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Oct 9, 2023 · 7 min read

Conversion Tracking With GA4: How to Successfully Navigate Affiliate Channel Attribution

Affiliate marketers may have noticed significant reporting changes as they switch to the latest Google Analytics 4. Here's what it means for conversion tracking and attribution.

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Reporting and attribution (tracking sales to the relevant affiliate) have always been crucial to the success of partnership marketing. But with more advertisers increasing their ad spend, getting accurate data on affiliate sales has become more important than ever.

Google Analytics is a popular tool used to analyse revenue from marketing channels. As affiliate marketers make the mandatory switch from Universal Analytics (UA) to Google Analytics 4 (GA4), much information must be unpacked.


What's changed in GA4

Advertisers may have noticed a change in channel revenue in GA4 compared to the previous numbers in UA. This is because GA4 uses Data-Driven Attribution (DDA), a measuring model that utilises predictive modelling and event-based tracking to map out the consumer journey.

This new tracking update is based on the notion that consumers are influenced by multiple channels online and interact with many 'events' across multiple devices before making a sale. Given the number of screens (and online advertisements) we're exposed to, DDA adds value to the sales process and ensures fair credit is given for a sale.  

So, what are the key differences between UA and GA4? UA measures attribution using sessions and page views. Each page view is counted as a separate interaction, and any events signs ups, button clicks are considered under additional interactions.  

Meanwhile, GA4 measures based on events and parameters across the entire journey on a website or app. Compared to UA, page views are now counted as another type of event, and any consumer interaction is now captured as an event. In short, Google's new reporting focuses on what happens inside the advertiser’s website.  

GA4's Data-Driven Attribution isn't without its faults. Some advertisers have reported high discrepancies with Google's numbers compared with their affiliate platform reporting tool. Among the notable issues recorded are:

  • Non-Google channels (like social media and affiliate channels) have claimed to be underreported in GA4.
  • DDA needs at least 400 conversions per unique journey over 30 days. Otherwise, it throws out the data for that journey.
  • Google's DDA model has reportedly favoured Google-related products such as Google Display Ads.
  • Manual UTM tagging is not automated and must be set up for non-Google channels.
  • Large amounts of traffic are being reported as "direct", with a loss of data from the marketing channel that drove the consumer visit. This is prevalent due to a reporting issue with cookie consent banners, in which GA4 records the visit on the second page view after the consent.
  • Google's actual DDA algorithm is not shared publicly, which may impact what is reported in the affiliate (and other marketing) channels.


How to Successfully Navigate Affiliate Channel Attribution With GA4

In the era where Data Privacy Acts can interrupt how we receive consumer data, GA4 is still an improved update because it uses machine learning to predict consumer behaviour. The new update doesn't affect how Commission Factory tracks and reports affiliate data, which is still accurate.  

However, advertisers noticing discrepancies can consider implementing the following steps to improve their affiliate tracking and attribution.

Investigate the discrepancy

Understanding the difference between GA4 and previous UA attribution data is a good place to start. Advertisers who have started tracking with GA4 since its launch last year would have a year of data to compare, so investigate the data discrepancies.

Alternatively, noticing how their GA4 is configured can also bring valuable insights. Look at different data sources and filters. How is it different over a period of time? Are cookie consent banners being used? What are the default settings for lookback windows and channel groupings? By customising their reporting defaults and comparing data over a period, advertisers may find that it normalises over time.  

On an important note, advertisers who used Data-Driven Attribution in their previous model should refrain from comparing old DDA numbers to GA4's new ones. This is because Google's new changes record significant and incomparable discrepancies between the two.

Optimise last-click attribution

Regarding giving credit for customer conversion, last-click attribution is a popular model in affiliate marketing that attributes the sale to the last customer-interacted touchpoint. Unlike Universal Analytics, GA4 isn't automatically configured to ‘last-click’ attribution, so it isn't the default.

GA4 allows advertisers to change their attribution model from DDA to Last Click, which gives them more control over their insights. To adjust this, navigate to Admin > Attribution Settings on your Google Analytics account and adjust your attribution model and conversion window to "last-click."

Doing this should give you more precise data on non-Google channel performance, like affiliates, and you can use that as a basis for your marketing budgets and plans. Review your Last Click attribution with DDA and First Click models for more comparative insights.

Compare more than one reporting tool

GA4 is still a relatively new program and shouldn't be used as the sole basis for tracking and attribution. Advertisers should consider using multiple measurement tools to view channel performance, such as their affiliate platforms' reporting tool.

For example, Commission Factory's platform reports allow advertisers to view customised reports based on different metrics and filters to get rich data. Advertisers can even access an attribution report that shows how an affiliate has assisted the conversion throughout the consumer journey.

Implement UTM Parameters Correctly

UTMs (Urchin Tracking Module) are tags advertisers can add at the end of a URL to track how users interact upon clicking on your link. Currently, GA4 requires non-Google channels to utilise their UTM Parameters, a manual tagging solution, for identifying clicks in its new platform.

Advertisers should properly tag affiliate links with UTM codes. This means changing their settings to Allow manual tagging (UTM values) to override auto-tagging (GCLID values), which ensures fair reporting between Google and non-Google channels. 

Advertisers should also ensure that they consistently use UTM parameters for source (utm_source), medium (utm_medium), and campaign (utm_campaign). Commission Factory advertisers can update their UTM parameters for affiliate traffic in their Commission Factory account under Settings > Tracking Rules.

Avoid cancelling marketing channels

Avoid hastily cancelling partnerships or discrediting marketing channels if there's a drop in GA4 revenue. Remember that Google Analytics is a web analytics software primarily focused on the consumer journey on its platform, and it's a new venture that would probably undergo multiple updates to enhance its off-site tracking.

Cancelling partnerships and affiliate transactions can harm a brand's network relationships and contribute to missed sales and lost opportunities. We recommend that advertisers wait a few months before making major decisions.


Key Takeaway: GA4 is not an end-all solution

Google Analytics is a great web analytics software that allows advertisers to report, plan, and allocate their budgets online. For the best insights, brands using this software should consider using GA4's data alongside other reporting tools.  

GA4 is a relatively new software, and we suspect many updates will come as Google refines their new offering. Brands in the performance marketing channel should consider supplementing it with an affiliate platform like Commission Factory, which allows them to manage and report on affiliate partners that are limited in GA4's capacity.  

Commission Factory is a performance marketing platform and Asia Pacific's largest affiliate network, working with over 800 of the world's biggest brands. To learn more about our performance marketing network and platform, contact us today.

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