Moving to GA4: Data-Driven Attribution

Article by Liam Oram, Integration Team Lead, Webgains.

With the sunset of Universal Analytics happening in July 2023, we’ve put together some information on Google Analytics (GA4) and how it could affect affiliate marketers.

Google Analytics has been a staple for many companies, allowing users to analyse the traffic coming to their sites and optimise their marketing strategies as well as aggregate data and analyse ROI across all channels. However, it looks like this is about to change with the introduction of GA4s new data-driven attribution.

What is GA4?

GA4 is the latest version of the Google Analytics platform, which provides website and app owners insights into their visitors and user behaviour. Compared to Universal Analytics (UA), GA4 offers several new features and improvements including data-driven attribution and integrations with other Google products.

What is data-driven attribution?

Data-driven attribution uses machine learning (ML) to assign credit to the touch-points that contributed to a conversion. However, the caveat is that this could affect how the success of affiliate networks are reported in within GA4. There are a couple reasons for this, including:

The algorithm in which the attribution is calculated is not shared publicly, so we are unable to determine its impact across marketing channels such as affiliates. It’s also worth noting that as Google have direct access to more user data when using their marketing products, with data-driven attribution we can suspect that there is an inherent bias within GA4 towards traffic coming from a Google source, especially if you have integrated GA4 to Google Ads or other Google Products. This could result in a discrepancy between the reports you see within GA4 compared to the affiliate network.

Another reason is that within affiliate marketing it is typical for an advertiser to pay only for conversions. However, if GA4 starts attributing sales to the various channels at different points of the user journey, this may make the success of affiliates difficult to measure. It’s good to be aware of the contribution other channels make, though it’s important to note that this could result in discrepancies between the affiliate network reporting and the report you will see within GA4.

What attribution model should be used for affiliate networks?

Data-driven attribution is the default within GA4 and the new recommended model by Google.  Previously there were several attribution models available, however, most of these were deprecated in May 2023 and, if you were using one of these, you will automatically be switched to the data-driven GA4 attribution model. Our recommendation for GA4 is to use the cross-channel last click attribution model which will assign credit to the last click before the conversion across all your marketing channels.

Will this prevent discrepancies in my reporting?

There are still many reasons why discrepancies could occur in the reporting between GA4 and affiliate networks, the biggest and simplest being that the systems themselves are different attribution models and as a result, will track conversions differently. More and more technology is being released which prevents users from being tracked, resulting in companies coming up with new innovative technologies to continue tracking that still comply with GDPR.

By understanding how GA4 attributes conversions, brands can optimise their marketing efforts. And, through analysing user journeys and attribution models, affiliate marketers can identify which marketing channels are driving the most conversions and adjust their strategies accordingly.

What should I do if there are discrepancies?

First, it’s important to understand where the discrepancy lies and find the cause. If you are seeing a higher volume of transactions being tracked within GA4 over the affiliate network, it could be that there’s an issue in how your tracking is set up.

On the contrary, if you’re noticing more sales being tracked in the affiliate network than in GA4, you should review the attribution model you’re using within GA4 and see which channel the sales are being attributed to and why. It’s also key to ensure the correct UTM parameters are added to your affiliate tracking links and the correct events are setup within GA4.

It’s important not to cancel transactions or discredit marketing channels based solely on discrepancies. Instead, it’s best practice to analyse the data from multiple attribution models and consider the many scenarios in which the attribution has applied. Cancelling transactions or discrediting marketing channels prematurely can lead to missed opportunities and lost sales, as well as potentially hinder relationships with affiliate partners.

Affiliate marketing is a powerful tool for driving sales and increasing revenue, but it’s essential to measure the success of affiliate marketing channels accurately. By leveraging GA4’s attribution models and analysing user journeys, marketers can make informed decisions that lead to higher ROI and more successful affiliate campaigns. With the right approach and tools in place, affiliate marketing can become a valuable part of any company’s marketing strategy when it comes to driving growth and increasing revenue.

If you would like to learn more about Webgains or understand how we can help your brand grow through the affiliate channel, please get in touch –