Google Analytics and the John/Avinash Show


Wow, did you all see John Marshall’s dreamy new look in the five videos he and Avinash Kaushik created? John, you look awesome with contact lenses. BTW, if people didn’t see the blogpost or the videos, they were all about which referrer gets credit for a conversion when the visitor has looked at multiple sources before converting, and/or cleared cookies — a really great topic.

You may not have seen them for the same reason that I put this off for a full week: I am not a video fan. Sure, I do them when I have to, or when it is hard to understand something. But I am always dying to read – I feel like I can read 40 minutes of video in about 5-6 minutes. The question is always, will I come away with as great of an understanding?

I am probably the next-to-last person in the universe who would rather read than watch, so for that last person, here is a synopsis. I have also embedded the Google Analytics interpretations where that makes sense. Suggested reading time: 5.5 minutes.

Act I, whereby Avinash and John explain who gets credit for the sale with only one referrer. This was an easy situation: A visitor is looking a
the NYTimes online, clicks on a banner ad hosted by Doubleclick, goes to the site and purchases. If the Doubleclick ad is correctly tagged and all the pages on the site are correctly tagged, Doubleclick will get credit for the sale. This is true for all analytics packages, including GA.

Act II, whereby Avinash and John explain who gets credit for the sale with multiple referrers. This was a harder situation. Everything is correctly tagged. The visitor starts with the same NYTimes ad hosted by Doubleclick, he looks at a few pages, but doesn’t purchase. He comes back a second time using a paid search ad, and he looks at a few more pages. However, he still doesn’t purchase; instead, he bookmarks the product of interest. The third time, he uses his bookmark to come back and he purchases. Now, who gets credit for the sale? John and Avinash said, “Your analytics package will usually give credit to the last referrer, direct (none).” This might be true for many analytics packages, but I know it is not true for Google Analytics. In GA, a referrer always overwrites the last referrer, with one exception: direct (none) will never overwrite, or if you like, override, a prior referrer. It is possible in GA to avoid overrides/overwrites, but it is not possible to force GA to give credit to the bookmark. So to summarize: if someone comes on a banner ad, comes back on PPC, and finally converts using a bookmark, GA will not give credit to the bookmark — it will give credit to the last “real” referrer, which in this instance is a search engine’s paid ad. (John Marshall discussed this with me, and he pointed out that it is not clear that the way GA does it is the “right” way. This is arguable, but we weren’t go there now.)

Act III, whereby John and Avinash point out why all those different measuring tools you have show different results. Ok, we understand how your web analytics tool works, now, especially if it is Google Analytics. But what about all those other measurement packages you have? How does your DoubleClick report work, how does your paid search report work? After all, that person started with a DoubleClick ad, came back with a paid search ad, and converted on a bookmark. Well, strangely enough, everyone gives credit to themselves! Doubleclick takes all the credit for the sale, as does the paid search conversion tracking when you look at it using a tool like the conversion tracking that comes with Google AdWords or Yahoo Sponsored search.

So, (Act IV) John said, this is a great reason to use your web analytics to look at Time On Site – even though your analytics doesn’t give credit to all referrers, you can use Time on Site to understand how important those referrers might be.

Time on SiteHmmm. How would we do that with Google Analytics? The best way would be to create a special profile for each important campaign. Then you’d be able to use the time on site and depth of visit charts (under Visitors > Visitor Loyalty) to get a “bucketed” understanding of how many people referred by DoubleClick stayed for 3 minutes, 4 minutes, etc. Of course, you’ll still want to drill down to the adGroup and keyword level, and there you will only be able to look at averages, but it is better than nothing. And if you have one really important keyword, go ahead! create a profile for it.

Act V: Whereby John and Avinash discuss what happens when cookies get deleted, or privacy tools block cookies, etc. Doubleclick gets deleted, usually. Even your PPC tool’s cookie usually gets deleted. So by the time the sale happens, there really *aren’t* any cookies to take credit for the sale! And this is quite a wonderful revelation in my eyes, because now it explains why so many accounts have a potentially disproportionate amount of traffic in “direct”, even when all campaigns are coded correctly. In this situation – no cookies left to take credit – even Google Analytics will give credit to the sale to direct (none.)


Our founder, Robbin Steif, started LunaMetrics in 2004. She is a graduate of Harvard College and the Harvard Business School, and has served on the Board of Directors for the Digital Analytics Association. Robbin is a winner of a BusinessWomen First award, as well as a Diamond Award for business leadership. In 2017, Robbin sold her company to HS2 Solutions and has since retired from LunaMetrics.

  • steve

    Thanks Robbin! Speaking as someone who too is very much the reader. [1]
    But am unsure if that makes me that “last person” or not…. 😉
    I may have to actually force myself to watch Act V. That issue sounds… odd? Interesting? Hmmm…..

    – Steve
    [1] Having spent part of the morning with my Tax accountant: ‘Tis… incredible how much I spend on work related books each year. Let alone the private reading. 😉

  • Thanks for this summary. You are not alone in your disdain of video when it comes to information.

  • Yes. It is you and me, and the rest of the world loves video, I know.

  • angie

    Hi Robbin, Count me in the would-rather-read-than-watch (especially on a computer!) club, even when it’s such excellent speakers as these gentlemen. Thanks for another good post.


  • Maarten Berge

    Thanks for explaining act 2. I stumbled across the videos today! and did not understand why Avinash said that the bookmark would be counted in this scenario. He wasn’t mentioning Google Analytics specifically when explaining this but from what I remember one can’t say he was wrong if it’s true for other Analytics tools that they would take this into account. I came to the same conclusion as you when using Google Analytics the bookmark won’t override the last referrer by default.

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