Credit Where it’s Due: How to Make Sure Google Analytics is Measuring Your Campaign Data Correctly

March 1, 2021

This article generously contributed by Alan K’necht, Founder, K’nechtology Inc.

Using Google Analytics to monitor and measure your digital marketing efforts? Are you sure that credit for goals achieved and sales generated are being attributed to the correct campaign and ad?

If you haven’t made the appropriate custom adjustments to your Google Analytics property the odds are they are not. For a tiny percentage of GA users, you may also be suffering from a weird bug in GA.

The issue is with how a campaign and/or ad gets credit for goals achieved (including transactions) on a visitor’s subsequent site visit. According to Google, “Analytics uses a last-click attribution model across all channels (excluding direct).”

For example, let’s say a user clicks on a creative from your Google Ads account, then returns the next day via a Google organic search result and reaches your Goal page or triggers a Transaction.

Analytics will attribute the Goal or Transaction to google/organic. By default, Google Ads will attribute the conversion to the Google Ads campaign.” If you’re encountering the bug, attribution is still applied to the first click and ignores the last click.

By default, campaign and traffic sources get credit for 6 months after the user came to the site. The campaign gets credit for up to 6 months unless a user returns to the site by clicking through any other source beyond direct traffic. The source becomes the source of record (AKA last-touch attribution).

If a user comes to the site, directly or via a shared link (i.e. via email), the original campaign will continue to be the campaign of record and gets credit for all orders or goals completed.

In most cases, if a user clicks on a link that includes all the appropriate UTM parameters, that ad/campaign will become the campaign of record and starts getting credit.

With the bug, it appears like the most recent marketing efforts are failing, while the newsletter or the Adwords ad from 5 months ago is still generating sales. How could that be? We know we’ve run others and sent out multiple newsletters since, but they don’t seem to generate nearly the same level of sales or other goals (lead generation).

For regular marketers, do you want an ad that a user clicked on four months ago to be getting credit for the activity they do today on your site?

Obviously, one of the solutions to give attributions to the most current point of contact is to ensure that all correspondences that include links are appropriately tagged. Using the GA UTM parameters, clearly identify all links. This is especially important with follow-up emails etc. Of course, this can get unruly and difficult to manage and there lies part of the dilemma.

If you’re not using Google 360 and setting up a multi-touch attribution model, here is what you need to do. You need to examine this setting in your GA Admin screen: The “Campaign Timeout” setting.

As previously, mention by default this set at 6 months. So what should this be set at? If you send out monthly newsletters perhaps it should be set at 30 days, a quarterly newsletter maybe 3 months is appropriate. What about all those search and social media ads? How will changing this one setting in your Google Analytics affect their performance?

This is where the entire marketing team needs to gather and discuss what the best approach is. If the product or service you’re marketing has a long sales cycle then perhaps the 6-month setting is acceptable or maybe it needs to be longer.

If the product or service has a near-instant response then perhaps the best setting is just a few days or even a few hours?

Be aware that this setting is for the Google Property; changes here affect all associated views.

If you’re using Google Tag Manager to deploy your Google Analytics, then there are options to run multiple properties simultaneously each with its own custom “Campaign Timeout”. This is the recommended investigation option.

Run perhaps 2, 3, or 4 variations simultaneously for perhaps three months and then compare the data and choose the version that best matches both what you’d like to see plus provides the greatest insight into which marketing efforts are performing the best for you.

When looking for insight into which “Campaign Timeout” values to test, experiment beforehand using the Google Analytics “Model Comparison Tool”. Here is where you can see the overall impact of First Touch vs. Last Touch attribution.

For example, look at the difference in revenue generated by email marketing when it gets all the credit (First Touch) vs. when it only gets credit for purchase directly after clicking through the email.

Google Model Comparison Tool

Ultimately, there are no simple official X and Y values you need to implement. These are customization designed to optimize your data to provide you with the greatest insight and meaning.

All that you need to know is that simply using Google Analytics straight out of the box will give OK data. It is only by customizing it to your specific business needs and requirements that you’ll maximize the quality of the data and the return on your investment in time and marketing efforts.


Alan K'necht - Knechtology Inc.Alan K’necht started his involvement with the digital world back in 1996 building websites and participating in the precursors to what would evolve into Social Media. Over 20 plus years he’s provided consulting services ranging from web development, analytics, and social media marketing to fortune 500 companies, government departments, military, and small & medium-size businesses. Through analytics, Alan has always helped clients measure and maximize their Return on Investment (ROI) for their digital marketing initiatives. At present, he operates his consulting company K’nechtology Inc.