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Cleaning Up Conversions: How do I interpret my sales?


A user buys a product on your site. They first heard about you via a promotional email, which they clicked the link on to visit your site, but didn’t buy anything and forgot about you. A week later, they see a remarketing ad from your site on Facebook and click on it, but again, they don’t buy. A couple of days later, they get the sudden urge to purchase from you and Google your site name, click on your AdWords ad and finally purchase. Which of these should gain credit for the conversion?

If you’re like me and you maintain an average of 27 tabs on Chrome and constantly click back and forth between the Google Analytics, Google AdWords, Sharpspring and Facebook interfaces (to mention only a few), you might be having a real headache figuring out where your conversions are coming from. If you’re only advertising on one platform, let’s say Facebook, you don’t need to think too much about the paths people are taking to your site. However, if you’re advertising on multiple platforms it can take some real detective work to unravel the paths.

We must first establish the differences between ‘greedy’ and ‘non-greedy’ attribution models. Wait, what the heck is an attribution model? It’s the rules that define what gets credit for a conversion.




Last Click Wins

Google Analytics uses a non-greedy attribution model by default, meaning that it doesn’t bias towards one source/medium for taking credit for conversion. That’s not a very digestible sentence, so let’s use a real-world example. Imagine two athletes sprinting in a relay – the starting gun fires and the first guy dashes 100 meters, panting, hands the baton to his mate, who walks one meter to the finish line. The crowd goes wild for the guy that finished, and the 100 meter sprinter, who did all the groundwork is forgotten. That’s the best analogy I can come up with for the Google Analytics’ default attribution model, which is commonly called ‘last click wins’; the last source/medium that drives the user to the site before a conversion is what gets the credit. It’s a ‘blind’ or ‘non-greedy model’ but for the love of Batman, take it with a pinch of salt.



Any Click Wins

Google AdWords and Facebook are two examples that use greedy attribution models. In contrast to Google Analytics’ ‘last click wins’, we can call these models ‘any click wins’; if a click on an AdWords ad led to a conversion within 30 days (default) of that click, AdWords takes credit, likewise for Facebook. Why? Because money. AdWords and Facebook want to look good and make you feel good about them so that you keep using them. This is the main reason why you will see a discrepancy between Analytics and AdWords conversions.

Where to look then?

So, you’re probably wondering what the go-to place is for determining your best sources of conversions. We would suggest Google Analytics, as it is unbiased with its ‘last click wins’ model, however as with the ‘any click wins’ model, ‘last click wins’ has its cons. ‘Last click wins’ doesn’t show you the whole picture but only the ending, but fortunately there are ways to get insights into the whole conversion process.

Model Comparison Tool


The model comparison tool gives us a ‘versus’-type view of comparison different attribution models. I’m not going to explain them all, but many of them are self-explanatory and are explained in depth here. I think the ‘first interaction’ model is always interesting to look at as it’s the total opposite of ‘last click wins’; you might find that email campaign you did using cold data worked better than you thought it did. If you want to get really nerdy with the data you can adjust the lookback window to establish the timespans of your typical buying cycles. Don’t forget to change the primary dimension to source/medium if you want a more detailed breakdown, or click other > campaign if you want to see it listed by UTM campaign tags.

The ultimate place to trace your users’ conversion paths is the Goal Flow tool:

goal flow



If you select source/medium from the green dropdown menu at the top left, you can see a highly detailed breakdown of where you users are coming from, where they’re landing, how they’re navigating through your site and what pages they’re leaving on. You can even use it to drill down into your social media paid and organic campaigns, as well as your AdWords campaigns, ad groups and keywords. If you click on a traffic group, you can select ‘group details’ to view a detailed breakdown of that group’s traffic, and you can also click ‘highlight traffic through here’ if you want to focus on the traffic flow through one particular group. Also, don’t forget your data ranges at the top right – it’s important to get a meaningful volume of data to analyse and also take into account of any seasonal marketing shifts or new/finishing campaigns.

The Goal Flow tool provides astonishing levels of detail for those who really want to find out how people are discovering, using and buying from them online.

Conversions vs Converted Clicks

AdWords has some confusing jargon. Conversions and converted clicks sound like the same thing but aren’t, though you’re lucky that they’re no longer called ‘one-per-click’ and ‘many-per-click’ conversions’ like they were back in the olden days. If you go on a site and buy one banana, that’s one converted click and one conversion; if you buy two bananas and three apples, that’s one converted click and five conversions. Converted clicks are assigned to a single purchase or completed lead, regardless of how many times the user actually converted. Conversions is the metric referring to the number of times the conversion was actually completed. If you’re running a lead gen site with a single capture form, you will see your converted clicks equaling your conversions unless something weird has happened. If you’re running ecommerce, you will see widely different converted clicks and conversions. Now comparing that AdWords data to Google Analytics must be extremely freaking confusing for newcomers, so good thing we know what we’re talking about.

That’s all for now on this topic, but we still didn’t answer the first question in the article about what should get the conversion. The answer is that there is no answer; it’s all down to you and depends on what attribution model you choose. We hope that we’ve significantly reduced the amount of head scratching in your marketing department that wide cross-platform conversion discrepancies cause, good luck with tracing those conversions.

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Jonny Holmes

When it comes to PPC, SEO and CRO, Jonny's skill and attention to detail make for consistently great insights. His work makes a measurable contribution to the business

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