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Taking it Further, Attribution Outside AdWords

This is part of our "5x5" series, in which we share five tips per week over the course of five weeks. We will share must-have tips about AdWords Editor, account optimization, ad-writing best practices, and much more. Make sure to explore the full series.

Welcome to the second installment in our week of exploring attribution. Yesterday, we took a look at how we can view our attribution reports inside AdWords. While the attribution reports inside AdWords are incredibly useful, they really only show (and are only designed to show) the TRUE value of AdWords campaigns/Ad Groups/Keywords. If your job is to manage and optimize just the AdWords channel in the digital marketing spectrum, then it’s all you need (there is an exception to this which we’ll cover on Friday, which is data driven attribution and trust me, you won’t want to miss that!). However, if you’re looking for a more holistic view of attribution, we have to venture outside AdWords and into the more powerful world Google Analytics attribution.


Multi-Channel Funnels

Before we explore attribution in Google Analytics, we need to understand multi-channel funnels. As I explained in my previous article in this series, most conversions don’t happen by a user simply clicking on an ad, a link, or a Facebook post and then purchasing immediately on your site. They, like you, sleep on it, talk about it with their peers, or shop around a bit to make sure they’re getting the best deal possible from you. When they decide to purchase, they don’t necessarily return the same way they originally found your site. So if they originally found out about your offer from a Facebook or Google+ social post, after thinking about your offer, they might type your brand name into a search and click brand campaign ad you run in AdWords… and THEN purchase. Typically, in this scenario, the AdWords ad in your brand term campaign would get the credit when really, it was the Facebook or G+ post that deserves, at least some of, the credit.



This is where it’s important to start understanding the customer journey as whole. Customers take various different paths through various different channels to finally convert on your site and it’s essential that you understand what these paths are so that you give them more, or less credit when deciding where to spend your marketing resources. The video above gives a great introduction to this concept.





The image above shows you how, in Google Analytics, to see the most popular paths your customers took before they became, well, a customer. I think you might be surprised at what you find. I have never in all my years seen the top conversion path be a single step. It’s just not how rational people behave with their money.

In the above example, you can see that the top path(s) that customers of this particular business took all involved organic search in some way. In the 1st, 3rd, 6th and 9th most popular path to conversion, organic search was involved in some way. In most cases, organic search was how the customer found out about the business. However, in their reports, “direct” is going to get all the credit. A manager looking through the standard reports might think to himself/herself:


“Hey, our magazine and TV branding campaign is doing great! We’re getting most of our conversions from people directly typing our website address into their address bar. Let’s put more money into that campaign and let’s reduce our spend on organic search”.


Needless to say, this would be a complete disaster! Not that the branding campaign is not working somewhat, but it’s not working as well as he/she thought. The majority of customers are coming from organic search and after thinking about it for a few days, typing the business address into their address bars AND THEN CONVERTING.


I’ve seen this many times. Too many businesses take the standard reports in AdWords and GA at face value and make poor decisions based on the idea that a customer comes in through one channel and one channel only. That almost never happens!


Attributing Value

So now that we understand that only a tiny percentage of our customers are actually purchasing immediately after finding our websites, the next step is to open up the paths and assign value to each step in the sales cycle/funnel. We’ve already discussed how we can see how much of a role AdWords played in a particular path so we can start correctly valuing how much our AdWords spend is contributing. So join me tomorrow where we’ll explore the different attribution models (ways to assign the value to each step in the sales cycle) available and how to access them so you can get a more accurate understanding of how each of your digital marketing channels are REALLY performing.

about Dave Davis

Skydiving and travel obsessed. Director of digital marketing agency Redfly, based in Dublin, Ireland. An marketing agency that specializes in AdWords management, Google Analytics and Google Tag Manager.