Google Analytics is a fantastic tool for marketers, content teams, merchants, and more. It’s a great balance between ease-of-use and robust capabilities. That’s why Google Analytics is the most used analytics tool on the web, by far. According to some surveys almost 54% of all websites on the internet utilize Google Analytics. That equates to 15 million or more sites utilizing this great tool. So, we thought it would be most helpful to discuss some common myths around how Google Analytics works and what it can and can’t provide.

Myth 1: Google Analytics Uses Last Click Attribution

Well, this is almost true, but the details that make this one a myth can make a big difference to your reporting. Google Analytics’ default attribution model for all the revenue reports (outside of the specific Attribution reports) is a last non-direct click model. This means that if you visited a shopping site two days ago from an email campaign, and then went back directly today and made a purchase, email would get the revenue credit for your order, not direct.


analytics reportsThe lookback window that Google Analytics will use to determine how far back prior to a direct conversion it should give credit is determined by the ‘Campaign Timeout’ settings which are set at the property level. The default timeout period is 6 months. That means it may have been 5 and a half months since you visited the site from a Labor Day Sale banner, but if you come back and purchased today via direct, guess what, Labor Day Sale banner gets that revenue credit. This, of course, can cause panic to marketers who see an order come through 5 months after a campaign was supposed to have paused, but there’s no need for panic…it’s just the way the cookies crumble [or rather how they persist actually…get it? :)]

BONUS POINTER: Site Search terms also use a type of last click attribution to assign revenue credit to a site search term. According to Google “Transactions or goals are attributed to the search term immediately preceding the goal or transaction.” So if you search ‘boots’ and then search ‘leather boots’ and proceed to purchase, only the term ‘leather boots’ will receive any revenue credit.

Myth 2: Universal Google Analytics Automatically Tracks Users Across Different Devices

There is nothing automatic about the setup of the User ID tracking in Google Analytics
There is nothing automatic about the setup of the User ID tracking in Google Analytics

One of the very exciting aspects of Universal Google Analytics that was highly anticipated ability to track users across devices. In fact, on Google’s “about page” for Universal Analytics the very first feature they highlight is that it can “Connect multiple devices, sessions, and engagement data with the User ID.” For many who read this, it would seem they did not read further into the details of implementing the User ID. Some people assumed that the User ID would be populated by Google based on users who were logged into their Google accounts on their multiple devices and this would be used as the basis for cross device tracking. Oh, if only this myth were true. But alas, it is not.

The User ID, while very helpful, is a parameter that you must define and pass to GA. You also must agree to the User ID Policy as well, including the term “You will only session stitch authenticated and unauthenticated sessions of your end users if your end users have given consent to such stitch, or if such merger is allowed under applicable laws and regulations.” Lest you think this feature seems too daunting to implement, know that the data gained from implementing this are most definitely insightful in understanding your visitors’ behavior patterns and can inform the timing and scale of your mobile experience improvements.


Myth 3: Users Are Only Considered “New” if They Haven’t Been to the Site in 6 Months

CookieDurationIt is one of the more common questions we hear; “What defines a new user?” We have often heard from clients who have some way or another, come under the impression that a user is considered new if they haven’t been to the site in 6 months. This is inaccurate. This may have somehow stemmed from the default setting for the campaign timeout which is 6 months. However, the cookie used to identify the user has a duration of 2 years.

BrowserCookieSharingOf course it is important to remember that cookies are stored by a specific browser and only that browser on that device. So if Joe Q. Shopper likes to browse on Firefox and has been a frequent online shopper of yours for the past year, but then one day he decides he’s going to be a Chrome man from here on out, he will appear new to your site the first time he visits using Chrome (even from the same laptop). And on the topic of devices, if Joe decides he’s going to upgrade to the latest and greatest iPhone (which may or may not have a headphone port…) when Joe starts browsing on his new phone, he will again be starting with new cookies in his browser. In fact, when the iPhone 6s and iPhone 6s Plus were released to the public on September 25, 2015, many of our clients, especially those with younger demographics, saw their new visitor % from mobile Apple users increase by several percentage points in the weeks following.

In general, it is important to have a clear understanding of what makes a new user “new” before you start judging how successful your new acquisition campaign may be. If you have any questions about this topic or the other myths we have discussed here, don’t hesitate to leave a comment. Additionally, if there is a myth you’ve heard about what Google Analytics can and can’t do, we’d love to hear about it.

Finally, if all the talk of Google Analytics tracking and reporting intricacies has got you concerned about the accuracy and robustness of your own tracking, why not sign up for a free 10 step tracking audit?