Navigating GA4: Updated Insights for Affiliate Advertisers

Since our last post on GA4's implications for affiliate marketing, we’ve continued investigating and adapting to the evolving landscape of attribution models. Our latest findings reveal nuances in how GA4 processes sessions and events, significantly impacting how affiliate conversions are credited. This update delves into these discoveries and offers actionable advice for advertisers navigating this new reality.

GA4: Insights for Affiliate Advertisers. Millennial man and women drinking coffee reviewing laptop screen

The New Paradigm: GA4’s Session and Event Attribution

One of the most significant shifts with GA4 is how it treats sessions and events. In Universal Analytics, a click from a publisher would always initiate a new session, ensuring the affiliate channel received credit for the conversion. However, GA4 handles this differently. Here’s what we’ve learned:

  • Event Within Session: Any interaction in GA4, such as a page view, conversion, or add-to-cart action, is assigned to the current session if one exists, or a new session is created if none is available.
  • Impact on Affiliate Clicks: Unlike Universal Analytics, a mid-session affiliate click in GA4 does not start a new session but is merely recorded as an event within the existing session. This means that if a user is already browsing a site and then clicks on an affiliate link to find a discount code before completing their purchase, GA4 might not credit the publisher for the conversion.

This change profoundly impacts how affiliate data is attributed in GA4, especially for bottom-of-funnel activities, resulting in significant discrepancies in how revenue and conversions are attributed

Real-World Impact

To illustrate the impact, consider a recent audit we conducted. Under Rakuten Advertising’s tracking, the advertiser’s account showed $300,000 in revenue. Using Google’s traditional model, this figure dropped to $270,000. However, with GA4’s new last-click attribution definition, only $90,000 was credited.

This discrepancy creates challenges for affiliate managers, who must now work harder to understand the impact of the affiliate channel. Even with clear explanations, there isn’t a straightforward solution to eliminate these discrepancies entirely.

Actionable Insights for Advertisers

Despite these challenges, there are ways to navigate and mitigate the impact of GA4’s changes:

Leverage GA4’s Attribution Models Report:

  • In the GA4 dashboard navigate to Advertising →Attribution → Attribution Models to compare different attribution models, including last-click and data-driven. This report often assigns a higher value to the affiliate channel than other GA4 reports, aligning more closely with historical data.
  • Example: In our sample audit, Rakuten Advertising showed $300k, GA4’s Attribution Model Report showed $270k, while the Traffic Acquisition Report showed only $90k.

Utilize Filtered Views for Key Events:

  • To view numbers that match the attribution model report, and allow for more accurate data representation:
  • Access this by going to Reports →Click any report except Reports Snapshot → Click Reports Snapshot → Select the “purchase” Key Event under “What are your top performing key events?”

Understand the Limitations and Context of GA4 Data:

  • GA4 essentially does not credit publishers for conversions impacted by interactions toward the end of the purchase funnel. It treats journeys that include cashback or discount code usage the same as those that don’t, which can undervalue the affiliate channel’s contribution.

Rakuten’s Advanced Reporting Tools:

Navigating the Future with Confidence

Understanding the differences in how GA4 attributes sessions and events is crucial for accurate conversion tracking and reporting. While GA4 can still be a valuable tool, it’s essential to recognize its limitations and complement it with robust internal tracking mechanisms and reporting tools. By doing so, advertisers can continue to optimize their affiliate programs and demonstrate the actual value of the channel.

As the digital marketing landscape evolves, staying informed and adaptable is key. We are committed to supporting our advertisers through these changes and ensuring the continued success and growth of the affiliate channel.

For more detailed guidance on navigating GA4 and optimizing your affiliate marketing strategy, contact your Rakuten Advertising account contact or visit

Avatar of Rakuten Advertising
Rakuten Advertising

Rakuten Advertising leads the industry in delivering performance-driven ad solutions that help the world’s top brands connect with unique, highly engaged audiences – from first impression to final sale.