Think back to the last time you purchased a pair of headphones or earbuds online. Did you type “earbuds” into Google and click to purchase from the first search ad that popped up? Probably not. I bet you checked out a few brands, styles and colors before settling on your final selection. And why wouldn’t you? With tons of review blogs, videos and comparison sites at your fingertips it only makes sense to do some research to ensure you get the most bang – or bass – for your buck.

After you settled on what you wanted to purchase, you went to the site where the product was sold and you made the purchase. Voila! In a couple of days’ time you were probably cruising down the street, enjoying the smooth sounds of your favorite band in your ears.

From a marketing analytics perspective, your purchase (aka Conversion) would likely have been attributed as a “direct” (aka last-click) conversion, meaning you typed the name of the website you purchased from (Apple, Bose, Amazon, etc.) directly into the URL address bar or had it bookmarked in your browser. Similarly, if you clicked a link from a review site and purchased in that session, that click would be attributing the conversion to the website that sent you as a “referral” last-click conversion. It would be correct to attribute either of these channels as “direct conversion” as it was the “last interaction” that immediately precedes the conversion.

Understanding Assisted Conversion Value in Google Analytics

Although correct, this is also a short-sighted marketing analysis, because in reality, there were multiple touchpoints in your journey to purchase than simply going to the site and clicking to buy, so giving only the last-click digital marketing channel all the conversion credit would not be telling the full story. Other factors along your journey likely included other digital marketing channels like organic search, clicking from reviews and comparisons (referral), maybe clicking on a display ad to check out a promotional offer, and many more touchpoints and channel combinations. Each had a level of influence and value that nurtured the path to your final purchase decision.

In marketing analytics, these touchpoints that ultimately contributed to a conversion but were not the last-click before converting are called “Assisted Conversions”. Assisted Conversions means they helped in the journey to final purchase and should be factored into your analysis and decision making when understanding the effectiveness of marketing campaigns across different channels that contribute to sales or leads.

Assisted Conversions Report in Google Analytics

When reviewing conversions in Google Analytics, you will want to be familiar with GA’s “Default channel definitions”. Default marketing channels are pre-defined (or system) defined marketing channels in Google Analytics. Common examples include Organic Search, Paid Search, Display, Direct, Referral, Social, Email, and (Other).

Reviewing the Assisted Conversions report in Google Analytics shows the order of the touchpoints that assisted in achieving the conversions on your website. Here’s an example view of the Assisted Conversions report in Google Analytics from the Conversions > Multi-Channel Funnels > Top Conversion Paths Report:

How Attribution Model Helps Define & Assign Credit for Assisted Conversion Analytics

Most digital ad platforms, including Google Ads, that connect to Google Analytics, are on a last-interaction or “last click” attribution model meaning only the marketing channel that led to the last click before conversion is getting the full credit for driving the conversion.

In most reporting, the ads are only getting any credit (attribution) for the conversion where they appeared as the last click. Which then leads to marketers making decisions that discount the full value of the ads’ contribution to driving conversions.

In the above image, just looking at “last interactions” we can see that Organic Search
drove 7 conversions.
Paid Search would get credit for 2 conversions and Direct captured 8 conversions. But we can see that this is not the full story.

  • In row 7, we can see the “Referral” was part of the journey and nurturing to that conversion.
  • In row 13, we can see that “Organic Search” and “Paid Search” both played valuable roles in the path to conversion.

Analyzing the Assisted Conversions report allows marketers to identify which marketing channels are adding value by nurturing the paths to conversion. Marketing strategies for each of the channels can be optimized to deliver the best assist-to-conversion results. It is important to note the “conversion-window” configuration (30 days / 90 etc.), depending on how long a typical product buying cycle, because ecommerce will be vastly different from B2B SaaS.

There are fancy (aka “expensive”) attribution tools and services, often as part of the CRM, that most lean startups are not ready or able to implement, which can help codify your attribution model in a way that makes reporting more comprehensive for assisted conversion data. They can assign a percentage of a conversion to a channel that assisted in that lead or sale to create a more complete picture.

A few examples include:

Even when startups have matured and are ready to integrate robust attribution modeling tools, the system is rarely perfect. We can use the Google Analytics Assisted Conversions report and even “View-Through” Conversions to help paint a more full picture of the value of ads, without relying on costly software.

Caution Against Relying on Google Ads Conversions Attribution Model Settings

While it does sound like a good idea to analyze in Google Analytics to choose a good attribution model for Google Ads campaigns or conversions (last-click, position-based, first-click etc.) and simply change all of your attribution modeling settings, be aware that simply changing “attribution model” in your Google Ads conversions settings is not as reliable and simple as it could, or should be. The issue of note is that it is not Analytics code in the Google Ads conversion tracking. Its data import from Google Analytics to Google Ads. In this set up, if a given conversion is attributed to Google Ads in the Google Analytics “last click” model, only then is it imported to Google Ads.

When speaking of “last click” in Google Analytics, we are really referring to the “last non-direct click” due to Google Analytics terminology limitations.

For example, if the Google Ads click comes after a visit from Facebook, then completes a conversion, this will not be imported to Google Ads, causing Facebook traffic data deduplication. Read more about using conversions imported from Google Analytics to Google Ads. It’s also important to know that even if you set up all of your conversions directly in Google Ads instead of importing from Google Analytics, the attribution models in Google Ads other than last click work solely for Google search ads clicks. That leaves video, display and discovery ads shrouded in mystery.

Factor in Assisted Conversions for Deeper Insights

Next time you review conversion metrics in Google Analytics, be sure to factor in “Assisted Conversion” data and visualizations into your reporting. You will get better insights into the value of your ads, until a more sophisticated, and more costly, tool is in place. 

Continue to review Assisted Conversion insights over time, you may be surprised at what you find.

For further reading, check out our blog post “A Beginner’s Guide To Marketing Attribution.

About the Author

Shane is Vice President of Digital Marketing at Firebrand Communications. Bringing over 15 years of digital marketing experience he provides clients with strategic insight and program execution aligned to achieve measurable growth. Prior to Firebrand, Shane had led digital departments for PR and advertising agencies, delivering successful marketing programs for enterprise and consumer brands.