Google Analytics 4 – What’s Changed and Its Impact on Revenue Reporting

On the 1st July 2023, Google deprecated support for Universal Analytics data processing, forcing marketers to Google Analytics 4 (GA4). At Tradedoubler we constantly monitor technology developments across the industry and in particular changes to Analytics to ensure we are aligned with Advertiser’s analytics and attribution methods. We have been running experiments on GA4 over the past few months and have identified significant changes in the attribution of revenue across various marketing channels.

Numerous Tradedoubler clients have reported that GA4 notably under-reports revenue for marketing channels outside of Google, such as Affiliate Marketing, in comparison to previous versions of Google Analytics. These inconsistencies appear linked to GA4 and its use of Data-Driven Attribution (DDA) model by default, compared to the standard last-click model prominent in Affiliate Marketing.

When analysing your Tradedoubler Affiliate Marketing performance we highly recommend reviewing your GA4 attribution settings and check any large discrepancies when the GA4 attribution model and conversion window are set to “last click.”

Transitioning to GA4 hasn’t impacted Tradedoubler’s tracking or reporting capabilities. However, it’s essential to address any significant shifts observed in Google Analytics within your organization. Continue reading below for our analysis on GA4, we will regularly review and update as Google shares more information and likely tweaks their models.

Data Driven Attribution

The significant discrepancy in attribution we’ve seen lately stems from Google’s adoption of the Data-Driven Attribution model in GA4, especially its application to channels external to Google. The DDA was intended predominantly for measuring Google’s own channels.

Data-Driven Attribution considers website visits, store visits, and Google Analytics conversions from Search (including Shopping), YouTube, Display, and Discovery ads. For more information see Google support pages here >>

It’s vital to highlight that if you hadn’t used DDA before, Google transitioned all existing Google Analytics accounts to GA4 on 1st July 2023, with the DDA attribution model set as the default.

Understanding DDA & Non-Google Channels

Using DDA for non-Google channels might result in significant inaccuracies and data gaps. Critical concerns include:

1. The DDA model is principally tailored for Google-owned channels, causing discrepancies when monitoring other channels. [source (second paragraph)]

2. An increased number of touchpoints significantly augments the unique “conversion paths.” Only a path with a minimum of 400 conversions is taken into account by the DDA model. [source (paragraphs: “Minimum threshold,” “Insufficient data to generate the model”)]

3. Google-owned channels receive precedence in GA4, even when the utm_source specifies differently. [source (paragraph: “UTM overriding”)]

Relevance to Affiliate Programs

According to Google’s support articles, GA4’s architecture favours Google-owned channels. Our assessments suggest the DDA offers unreliable readings for affiliate channels. For precise last-click tracking, it’s advisable to avoid the new DDA in GA4.

Tradedoubler presents cutting-edge conversion tracking that provides a reliable, impartial multi-channel view of your online platform. Engage with a Tradedoubler expert for more details.

Tradedoubler’s Analysis

Our tests displayed a distinct bias towards Google marketing channels in GA4. We advise conducting your own tests to discern its influence on your GA4 instance. In a comprehensive test involving a large online store we focused on some following typical User Journeys involving Google marketing Channels. From these tests we found that 1 in 6 of these journeys were attributed to Tradedoubler by GA4, the remaining were attributed to Google marketing channels.

Tradedoubler Click → Purchase (Attributed to Trade)
Tradedoubler Click → Direct visit → Purchase (Attributed to Google Organic)
Tradedoubler Click → Google search, click sponsored → Purchase (Attributed to Google CPC)
Tradedoubler Click → Google search, click not sponsored → Purchase  (Attributed to Google Organic)
Google search, click not sponsored → Tradedoubler Click → Purchase (Attributed to Google Organic)
Google search, click sponsored → Tradedoubler Click→ Purchase (Attributed to Google Organic)

Additional Observations:

During our tests, we observed that Google Chrome might sporadically display search results instead of accessing a website directly.

1. GA4 cannot correctly assign traffic sources if user consent is absent. All conversions are labelled as Direct traffic. With Tradedoubler conversion tracking, potentially you can identify your traffic’s origin without such constraints.

2. We expect Google will make changes to their DDA model and we will continue to monitor the impact specifically on Affiliate Marketing Attribution.

3. If you are a Tradedoubler client and want to analyse the impact of DDA, please engage with your Tradedoubler contact who can assist with setting up tests.

Final Thoughts and Recommendations

For those seeking an unambiguous view of all channels in GA4, the last-click model remains Google’s most reliable method.

You can revert to the last-click attribution model by navigating to Admin > Attribution Settings, and then adjusting your attribution model and conversion window to “last click”.

We urge you to stay updated on developments in analytics and industry trends as they are constantly changing.

For detailed, unbiased multi-channel tracking and analytics reporting, Tradedoubler has numerous technical solutions and expertise including unbiased multi-channel reporting and attribution and multi-touch customer journey reporting.

Please reach out to our Tradedoubler experts to discuss how this benefit your business >>

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