Analytics Conversion Attribution Solutions

Conversion ain’t just a town by the side of the road? Eh. This visual joke works better (?) in the next post. Speaking of attribution. Image attribution available in the HTML code. Which might not mean much to you. That’s okay. #CYA

Updated 2022: While still almost poignant, this now-ancient analytics article isn’t as relevant today because of Google’s 2011 decision to cripple Google Analytics with the dreaded “(not provided)” curse. I use Keyword Hero to get around the ‘not provided’ problem. …Which makes the article below far more relevant again. But still dated.

Google Analytics is a robust free way to track traffic and eCommerce. Just set up a conversion goal and you’re able to quickly determine all sorts of valuable information about your online sales. How many conversions can I attribute to any given organic search or PPC phrase? Google Analytics will tell you! Or not. I’ve run into a problem. The Google Analytics conversion attribution problem is best illustrated by this hypothetical scenario:

A Typical Conversion Attribution Scenario

You run Joe’s Crabs ( You sell crabs. (natch!)

  1. A user Googles for “crabs” and  finds in one of your PPC ads – clicks it – views the Joe’s Crabs site
  2. Then he/she pokes around Google searching for other crab options from your competition.
  3. Takes a week off of the crab hunt to ponder the options, Eventually deciding that Joe’s Crabs offers the best deal.
  4. The user Googles for “Joe’s Crabs” – clicks an organic Joe’s Crab link to get to your site and makes a purchase.
  5. Google Analytics counts the sale as coming from an organic branded search instead of a non-branded PPC ad.

In reality, both PPC and organic search are legitimate leads for the sale. But Google only counts the last source.

A Solution to Conversion Continuity Problems?

Somebody with the handle, “ShoreTel” explained the Google Analytics conversion continuity problem (and a solution) this way:

The GA cookies (specifically a cookie called __utmz) is overwritten every time a new source is detected for that visitor (except if their source is “direct”). Use your server logs to look for the GA cookies and determine the first and last source(s) for a visitor. The __utma cookie stores the exact timestamp of their very first visit to your site which you can use to go back in time and look up their original source.

So that’s doable… Search through the logs, or design a script to do it for you, but both are time-consuming. A friend suggested I look into Atlas (owned by Microsoft) and Omniture. I also found that Coremetrics also allegedly can tackle the problem. I’m guessing that paying them would be more effective than creating a custom solution so I sent an information request to all three companies yesterday.

Dan Dreifort consults on SEO and UX. He is also for scuba.

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