Google Adwords Attribution – Complete Guide

 

Attribution modelling is a very broad topic. This article talks only about understanding and using attribution modelling in relation to Google AdWords.

To understand the basics of attribution modelling and how it works in general and in Google Analytics, check out this article: How to do Attribution Modelling in Google Analytics – Ultimate Guide.

If you have not already read this article then I would highly recommend you to read it.  It is a good starter guide to understand the various aspects of attribution modelling and can help you greatly in understanding the present article.

 

What is Attribution Modelling in AdWords?

It is the process of understanding and assigning credit to various keywords, ad groups and campaigns in AdWords that eventually leads to conversions.

 

AdWords Attribution Model

An AdWords attribution model is a set of rules that determine how the credit for conversions should be attributed to various keywords, ad groups and campaigns in AdWords.

The attribution model used by Google AdWords is ‘Last AdWords click’. So the last AdWords click in a conversion path gets all the credit for conversion in Google adwords.

 

Why you should use Attribution modelling in AdWords?

You should use attribution modelling in AdWords to understand the role of various keywords, ad groups and campaigns in initiating, assisting and completing AdWords conversions. Through attribution modelling you can understand how users search for your products.

The biggest insight that you can get from attribution modelling is that you can determine the most effective keywords, ad groups and campaigns for investment.

But before I move forward, you need to understand how conversions are counted in Google AdWords and how they could be different from the conversions reported by Google Analytics.

 

Difference between Google Analytics and Google Adwords conversions

The conversion metrics (goal completions and e-commerce transactions) reported by google adwords could be different than the conversion metrics reported by google analytics as they both used slightly different tracking methods.

Following are the conversion tracking and reporting differences between adwords and analytics:

1. In Google analytics a goal completion is counted only once per user session. Whereas in Google adwords a goal completion can be counted many times per ad click.

So if a file download is one of your goal then google analytics will count only one file download as goal completion in a given session no matter how many times a user download the file in the same session.

Whereas in adwords, if file download is one of your goal then google adwords will count goal completion each time the user downloads the file in the same session. In adwords conversion tracking, there is no concept of user sessions.

2. Both in google analytics and adwords, a transaction completion can be counted several times in a given user session as long as each transaction has got unique transaction ID.

3. Google analytics uses two different attribution models: ‘last non direct click attribution’ model for non-multi channel funnel reports and ‘last click attribution’ model for multi channel funnel reports. Whereas google adwords uses only one attribution model called ‘last adwords click’.

For example if a user clicks on your ad and then later return to your website via organic search to complete a goal then google adwords will give credit for the conversion to the last adwords click whereas google analytics will give the credit for conversion to organic search.

4. Google analytics count conversions from all traffic sources and mediums. Whereas google adwords count only those conversions which resulted from adwords ad clicks (google/cpc)

5. Google analytics and google adwords can report same conversion on a different day and time. Google analytics report conversion on the day it happens. Whereas google adwords report conversion on the day the ad was last clicked prior to conversion.

For example,

Lets say someone clicked on an adwords ad on july 1 and then made a purchase on July 2.

Now both google adwords and google analytics will not report any conversion on july 1.

On july 2, google analytics will report the conversion. But google adwords will not report any conversion for July 2. Instead it will now report the conversion for July 1.

6. Google Adwords can discount invalid clicks and all the conversions which occurred as result of such clicks. This is not the case with Google Analytics.

7. If Google Analytics tracking has been disabled by a user then Google Analytics can’t count any conversions whereas Google adwords can still count and report on such conversions.

8. In Google Analytics, all the adwords conversion paths (keyword path, ad group path and campaign path) are based only on clicks. Whereas in Google Adwords the adwords conversion paths are based on both clicks and impressions.

9. In Google Adwords you can use different methods to count conversions. You can set the conversion tracking to count all conversions that happen after a click or you can count only unique conversions.

Thus Google adwords provide two conversion counting settings: “all conversions” and “unique conversions”. These conversion counting settings are not available in Google Analytics.

 

Adwords Conversion paths

Adwords conversion path is the sequence of interactions (ad clicks, ad impressions) that lead up to conversions.

Following is an example of Adwords conversion path:

generic impression > generic click > generic impression > brand click => Conversion

Note: The conversion path is created for each conversion counted by Google AdWords

There are several types of adwords conversion paths:

  1. Click Paths
  2. Transition Click Paths
  3. Impression Paths
  4. Transition Impression Paths

 

Click Conversion Paths

Click conversion path is a sequence of search ad clicks that lead up to conversions.

types of click paths

A click path can be set at the keyword, search query, ad group and campaign level.

So we can have following different types of click paths:

  1. Keyword Path (Clicks) – sequence of keyword clicks that lead up to conversions.
  2. Query Path (Clicks) – sequence of search query clicks that lead up to conversions.
  3. Ad Group Path (Clicks) – sequence of ad group clicks that lead up to conversions.
  4. Campaign Path (Clicks) – sequence of campaign clicks that lead up to conversions.

Keyword click is an ad click resulted from the keyword you are bidding on.

Search query click in an ad click resulted from the search query used by a person.

Ad group click in an ad click counted for a particular adgroup.

Campaign click in an ad click counted for a particular campaign.

Example of Keyword Path (Clicks): keyword-1  > Keyword-2 > … keyword-n -> CONVERSION

Example of Query Path (Clicks): query-1  > query-2 > … query-n -> CONVERSION

Example of Ad Group Path (Clicks): adgroup-1  > adgroup-2 > … adgroup-n -> CONVERSION

Example of Campaign Path (Clicks): campaign-1  > campaign-2 > … campaign-n -> CONVERSION

 

Transition Click Conversion Paths

Transition clicks conversion paths don’t show repeated clicks on a conversion path.

That is the only difference between the transition click conversion paths and the regular clicks conversion paths.

For example,

If the regular click conversion path is: keyword-1  > Keyword-1 > keyword-2 > keyword-2 > keyword-2 > keyword 3-> CONVERSION

Then the equivalent transition click conversion path would be:

Keyword-1 > Keyword-2 > keyword-3 -> CONVERSION

transition click paths

A transition click conversion path can also be set at the keyword, search query, ad group and campaign level.

So we can have following different types of transition click paths:

  1. Keyword transition Path (Clicks) – sequence of keyword clicks that lead up to conversions.
  2. Query transition Path (Clicks) – sequence of search query clicks that lead up to conversions.
  3. Ad Group transition Path (Clicks) – sequence of ad group clicks that lead up to conversions.
  4. Campaign transition Path (Clicks) – sequence of campaign clicks that lead up to conversions.

 

Impression Conversion Paths

Impression conversion path is a sequence of search ad impressions that lead up to conversions. 

 types of impression paths

An impression path can be set at the keyword, ad group and campaign level.

So we can have following different types of impression paths:

  1. Keyword Path (impressions) – sequence of keyword impressions that lead up to conversions.
  2. Ad Group Path (impressions) – sequence of ad group impressions that lead up to conversions.
  3. Campaign Path (impression) – sequence of campaign impressions that lead up to conversions.

Keyword impression is an ad impression resulted from the keyword you are bidding on.

Ad group impression in an ad impression counted for a particular adgroup.

Campaign impression in an ad impression counted for a particular campaign.

Example of Keyword Path (impressions): keyword-1  > Keyword-2 > … keyword-n -> CONVERSION

Example of Ad Group Path (impressions): adgroup-1  > adgroup-2 > … adgroup-n -> CONVERSION

Example of Campaign Path (impressions): campaign-1  > campaign-2 > … campaign-n -> CONVERSION

 

Transition Impression Conversion Paths

Transition impressions conversion paths don’t show repeated ad impressions on a conversion path.

That is the only difference between the transition impression conversion paths and the regular impression conversion paths.

For example,

If the regular impression conversion path is: keyword-1  > Keyword-1 > keyword-2 > keyword-2 > keyword-2 > keyword 3-> CONVERSION

Then the equivalent transition impression conversion path would be:

Keyword-1 > Keyword-2 > keyword-3 -> CONVERSION

transition impression paths

A transition impression conversion path can also be set at the keyword, ad group and campaign level.

So we can have following different types of transition impression paths:

  1. Keyword transition Path (impressions) – sequence of keyword impressions that lead up to conversions.
  2. Ad Group transition Path (impressions) – sequence of ad group impressions that lead up to conversions.
  3. Campaign transition Path (impressions) – sequence of campaign impressions that lead up to conversions.

 

Google AdWords Search Funnels

types of funnels

From the chart above we can conclude that Google Adwords search funnel is a type of single channel paid search funnel.

There can be two types of Google Adwords search funnels:

  1. Google Adwords goal search funnel – it is a sequence of interactions (ad clicks, ad impressions) that lead up to a goal completion.
  2. Google Adwords sales search funnel – it is a sequence of interactions (ad clicks, ad impressions) that lead up to a transaction completion.

Once you have setup conversion tracking in Adwords, the Google Adwords search funnel reports will automatically start populating data overtime.

To access Google Adwords Search Funnel reports, go to Tools > Conversions in your AdWords account and then click on the link ‘search funnels’ on the left hand side:

google adwords search funnels

 

Search Funnel Metrics used in Google AdWords

Google adwords provide several search funnel metrics in its reports which you must get familiar with.

You can add these metrics in your reports by clicking on Columns > Customize Columns > Search Funnels in your adwords account:

customize columns

 

search funnels metrics

In order to understand the various search funnels metrics, you first need to get familiar with the following metrics:

Last click – the click on an ad just prior to conversion.

Assist click – any click on an ad other than the last click.

Last impression – ad impression that occurs just prior to the first click on the ad in a conversion path.

Assist impression – any ad impression other than the last impression

Assisted Conversions – total number of adwords interactions (ad clicks, ad impressions) which assisted/helped in completing a conversion.

There are two types of assisted conversions in Google Adwords

  1. Clicks Assisted Conversions
  2. Impressions Assisted conversions

Following are the search funnel metrics reported by Google Adwords:

1. Assist clicks - total number of assist clicks
2. Assist impr. (Assist Impressions) – total number of assist impressions.
3. Click Assisted Conv. (Click Assisted Conversions) – total number of ad clicks which assisted in conversions.
4. Impr. Assisted Conv. (Impressions Assisted conversions) – total number of ad impressions which assisted in conversions.
5. Click assisted Conv. value (Clicks Assisted Conversions value) – total value of all the clicks assisted conversions.
6. Impr. Assisted Conv. value (Impressions Assisted conversion value) – total value of all the impressions assisted conversions.

7. Assist clicks / last clicks – through this ratio metric you can determine whether a keyword generates more assist click or more last clicks.

If the ratio is 1 or near 1 then it means the keyword play equal role in generating assist and last clicks.

If the ratio is greater than 1 then the keyword generates more assist clicks.

If the ratio is less than 1 then the keyword generates more last clicks.


8. Assist impr. / last clicks – through this ratio metric you can determine whether a keyword generates more assist impressions or more last clicks.

If the ratio is 1 or near 1 then it means the keyword play equal role in generating assist impressions and last clicks.

If the ratio is greater than 1 then the keyword generates more assist impressions.

If the ratio is less than 1 then the keyword generates more last clicks.


9. Click-assisted conv. / last click conv – through this ratio metric you can determine whether a keyword generates more click assisted conversions or more last click conversions.

10. Impr. assisted conv. / last click conv  - through this ratio metric you can determine whether a keyword generates more impression assisted conversions or more last click conversions.

 

Say Good Bye to ‘last ad click keywords’ optimization and welcome ‘Effective Click Keywords’ optimization

The advent of attribution modeling has fundamentally changed the way we look at the data for good.

Up to now we have been managing PPC campaigns by bidding on last click keywords (keywords which completed the sales). This has to change because it is sub-optimal way of optimizing a campaign.

To be most effective, you also need to invest in keywords which initiate or assist in sales.

Different keywords (first click keywords, middle click keywords and last click keywords) work together to create a sale. Yet we focus only on the last click keywords. Not good.

It is quite common for visitors to refine their search queries to get the product they are looking for and it is also quite common for them to return to a website via a branded keyword (as it is easy to remember) before making a purchase.

Since by default, Google attributes conversions to the last clicks, branded keywords end up getting tons of undue credit for sales.

Consequently branded keywords campaigns seem to perform so well in PPC.

But these campaigns are still not producing optimum results because our whole optimization efforts are directed towards last click keywords and we now know, that different keywords work together to create a sale.

So why single out only the last click keywords?

If you keep adding more of one unit of production to a productive process while keeping all others units constant, you will at some point produce lower per unit returns. This is known as the law of diminishing returns

(which I have explained in great detail in the post: Thinking of investing more in a marketing channel? Think Twice.)

So in case of PPC, if you keep optimizing for last click keywords (in our case branded keywords) while ignoring first and middle clicks keywords (collectively known as assist keywords) you will at some point produce lower per unit returns.

This means your cost per acquisition at some point will start rising and your profit on sales will start declining. Then the only way, to remain within your CPA targets is by tweaking (add, pause, delete, change bids) last click keywords.

But this is sub optimal way of optimizing a PPC campaign as you are optimizing only a small part of the conversion process.

 

So what is the solution?

In order to strengthen your PPC campaigns you also need to bid on keywords that initiate or assist conversions.

In this way you can stay away from the point of diminishing returns and remain within your CPA targets much longer.

To identify keywords to add to your paid search campaign, look for keywords in your multi channel funnel reports that are high performing conversion initiators or completers.

Follow the steps below:

Step-1: Go to Assisted Conversions Report in Google Analytics, select your conversion type (I selected ecommerce transaction) and then click on the ‘Adwords’ tab.

Note: It is very important that you select the right conversions before analyzing multi channel funnel reports. In the present case I am optimizing keywords for transactions and not for user engagement. That is why i selected ecommerece transaction as conversions.

Step-2: Select ‘Adwords Keywords’ as primary dimension and then sort by ‘Assisted Conversion Value’ column to find high performing conversions assisting keywords.

Step-3: Compare all the high performing assisting keywords against the keywords you are currently bidding on in your PPC campaigns. Add the keywords which are missing, to your PPC campaigns and then bid on them.

Step-4: Now click on ‘First Interaction Analysis’ tab and then sort by ‘First click Conversion Value’ column to find high performing conversions initiator keywords.

Step-5: Compare all the high performing conversion initiator keywords against the keywords you are currently bidding on in your PPC campaigns. Add the keywords which are missing, to your PPC campaigns and then bid on them.

 

Say Good Bye to ‘last ad click CPA optimization’ and welcome ‘Effective Click CPA optimization’

Sorry to disappoint you but the CPA that you see in your Google Adwords report is not your actual cost per acquisition.

It is the cost per last ad click conversion.

So if you ignore first and middle click keywords and optimize PPC campaigns on the basis of cost per last ad click conversions than you won’t get optimal results and sometimes even loose money. This is because

if a keyword is not completing a sale, it may be initiating a sale or assisting a sale (Always Remember That)

and if you stop bidding on the keyword because its cost per last click ad conversion (the so called CPA reported by Google Adwords) is too high or the keyword is not directly completing any conversion then you will loose money.

Similarly the conversions reported by Google on Adwords interface are last ad click conversions. So if you overlook the role of prior keywords in the conversion process then you are missing the big picture.

 

Other Posts you may find useful:

 

 

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  • Joana

    Hi Himanshu! Good post. How do you attribute conversions to offline touch points? We do lot of advertising in trade magazines and industry events and it is hard to justify their ad spend without any attribution model in place.

    • http://www.seotakeaways.com/ Himanshu

      There is no straight forward answer for this. IMO the best attribution model for you is the Time Decay Model esp. when you run offline campaigns.

  • odlasb

    You always give me more to think about attribution modeling. Nice to see you writing posts more frequently.

    • http://www.seotakeaways.com/ Himanshu

      Yes it is a long way from one blog post per month to one blog post per week. Thank you for stopping by my blog.

  • Amalia

    Hi Himanshu! Fantastic Post. The google analytics MFC reports are really awesome. I think effective click optimization can be a huge step forward in implementing multi touch in PPC. Looking forward to improving my PPC campaigns performance now.

  • http://www.orchidsnroses.com/index.htm Mridul Sharma

    Awesome post. Thank you for giving such deep explanation. I didn’t know about attribution modeling until i read your posts. I think it is a very difficult topic to understand and a newbie like me is going to struggle. I manage PPC campaigns and your advice can help me. Thanks again for the great write up. Looking forward to see more posts from you on analytics.

  • http://bollywood.celebden.com/ Rahul

    Bookmarked this post and the other one on attribution modeling. Keep up the good work.

  • JasonGASA

    Many thanks for this excellent post. Can we see a similar post on SEO? I mean applying effective click optimization on seo campaigns.

  • Jitender

    Wow Himanshu Ji aka the attribution Guru. Love this post. So well though out.
    I have to read it twice to understand what really is going on here lol.

  • http://www.ymedialabs.com Arnab

    Hi Himanshu,

    I have been following your post for quite a bit of time. I liked your post but eventually I think you missed out on one point. The data that you get from this manipulation, you need to compare the same data against Matched Search Query for Organic as well as Paid. The retention and Bounce Rate will determine how a particular keyword performs in Organic and Paid Search Scenario.

    Based on these you can fine tune and tweak keywords for best possible ROI. Let me know if you did understand my point. BTW, your post was nice.

    • http://www.seotakeaways.com/ Himanshu

      Hi Arnab,

      The ‘adwords keywords’ in the multi channel funnel reports include both organic as well as paid keywords.

  • http://www.theinsideman.co.uk/ MarwickSEO

    Awesome Post Himanshu. You have come up with a really solid concept for consideration.

  • Steve Lubahn

    Excellent article on a more effective way to view assisted conversion data in Google AdWords / Google Analytics!

    • seohimanshu

      Thanks for the kind words Steve.

  • Pravin

    Great article.Very informtive