CJ Raises Concerns Over GA4 Tracking for Affiliates

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Written by Brook Schaaf

Earlier this month, CJ posted a sobering critique of how Google Analytics 4 (GA4) might inadvertently undervalue affiliate and other channels under its new default algorithm, called Data-Driven Attribution (DDA). This concept should be known and understood by all merchant representatives, agencies, affiliates, and other networks, so I recommend reading this piece in its entirety.

Historically (according to CJ), Google Analytics used the last-click attribution model for reporting. However, GA4 now defaults all accounts to the DDA algorithmic attribution model.

Google’s help docs don’t seem to mention DDA as the default, but when I looked in our own GA4 account, I see that data-driven is the first, recommended choice. According to CJ, “DDA requires at least 400 conversions per unique path over 30 days.” They state that the DDA now tracks up to 50 touchpoints and the unique path must be an exact match. For example, display>display>conversion would be different than display>display>display>conversion. 

CJ emphasizes that they “looked at … data for over 1,200 clients. Google’s methodology would likely exclude ~98% of affiliate conversion paths from its DDA model” whereas “conversion paths from high-volume channels (i.e., Google-owned channels such as display and search) are more likely to pass this conversion threshold, and therefore their journeys are less likely to be ignored by DDA.”

The piece goes on to cite concerns that impression, video, and click measurement from non-Google channels may all be subject to less favorable tracking under DDA.

In conclusion, CJ states flatly that “Google’s current design for GA4/DDA contains inherent and unavoidable biases toward Google-owned channels. Google’s own documentation alludes to such biases. CJ’s data indicates that DDA is not able to provide reliable measurement on the affiliate channel.” 

I normally don’t quote quite so much from a single piece, but it seems most fair to recite these many striking points verbatim. I have, of course, not seen CJ’s internal data and tracking technology, and there is much room for error, misimplementation, and misunderstanding. That said, if these concerns are well grounded, we’ll start to hear chatter of growing discrepancies between internal tracking based on GA4 and what the networks are reporting. Network reps, agencies, and internal affiliate managers should proactively prepare for potential ramifications if these concerns hold true.

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