Google Analytics Attribution Modeling vs. Marketing Attribution Tools

By Miriam Kung | 10 Aug 2019
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The most common question (and sometimes point of confusion) we hear from new customers is: "How is Google Analytics and their attribution models different than marketing attribution platforms like PixelMe?"

Google Analytics (GA) is the long standing leader of the web analytics world, and since 2018, they've introduced 7 different attribution models beyond their default Last Interaction Model. So how do they help your business, and why do you need a separate tool for marketing attribution?

We'll break everything down below, and uncover what you can do with Google Analytics and their attribution modeling compared to other solutions like our Customer Attribution platform:

  • πŸ’₯ What is Marketing Attribution?
  • πŸ’₯ What is Google Analytics Attribution Modeling vs. PixelMe
  • πŸ’₯ Features comparison: Google Analytics vs. PixelMe
  • πŸ’₯ What to look for in an attribution tool

By the end of this article, you'll be an expert πŸ˜‰ across key conversion tracking offerings from Google Analytics, how they differ from attribution features we provide at PixelMe, and why using both tools can make you a much stronger marketer πŸ”₯.

What is Marketing Attribution?

Marketing attribution lets you determine which marketing channels and touchpoints contribute to a conversion.

This is done with attribution models, which are a set of rules that assign credit to each touchpoint along a customer’s journey to conversion.

It helps you answers questions such as:

  • 🎯 What's the ROI from Facebook Ads vs. Google Ads?
  • πŸ›£ What are the most common conversion paths and lengths?
  • πŸ’° Which organic and paid marketing efforts are most effective?

If you think about marketing attribution as a basketball game πŸ€, most marketers tend to focus on the person who scored ⛹️‍♂️. As in, the channel that directly drove conversions. But this means you miss out on a lot of data, since it takes people an average of 5 to 7 touchpoints before a conversion - just like there's multiple players on each team who assist in a play.

So marketing attribution is critical in giving you the complete picture of all your channels that lead your team to victory 🌈.

How Google Analytics does attribution

What is Google Analytics

Google Analytics is first and foremost, a powerful and free web analytics solution used by over 27M websites globally (and probably every customer we've spoken to πŸ˜‰) .

By adding a tracking script across your webpages, you can get real-time reports and insights about your website visitors on a number of dimensions:

  • πŸ‘―β€β™€οΈ Audience: How many visitors are new vs. returning visitors? You can access: average number of sessions per user, average session duration, bounce rates, aggregated demographics & interests, cross-device usage, and more.
  • πŸ‘‹ Acquisition sources: Where do your visitors come from? Get a breakdown of your traffic sources based on referring URLs and your UTM parameters. You can also connect your Google Ads account (to track your PPC campaigns) and the Google Search Console (to monitor your organic search performance).
  • πŸ”Ž Behavior: How do people engage with your site? View which pages people visit, average time spent across top pages, how people move across your site, site speed across browsers, site search terms, and more.
  • 🎯 Conversions: How many users convert? This is where you'll find high level attribution reporting. You can track conversions based on Goals you create, which feed into: Ecommerce tracking (collect specific transactions data), Multi-Channel Funnels (analyze customer conversion paths), Attribution (compare conversions with different models).

There's a lot of other custom filtering and reporting you can do, but to laser in on attribution - we'll dive into what their Conversions reporting offers from an attribution tool perspective.

Problems Google Analytics Attribution Modeling solves

There's 3 key features and insights that Google Analytics Attribution modeling can uncover from their Conversions reports, if you're looking for simple conversion tracking insights.

Note: By default, their Lookback Window for attributing conversions is 30 days. You can choose a window between 1-90 days, as well as the conversion type, from the top of each report.

πŸ“Š 1. Compare different attribution models: Using their Model Comparison Tool, you can view up to 3 different attribution models side-by-side. This lets you compare how each channel contributes to various stages of your marketing funnel.

For example, you can compare the following 3 models to answer different marketing questions.

  • First Interaction: How do customers first find out about us?
  • Last Non-Direct Click: What's the last channel people visit before converting?
  • Linear: Which channels contribute to people's decision before they convert?

πŸ›£ 2. View top conversion paths: Under Multi-Channel Funnels, you'll get an overview of the most common paths visitors take, that lead to conversions. This can help you prioritize key channels.

In this example, you'll see that Direct as well as Organic β€”> Direct, are both in the top 5 paths.

πŸ•“ 3. See how long it takes people to convert: Under Multi-Channel Funnels, you'll also get Time Lag reports, which give you insights on the average length of your conversion cycles.

Time Lag indicates the number of days it took from the first interaction to a conversion. So in this example, 73% of visitors convert on the same day, 3% of visitors convert after 1 day, and 9% of visitors convert between 12-30 days.

Attribution Models Available

When it comes to attribution models, it's important to have various models you can choose from to get a more fuller picture of your customer journey.

Google Analytics currently offers the following 8 different attribution models:

  • Last Interaction (default): In this model, the last touchpoint (specifically the Direct channel, aka your website), gets 100% of the credit for the conversion.
  • Last Non-Direct Click: This model attributes 100% of the credit to the last channel a visitor clicked on before converting (and ignores direct traffic).
  • Last Google Ads Click: This model gives all credit for a conversion to a Google Ads click.
  • First Interaction: This model gives 100% of the credit to the first touchpoint that leads to a conversion.
  • Linear: This model gives each touchpoint in a visitor's path to conversion equal credit for the conversion.
  • Time Decay: This model assigns most of the credit to touchpoints that are closest to when the conversion event happened. So the first touchpoint would get the least credit, and the last touchpoint would get the most credit.
  • Position Based: This model gives 40% of the credit to the first touchpoint and last touchpoint, and distributes the remaining 20% evenly across the touchpoints in between.
  • Custom Models: This model lets you specify rules, and create a custom model based on a set of assumptions you want to analyze from your conversions.

Finally, let's cover what you need to get setup with Google Analytics attribution models.

Setting up Google Analytics attribution modeling

There's a handful of pre-requisites needed on your site to use their attribution models.

  • πŸ’» Tracking script: A JavaScript snippet of code that you can add to all your webpages to track how people move across your site, and specific actions they take.
  • 🎯 Goals: Criteria that you define to measure actions people take on your site (e.g. signup). A conversion is counted each time someone satisfies criteria you setup in your Goal.
  • πŸ”— UTM tracking: To properly attribute conversions from organic channels and other non-Google ads platforms, you'll need to tag your links with UTM parameters.
  • πŸ“£ Google Ads integration: If you're running Google Ads, you can connect your account to get deeper Google Ads conversion insights.

So with that, let's take a look at how Google Analytics attribution modeling compares with Customer Attribution platforms like PixelMe.

How PixelMe does attribution

What is PixelMe?

PixelMe is the first Customer Attribution platform that unifies all your marketing data, so you can attribute every marketing effort, track ROI, view customer journeys, and optimize your investments.

We bring together your website visitors, conversions, costs, and revenue across every marketing channel & campaign. So you can automatically measure your true ROI and make powerful marketing decisions to hit your KPIs.

Problems PixelMe solves

In the words of our CTO JΓ©rΓ©mie Doucy: "Just like Batman doesn't have superpowers πŸ¦‡, we don't need superpowers to compute metrics like CPC or ROI. We need the truth and PixelMe loves the truth."

Here are 4 key problems we solve:

  • πŸ“Š Centralize marketing efforts: We make it easy to setup and integrate your multi-channel marketing data. No more time wasted in manually manipulating multiple spreadsheets.
  • 🌈 Track customer journeys: See all your customer journeys and every touchpoint that leads to a conversion, including user-level details.
  • πŸ’° Actionable insights: Attribution modeling is complex, but we make it simple to analyze all your paid and organic conversions via UTMs. So you have actionable data on how to allocate your budgets.
  • πŸ”₯ Trustworthy, unbiased data: We believe in attribution that gives you real data and context about your customers. We bring truth and order into the chaotic marketing world of inconsistent and non-standardized data across channels and ads platforms.

Attribution Models Available

We currently provide 3 core attribution models that you can easily toggle at the top of your dashboard. You can also set a custom Attribution Window, which is the time period in which conversions from a marketing touchpoint can be claimed πŸ—“.

  • First touch attribution: This model gives 100% of the credit to the first touchpoint that brought a visitor to your website.
  • Last touch attribution: This model gives 100% of the credit to the last touchpoint that led a visitor to convert.
  • Multi-touch attribution: This linear model assigns credit evenly to every touchpoint along a customer's path to conversion. So if a user clicked on a Google Ad, then clicked on a Facebook Ad, and finally visited your blog before converting - Google, Facebook, and your blog would each get 33.3% of the credit.

Setting up PixeMe's Smart Attribution

Watch our 4-minute video on how Smart Attribution works:

We have 3 easy components for getting setup:

  • πŸ’» PixelMe conversion tracking script: A unique JavaScript snippet of code you can install across your webpages, to track your traffic across your site. It also lets you log important events that matter to you (signup, purchase, etc.).
  • πŸ”— UTM tracking: We track users based on the links they click in any channel (ads, emails, social media, affiliates, etc.). This is done via UTM parameters, and you can easily segment your attribution data by UTMs in your dashboard.
  • πŸ›  Integrations: In a few clicks, we let you track key actions and revenue via event tracking platforms (Segment & Google Tag Manager), and can pull in your data across ads (Facebook & Google), E-commerce platforms (Shopify), CRMs (coming soon), and more.

Features Comparison

Now that you have an overview of both Google Analytics attribution modeling vs. attribution solutions like PixelMe and key use cases, what are the main differences?

Differences between Google Analytics vs. Marketing Attribution Solutions

Below are 3 key differences, if Google Analytics and PixelMe were different basketball teams.

πŸ₯‡1. Key KPIs

  • Google Analytics attribution modeling makes your conversions the MVP star player.
  • PixelMe makes your marketing ROI the MVP. This is what ultimately matters for your marketing efforts, and why our customers invest in a separate attribution solution.

πŸ‘―β€β™€οΈ 2. Customer Journeys

  • Google Analytics shows your top conversion paths across your site. But they don't provide user-level data nor ROI, ROAS, or LTV tracking. So you don't know which paths lead to the highest ROI.
  • PixelMe shows each touchpoint that leads to a conversion, and lets you drill down into individual user paths. So in addition to aggregated conversion paths (coming soon), you'll know who's on your team roster, and their individual stories that led them to your team.

βš’ 3. Integrations

  • Google Analytics lacks any integrations outside of Google-specific products, such as Google Ads.
  • PixelMe integrates with multiple tools across your marketing suite, including ads platforms (Facebook & Google), revenue data (with Stripe, Recurly, and PayPal coming soon), CRM tools (HubSpot & Salesforce coming soon), and more. We're a more open team πŸ˜‰.

In a nutshell: Although you can view various attribution models in Google Analytics, we ultimately show your ROI, the effectiveness of your channels, and the full view of your customer journey.

Google Analytics is still a very robust platform for analyzing your web traffic. So we'd still recommend taking advantage of all its web analytics reporting (as we do at PixelMe!), and for a snapshot of where your traffic and conversions are coming from.

But for deeper insights that help you make better marketing decisions on where to invest your budgets, your best bet is in a full marketing attribution solution.

Comparing Google Analytics vs. PixelMe

Here are a few charts to recap the key differences between Google Analytics Attribution Modeling compared to our PixelMe Customer Attribution platform.

What to look for in an attribution tool

When it comes to marketing attribution solutions, here are the major factors and questions to ask to determine when you need it, and the type of features to look for:

  • πŸ›  Multiple marketing channels: Are you currently using multiple marketing channels and ads platforms?
  • πŸ”₯ ROI tracking: This is the holy grail of marketing, and why you'd invest in an attribution solution. Do they let you easily measure your ROI, ROAS, and LTV across channels?
  • πŸ‘―β€β™€οΈ Customer journey tracking: Can you track customer paths and understand where each channel fits into your customer's journey to conversion?
  • πŸ“Š Attribution models: Do they provide first touch, multi-touch, and last touch attribution models? This lets you track different marketing strategies and optimize each one based on your goals.
  • πŸ›  Data integrations: Do they connect with key tools in your marketing toolkit? This is critical for unifying and tracking all your marketing data, costs, revenue, lead details, and more.
  • πŸ’° Pricing: This will of course vary based on your budgets, but is important to weigh when comparing tools. We'd recommend signing up for free trials or getting a demo first.

In the end, there's no perfect analytics or attribution solution - data may be skewed if not all your links are tagged with UTMs, if people delete cookies or disable JavaScript, and more.

But using some of the key considerations above when choosing an attribution provider will enable you to understand which marketing efforts are most effective, and how to create a powerful business that brings in your best customers πŸš€.

Want to try out the first Customer Attribution platform? Sign up for a free PixelMe trial πŸŽ‰. If you have any questions, just message us from the blue chat icon in the bottom-right corner! πŸ’¬

To power up your marketing with more content like this, subscribe to our PixelMe newsletter πŸ₯³

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