GA attribution vs. Last Click

GA’s last indirect click attribution model

Google Analytics may attribute a direct session (one that is started by entering the URL in the browser) to indirect channels.

This happens when the user originally came from an indirect channel and returns through a direct session with the same GA cookie, which expires only after 180 days.

This may result in a very distorted representation of traffic, especially for SaaS tools. Think of a user that discovered the software through search and gets back every day for an entire month:
GA attributes: 30 sessions = search.

The Last Click model attributes: 1 session = search and 29 sessions = direct.

In many cases, there are companies where more than 50% of the “organic” sessions are really direct sessions, which also results in a misrepresentation of paid search.

Google analytics attribution model

The “Last Click” attribution model

We now allow you to select the last direct click attribution model, that only looks at where the session originated and doesn’t take any history of the user into account. If you are interested in your SEO performance, we recommend using it.

It gives a much clearer picture of where traffic originates from.

last direct click attribution model

How do I see which channels are affected?

Log in to Google Analytics and navigate to Channels or Source/Medium.

Now, activate the secondary dimension „Direct Session“:

The secondary dimension splits the report into direct and non-direct traffic and allows you to analyze direct sessions associated with other channels than search.

What we see is that apart from the Direct Channel, all channels are affected to varying degrees by this GA’s attribution model. In this example, of the 805 sessions that have been attributed to Organic Search, only 508 are “real” organic sessions and 297 (36.9%) are really direct sessions, attributed to the channel “Organic Search”.

An important metric for AdWords as well

Have you ever noticed that you can usually see more sessions in Google Analytics than clicks in AdWords and have wondered why the clicks and sessions in Google Analytics are so far off?

The screenshot below is from the same account and time period as in the Channel View. As “real” aka direct paid search traffic, we now see only 633 sessions and are therefore about 5% below the AdWords clicks.

How do I change the attribution model in Keyword Hero?

You can select the attribution model in your profile page for each individual project. By default, the Google Analytics default distribution is selected (last not direct click). Click on “Use Last Click attribution” to switch to the Last Click model.

If you decide to use the “Last Click” model, you will see the same number of sessions in your keyword Hero Property assigned to “google / organic”. However, in the keyword view, you will see “(Direct_Session)” as the keyword. These are the sessions that are actually direct but were labeled “organic”.

Which model should I choose?

The correct answer, of course, is that it depends. Both models are absolutely correct and make sense. You should adapt the attribution model according to the goals, that you pursue with the Keyword Hero.


You should use the Google Analytics Model if…

… you only want to analyze brand traffic in the first place.

… need precise comparability with the data in Google Analytics.


You should use the Last Click model when …

… you want to monitor and optimize your SEO performance for generic search terms.

Another advantage of the Last Click Attribution Model is that both match rate and the probability of attribution of the Keyword Hero will increase.

What does the Hero do when I chose GA standard?

If you select the GA standard attribution model, Keyword Hero attributes the keywords to sessions that originally triggered the session. It does it exactly like Google Analytics does, so the data is 100% comparable.

Can I use the secondary dimension “direct session” in my KWH property?

Unfortunately, we don’t transmit this data yet. But we are looking to implement it at some point.

What percentage of direct sessions is attributed to “Organic Search”?

The percentage of direct sessions in the “organic searches” varies greatly. A rough guideline may be:

SEO niche sites and smaller blogs: 10-15%

Small-medium sized eCommerce and magazines: 15-25%

Strong brands (E-com and Publisher): 20-40%

SaaS-Products: 35-60%

Cookie lifetimes, session and campaign timeouts

How long a direct session is attributed to the first original organic session, depends on the setting of the “Campaign Time Out” in Google Analytics. By default, this is set to 6 months. To see the settings, navigate to the Google Analytics Admin area, select your property and navigate to “Session Settings” in the “Tracking Info” section. Here you can customize campaign and session timeouts in Google Analytics.

In addition to the Campaign Timeouts, Session Timeouts can also be responsible for direct traffic that is labeled as. The following example is should illustrate that:

12:00 A user visits your site via the organic search and stays active on it until 12:05.
Afterwards, he leaves the browser tab open but continues surfing somewhere else.

12:45 The user returns to your page. Since the session has not triggered a hit for more than 30 minutes, it is expired. By reloading the page, the user triggers a new session.

In a last click attribution model, this would be considered “direct” but it is again assigned to organic search.

The third factor is the user’s cookie. Since the attribution happens based on the GA cookie ID, direct sessions are only assigned to another channel if the user’s device still carries the corresponding cookie. Otherwise, the session is assigned to “Direct”. An example for this:

A hint for all GA-API and Data Studio users

The dimension “Direct Session” does not exist in the Analytics API nor can it be used in the Data Studio. In addition, the dimension cannot be used in segments.