Google Analytics VS. Attribution Tools

Google Analytics - not for attribution

As attribution becomes mainstream and available to marketers with any size budgets, confusion around web analytics vs attribution will need to be ironed out. This blog will help distinguish the difference and the importance of having both a web analytics tool and an attribution tool in your marketing arsenal. When you’re ready to try attribution, get a free demonstration of LeadsRx and see how attribution compares with web analytics for your company.

What is Web Analytics (i.e., Google Analytics)

Web analytics is the measurement, collection, analysis, and reporting of web data for purposes of understanding and optimizing web usage.   It’s great for seeing how traffic to a website changes after the launch of a new advertising campaign based on the number of visitors to a website and the number of page views. It helps gauge traffic and popularity trends, which is useful for market research.  Some other data points you will find in web analytic tools are bounce rate, session data, and KPI’s around keywords. Every company should be using a web analytics tool like Google Analytics to understand the fundamental performance of your website as it relates to session data.

Session Data: What is it?

Session data is a group of interactions that take place on your website within a given time frame. A single user can open multiple sessions. Those sessions can occur on the same day, or over several days, weeks, or months. As soon as one session ends, there is then an opportunity to start a new session. There are four methods by which a session ends:

  • Time-based expiration (including end of day):
  • After 30 minutes of inactivity
  • At midnight
  • Campaign change: If a user arrives via one campaign, leaves, and then comes back via a different campaign.

Here’s a great article by Google that goes into more detail about sessions data. As you can see, session data is great for analyzing how people interact with your site but, it does not give you a full view of how people are converting with your brand through your marketing efforts. Because session data is not unified across a customer journey, it’s difficult for marketers to see the lifetime touchpoints of each conversion.  Web analytic tools that use session data could have an infinite number of sessions for one consumer, which can skew marketing KPIs.

What is Marketing Attribution

We have talked about the basics of marketing attribution in another blog post but, here’s a refresher;

Attribution is the process of identifying a set of user actions (“events” or “touchpoints”) that contribute in some manner to a desired outcome, and then assigning a value to each of these events. Marketing attribution provides a level of understanding of what combination of events in what particular order influence individuals to engage in a desired behavior, typically referred to as a conversion. Understanding the entire conversion path across the whole marketing mix eliminates the accuracy challenge of analyzing data from siloed channels. Typically, attribution data is used by marketers to plan future ad campaigns by analyzing which media placements (ads) were the most cost-effective as determined by metrics such as effective cost per action.

Attribution connects the dots between marketing programs and customer acquisition. The basic concept requires analysis of a complete and fully-integrated customer journey, and so this is a very basic capability of attribution tools. Unlike web analytic tools, attribution tools relate people who convert back to how they found your company. Web analytics focus solely on people who visit your website in general. Is it possible to use web analytics tools for the purpose of attribution?  Some marketers have tried (see this blog post), but it’s quite difficult and error-prone. To see the difference for yourself, sign up for a personalized demonstration of our attribution platform and compare results side-by-side.

So What Are the Differences?

Google Analytics (GA) has a set of conversion reports that include goals, eCommerce sales, multi-channel funnels, and attribution modeling. The attribution capabilities show the number of conversions and value of conversions attributed to each channel or touchpoint. Comparisons can be made using different attribution models. This one report is the extent of GA attribution capabilities.

Attribution tools have richer insights and allow deep-dives with reports such as customer journey analysis and Return on Ad Spend (ROAS), neither of which are provided by GA. The ROAS report in particular is a critical aspect of all attribution systems and is the primary tool used to optimize marketing budgets. And, viewing customer journey maps has proven to be invaluable for marketers looking to understand how prospects develop relationships with their brands.

Because attribution tools are designed for use by marketers, they are easy to set up and have broader capabilities for capturing conversions and touchpoints than GA. Most attribution tools can capture anytouchpoint and conversion, either directly by using the tool’s user interface, or by using an API.  As a result, attribution models are more inclusive than GA and therefore provide a complete picture of marketing spend.

GA has had problems accurately capturing attribution results. Even simple tests will show examples of Google inappropriately giving credit to some touchpoints, making all results highly questionable. Because GA uses data sampling for larger websites, it’s impossible to know if results are actionable.

Since GA is not recognized as an attribution tool even by Google, the company made an acquisition in 2015 of an attribution company, Adometry. This technology has been under development since that time with a new product, Google Attribution, still in the works (  It’s unclear the exact capabilities and pricing for Google Attribution, but the work being done seems to further underscore GA as an inappropriate tool for attribution in general.

Key Takeaways

We have outlined both web analytics tools and attribution tools.  The key takeaways are, web analytics tools are session based and great for analyzing web visitors.  On the flip side, attribution tools focus on analyzing customers by tracking a lifetime of marketing touchpoints across all channels.  Both tools are essential to the success of a business and must be used in conjunction with each other.

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