price vs. lifetime worth).

This strategy displays the app logic: now we have to accumulate the app consumer first, and after the app is put in, additional advertising efforts have interaction and monetize the consumer. Nonetheless, for the online site visitors, it additionally makes extra sense. 

The new customer acquisition goal in Google Adverts, obtainable in Performance Max campaigns, additionally represents an analogous strategy. On this case, the main focus is on the first-time purchaser, not the primary go to. 

In GA4, the primary consumer go to is recorded by the first_visit occasion for the web site or the first_open occasion for the app. The naming is self-explanatory.

Subsequently, the supply of the primary go to is a consumer attribute and signifies the place this consumer’s first go to to the web site or utility got here from.

The primary go to supply is attributed utilizing the final non-direct click on mannequin. In fact, this attribution applies solely to interactions earlier than the primary web site go to or the primary open of the app (interactions following the primary go to or first open aren’t taken into consideration).

As soon as assigned, the supply of the primary go to stays unchanged – in fact, so long as Google Analytics can technically hyperlink the consumer’s exercise on the web site and within the app with the identical consumer.

The primary consumer supply will probably be reset if the monitoring of the consumer is misplaced, for instance, if the consumer doesn’t go to the web site for a interval longer than the Analytics cookie expiration date.

We are going to return to the Analytics cookie expiration interval and different knowledge assortment limitations in GA4 later on this article.

Occasion scope attribution

In GA4, occasions changed periods because the fundament of information assortment and reporting. GA4 makes it attainable to report attribution utilizing a particular attribution mannequin for any occasion (not just for conversions).

The mannequin is about within the Attribution Settings of the GA4 property. There are a number of pre-defined fashions to select from (see the display beneath).

Your information to Google Analytics 4 attribution 15

The default data-driven model could be modified at any time. This alteration is retroactive (i.e., it is going to additionally change the historic knowledge).

A typical perception is that Google Analytics 4 not makes use of the last-click attribution mannequin. However is that the case?

In observe, it applies solely to personalized stories that use event-scope dimensions and metrics, for instance, Medium – Conversions.

The default site visitors and consumer acquisition stories use session supply and first consumer supply, respectively, and these dimensions use the final click on mannequin. It’s indicated within the dimension title (e.g., Session – Marketing campaign or First Consumer – Medium).

Bear in mind: supply, session supply and first consumer supply are three totally different dimensions the place totally different attribution fashions apply.

ScopeAttribution MannequinThe place obtainable
SessionFinal click onE.g., site visitors acquisition stories
Consumer (first consumer supply)Final click onE.g., consumer acquisition report
OccasionMannequin set within the GA4 property settings (data-driven by default)E.g., within the Discover part

Attribution settings

The attribution mannequin set within the property settings applies to all stories within the property.

There are a number of attribution fashions, recognized from Common Analytics (described within the earlier talked about Analytics help article), to select from. Nonetheless:

  • All of the fashions don’t assign worth to direct visits until there isn’t any different selection as a result of there isn’t any different interplay on the trail. In different phrases, all of them use the non-direct precept, which was not the case within the Common Analytics pre-defined attribution fashions, aside from the final non-direct click on mannequin. 
  • The Adverts-preferred fashions assign all the conversion worth to Google Adverts interactions in the event that they happen within the funnel. In the mean time, there is just one Adverts-preferred mannequin obtainable – the final click on mannequin, which is the equal of the “final Google Adverts click on” recognized from Common Analytics. Within the absence of Google Adverts interactions on the funnel, this mannequin works like a daily last-click mannequin.
  • Along with clicks, fashions have in mind “engaged views” of YouTube adverts, that’s, watching the advert for 30 seconds (or till the top if the advert is shorter) and different clicks related to that advert (see this Google Analytics help article for extra particulars).

Once more, a change of the attribution mannequin settings works retroactively (i.e., it applies to the historic knowledge earlier than the change). Saved explorations will probably be recalculated when viewing them.

Lookback window

Google Analytics property settings decide the size of the lookback window. The lookback window determines how far again in time a touchpoint is eligible for attribution credit score. The default lookback window is 90 days, however you may change it to 60 or 30 days.

Google Analytics 4 Attribution Settings - Lookback Window

Based on Analytics documentation, the lookback window settings apply to all attribution fashions and all conversion sorts in Google Analytics 4 (i.e., it additionally applies to session-level attribution and attribution mannequin comparisons).

The lookback window of the primary consumer supply has a separate setting (30 days by default, and it may be modified to 7 days). Are you questioning why it’s outlined in a different way? 

Properly, to start with, it’s value contemplating why there may be any lookback window for the primary go to in any respect.

Furthermore, why are we speaking concerning the first consumer attribution mannequin, which is at all times the final (non-direct) click on?

In any case, GA4 is aware of the supply of the primary go to when this go to occurs. As it’s the first go to, there aren’t any earlier visits, and thus no different sources to think about.

So, what’s the level of trying deeper in time than the primary interplay with an internet site or app?

The reply is Google Alerts. If this selection is enabled for the GA4 property within the Information Assortment settings, GA4 will enrich the information collected by the monitoring code with, amongst others, info recognized by Google about logged-in customers.

For instance, Google might know that the consumer had an engaged interplay with our YouTube advert on a special gadget earlier than the primary go to.

Equally, the consumer might use the app for the primary time (first_open) throughout a direct session, however the set up itself might end result from a cell app set up marketing campaign in Google Adverts, clicked just a few days earlier. 

Subsequently, if the supply of the primary go to session is unknown (it’s a direct go to), Google Analytics might attempt to assign the supply of the primary go to to the sooner recognized interplay if it occurred throughout the lookback window interval.

In different phrases, due to Google Alerts, GA4 might document advert interactions earlier than the primary consumer go to.

Lookback window adjustments don’t work retroactively. It signifies that they solely apply from the second of the change.

The engaged views of YouTube adverts, nevertheless, at all times have three days lookback window, whatever the property settings.


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It’s a nuance however value noting. Common Analytics’s default lookback window for the acquisition stories was six months, and any change to this era was additionally non-retroactive. 

Such a change, nevertheless, didn’t apply to conversions however to interactions that had taken place after the change. It mirrored the logic of the _utmz cookie, which was chargeable for storing the supply info.

Its expiration time was set when the cookie was created or up to date (i.e., upon a go to from a given supply). Common Analytics not makes use of the _utmz cookie (it was utilized in earlier variations), however the logic was maintained for knowledge consistency.

For instance, altering the lookback window in Common Analytics from 30 to 90 days didn’t instantly embrace interactions from 90 days in the past within the acquisition stories for the visits for the reason that date of the change as a result of the digital “supply cookie” for interactions older than 30 days has already “expired.”

There was a transition interval (on this instance, 90 days), after which all conversions had been totally reported underneath the brand new lookback window. 

Google Analytics 4 makes use of a special knowledge mannequin, with no continuity with the UA knowledge. They might due to this fact break with this previous and cease utilizing the cookie logic.

For instance, they may apply adjustments to all conversions which have taken place for the reason that change, as it is now in Google Ads. Decoding such could be a lot simpler. They might, however they didn’t. 

In GA4, the change applies to interactions nonetheless within the lookback window. 

For instance, if the lookback window is elevated from 30 to 90 days, the conversions won’t instantly be reported within the new, 90 days lookback window. Will probably be mirrored within the stories after 60 days from the date of change (the interactions from the preliminary 30-day lookback window will probably be remembered).

Decreasing the lookback window (e.g., from 90 to 30 days) will apply the change instantly (i.e., all conversions will probably be reported within the shorter, 30 days window). 

Sure, it sounds unique. Thankfully, in observe, the analysts don’t change the lookback window typically. 

The Google Analytics 4 cookie has an ordinary expiration time of 24 months, however it may be modified to a interval between one hour and 25 months (or the cookie could also be set as a session cookie and expire after the browser session finish).

Subsequent visits might renew this time restrict. This would be the interval wherein Analytics will have the ability to acknowledge a returning consumer and bear in mind the supply of the primary go to – see this GA4 help article).

Nonetheless, it doesn’t routinely imply that GA4 will “bear in mind” consumer knowledge that lengthy.

Along with the cookie expiration, we additionally should take care of the GA4 data retention period. It’s set by default to solely two months, however you may (and mainly, it’s best to) change this setting to 14 months. (Within the paid model, Google Analytics 360, it may be as much as 50 months.)

After this time, Google deletes user-level knowledge from Analytics servers. To maintain this knowledge, you should export it to BigQuery (see this GA4 help article).

It signifies that stories within the Discover part can solely be made inside the knowledge retention interval (please notice that within the Discover part, you can not choose a date vary past this era).

These restrictions don’t apply to plain stories within the Reviews part that use aggregated knowledge. GA4 will retailer this knowledge “ceaselessly.” 

Within the unpaid model of GA4, the primary consumer supply knowledge are deleted after 14 months of inactivity. After that, this consumer will probably be recorded as a brand new consumer.

Subsequently, there isn’t any level in, for instance, altering the cookie expiration time from default 24 months to an extended interval, until you utilize Google Analytics 360. 

Conversion export to Google Adverts

Exporting conversions to Google Adverts is usually used as an alternative choice to the native Google Adverts conversion monitoring, because the quickest and most handy strategy to implement conversion monitoring in Google Adverts.

Nonetheless, this time-saving appears illusory within the period of Google Tag Manager. Furthermore, this resolution has many disadvantages. 

There are a number of arguments towards utilizing imported conversions from Google Analytics to optimize Google Adverts. It:

  • Reduces the variety of conversions noticed in Google Adverts.
  • Makes use of unique attribution.
  • Is susceptible to unexpected Google Analytics configuration and hyperlink tagging errors, similar to undesirable referrals or redundant UTM parameters.

Subsequently, whereas importing conversions from Analytics might present attention-grabbing knowledge that can’t be collected in Google Adverts, utilizing them as objectives for optimizing Google Adverts campaigns will not be optimum. 

In case you import conversions from GA4 to Google Adverts, whatever the GA4 attribution settings, the conversions will probably be imported utilizing the GA4 final non-direct click on mannequin.

This implies you’ll solely import conversions whose Google Adverts supply has not been overwritten by subsequent clicks (e.g., natural search outcomes or social media adverts).

Whatever the property-level attribution settings, Google Analytics permits comparisons of various attribution fashions within the Promoting part.

At present, the obtainable fashions are the identical as these obtainable within the property settings, and it’s not possible to create customized fashions. 

Apparently, GA4 permits reporting in two conversion attribution time strategies – interplay time and conversion time (solely the latter possibility was obtainable in Common Analytics).

The interplay time methodology is typical for promoting programs, the place conversions are attributed to clicks and, thus – prices. It permits an accurate match between prices and revenues.

In any other case, the stories would possibly embrace conversions after the top of the marketing campaign, in a interval when there isn’t any advert spend.

Alternatively, the interplay time methodology might trigger the entire variety of conversions to vary relying on the attribution mannequin, as totally different fashions might attribute conversions or their fractions to clicks exterior the reporting interval.

Furthermore, the conversion depend and income for a given reporting interval might develop over time till the lookback window closes.

In different phrases, we might observe extra conversions for the latest interval if we have a look at the identical report sooner or later – which isn’t the case when conversions are reported within the conversion time.

Each approaches have benefits and downsides, so it’s good that we will now use each.

Conversion paths report

In comparison with Common Analytics, the GA4 conversion paths report is enriched with further knowledge: time to conversion and the variety of interactions for a given path.

It partly compensates for the shortage of time lag and path size stories, which had been separate stories in Common Analytics.

The power to decide on an attribution mannequin for this report could also be stunning at first sight.

The attribution mannequin doesn’t have an effect on conversion paths. They continue to be the identical, and their size and time to conversion don’t change.

Google Analytics 4 Conversions paths

In GA4, the trail visualization additionally consists of the fraction of conversion assigned to a given interplay or their collection within the chosen attribution mannequin.

Within the final click on mannequin, the final interplay at all times has a 100% share within the conversion, however within the different fashions, the distribution will probably be totally different.

This function additionally permits a greater understanding of how the data-driven mannequin labored for the interactions on this report. 

Extra bar graphs are positioned above the funnel report, visualizing how the chosen attribution mannequin assigned a price to channels originally, center and finish of the funnel.

The early touchpoints are the primary 25% of the interactions alongside the trail, whereas the late touchpoints embrace the final 25%. The center touchpoints are the remaining 50% of the interactions. 

In case you really feel that the distribution between early, center, and late touchpoints doesn’t look as anticipated for the multi-touch fashions, please notice that if there are solely two interactions, there may be one early, one late, and no center interactions.

If there is just one interplay, for the multi-touch fashions, it is going to be reported as late interplay – which distorts these stories probably the most. 

Most likely, it could be higher if the one interplay was thought of as 33.3% early, 33.3% center, and 33.3% late interplay.

Thus, the attribution mannequin will solely have an effect on the bar charts on the prime of the report and the chances proven within the funnel visualization.

The desk figures (funnel interactions, conversions, income, funnel size, and time to conversion) will stay the identical, whatever the attribution mannequin.

By default, the conversion paths and mannequin comparability stories embrace all conversions within the GA4 property. Subsequently, it’s value remembering to pick out the specified conversion first. 

Use of scopes within the stories

Once more, the supply dimensions in GA4 can have one among three scopes: session, consumer, and occasion.

  • Within the case of the occasion scope, the attribution mannequin specified within the property attribution settings is used.
  • The session supply (session scope) is assigned to the final non-direct interplay on the session begin and stays unchanged for a given session, even when there’s a go to from one other supply throughout the session. It is the “first supply” of the session, though assigned within the last-click mannequin.
  • Equally, the primary consumer supply (consumer scope) is assigned to the final non-direct interplay earlier than the primary go to and stays unchanged.

In Google Analytics, all dimensions and metrics function inside their very own scope. For instance, the Touchdown web page dimension has the session scope, and the Web page dimension has the occasion scope.

Though technically attainable, utilizing dimensions and metrics of various scopes can typically result in complicated or difficult-to-interpret stories.

For instance, the Web page dimension ought to be matched with Web page views, not Periods. If we mix Pages with Periods, Common Analytics will present the variety of periods just like Touchdown web page vs. Periods report.

In GA4, this would be the variety of periods throughout which a given Web page has been visited, and due to this fact, the sum of periods for all Pages will probably be higher than the entire variety of Periods.

But when you consider it, there may be little level in making such stories – due to this fact, the unsure interpretation of those numbers mustn’t fear us an excessive amount of. 

Nonetheless, some stories utilizing dimensions and metrics of various scopes will make sense. For instance, for supply dimensions in GA4:

  • The variety of occasions (occasion scope) paired with the First consumer supply dimension (consumer scope) reveals what number of occasions had been generated by customers whose first go to was from a given supply.
  • The variety of occasions (occasion scope) paired with the session supply dimension (session scope) reveals what number of occasions had been generated by customers throughout periods with a given supply.

The GA4 documentation fails to point find out how to interpret the variety of periods or customers matched with the occasion scope. Such explorations, though attainable, typically comprise many not set values.

Nonetheless, creating such stories does not make sense. (See the beforehand talked about GA4 help article on scopes.)

Modeled knowledge

Lastly, it’s value emphasizing the elemental change in Google Analytics 4, the place stories embrace knowledge collected by the monitoring code enriched with modeled knowledge.

The modeled knowledge makes use of info collected within the cookieless consent mode for customers who haven’t given consent to monitoring and Google Alerts knowledge for customers logged in to Google. This knowledge is fragmentary, however Google can fill within the lacking knowledge utilizing extrapolations and mathematical modeling.

Because of Google Alerts, in GA4, we will see an approximate however extra full image of the consumer’s journey.

For instance, Common Analytics recorded an iPhone consumer who visited the web site from a YouTube advert utilizing Safari and by no means returned.

Common Analytics additionally noticed a conversion made by one other consumer who got here from a direct go to on the Chrome browser for Home windows.

Google is aware of these occasions belong to the identical consumer as a result of this consumer was logged into Gmail and YouTube. 

That is how Google Analytics 4, utilizing Alerts, can mannequin the cross-device customers’ habits. It makes the reported variety of customers extra actual (reduces it) and improves the attribution accuracy.

Within the instance above, the conversion from the direct session could be appropriately attributed to the YouTube advert.

Not all customers are at all times logged into Google – many don’t also have a Google account.

Subsequently, to make the image extra full, Google Analytics will assume that customers who aren’t logged in behave equally.

Consequently, GA4 typically will complement the lacking sources (e.g., assign sure sources to conversions that had been beforehand assigned to direct).

The habits of customers who haven’t given consent to monitoring is estimated equally.

Analytics is aware of the variety of web page views and conversions from the non-consented customers and may mannequin what number of customers generated these pageviews and conservatively attribute conversions to sources.

Enriching Analytics knowledge with Google Alerts might take as much as per week. Subsequently, the latest knowledge might change sooner or later.

Please notice that we additionally handled delays in Common Analytics, the place most stories might have delays of up to 48 hours.

Varied privacy-oriented expertise options, similar to PCM by Apple or related options proposed by Google (the Privacy Sandbox), randomly delay conversion reporting by 24-48 hours.

Subsequently, we should get used to the truth that the complete view of analytical knowledge will solely be obtainable after a while. 

In GA4, we will additionally improve the stories utilizing the first get together knowledge, specifically the Consumer-ID.

This function was additionally obtainable in Common Analytics, however the separate “Consumer-ID View” included the “logged-in” periods with Consumer-ID solely and, truthfully, wasn’t that helpful.

GA4 stories mix the Consumer-ID knowledge with the Consumer-ID (the Analytics cookie identifier) and Google Alerts, which makes the information extra full, particularly within the cross-device side and LTV measurement. 

The complexity of those processes might trigger higher or lesser discrepancies between the information in numerous stories.

We must always get used to it, however hopefully, as GA4 recovers from childhood sicknesses, these discrepancies will turn into much less and fewer vital.

It’s value remembering that Google Analytics just isn’t accounting software program.

Its goal is to not document each occasion with 100% precision however to point developments and assist decision-making – for which approximate knowledge is adequate.

Writer’s notice: This text was written utilizing Google assist articles, solutions given by Analytics assist and outcomes from my experiments. 


Opinions expressed on this article are these of the visitor creator and never essentially Search Engine Land. Employees authors are listed here.


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About The Writer

Witold Wrodarczyk

Founder and CEO of Sufficient Interactive Boutique, awards-winning advertising consultancy. Licensed Google Adverts and Analytics specialist since 2007. Writer of quite a few publications, convention speaker, and college lecturer. Knowledgeable in measurement, attribution, and profit-driven media optimization.



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