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If you are an experienced AdWords advertiser, you probably have familiarity with AdWords conversion tracking code. This is a free, easy-to-use conversion tracking mechanism that requires placing JavaScript on whatever page you want to count as a conversion. All you have to do is create your campaign, install the code on your receipt/thank you pages, turn the campaign on, and the conversions start rolling in.

 

AdWords also offers integration to Google Analytics, which is a more robust website metric tracking platform. It is more involved to set up, install on your website, and integrate into AdWords than AdWords conversion tracking is but can provide some additional insight. A lot of marketers choose to integrate Google Analytics conversions into their AdWords accounts, while keeping their AdWords conversion tracking in place and active. Why not; they’re both free?

Finch frequently runs across marketers using both tracking mechanisms who wonder why they are seeing different numbers from each. The truth is that whenever you use 2 tracking mechanisms to attempt to measure the same thing, you will always end up with different numbers. There are many legitimate reasons for this. I am not going to go into them into detail here as Google has a great page that spells them out for AdWords conversion tracking versus Google Analytics tracking at http://support.google.com/analytics/bin/answer.py?hl=en&answer=2679221. Finch highly recommends you read this page should you decide to use both tracking mechanisms, so that you understand the implications of each.

If you have both AdWords and Google Analytics conversion tracking integrated into your AdWords account and are seeing different numbers in the Conversions page, don’t be alarmed:

Tools and Analysis

 

All Conversion Types

Different numbers should be expected and not a surprise! Finch commonly sees Google Analytics conversion numbers as being roughly 70% of the AdWords conversion numbers – but larger and smaller differences are also seen. The main reason for this is that Google Analytics attributes clicks to all sources and mediums, whereas AdWords conversion tracking only attributes clicks to ads. In other words, if someone enters your website from an ad click, but then enters it again from an organic search (or any other source/medium) and then converts, AdWords will count it as a conversion and Google Analytics will not. It is also important to remember that the conversions from Google Analytics will not import into your AdWords account for up to 2 days. This means you will see AdWords conversions showing up in your account for the past 2 days while the Google Analytics numbers will remain 0. When the day you are looking at moves out of the 2-day lag, you will then see the conversions from Google Analytics.

This presents a problem – if you should expect to see differences in the conversion numbers between the two tracking mechanisms, then how do you know if something is not working right in one or the other? Finch has run across some common illegitimate reasons for discrepancies between AdWords and integrated Google Analytics conversion numbers viewed in your AdWords conversions page that are detailed below. If one mechanism is reporting double or triple the conversion numbers of the other, then it is pretty obvious that something is wrong. If you dig into each of these reasons, then you will likely determine the cause of your discrepancy. Even if your numbers are within the normal 10-40% of each other, it is good practice to regularly check into them to make sure everything is working correctly.

Reason #1: Viewing the wrong data within AdWords
(Of 8 illegitimate reasons for discrepancies between AdWords and Google Analytics conversions)

By default, AdWords will show you 1-per-click conversion metrics on your campaign structure views. These numbers will not match what you see on the Conversions page that I had screenshots of above. You need to include many-per-click conversion metric columns in order to see conversion numbers that will match your Conversions page:

Customize Columns

It is important to realize that when you are looking at many-per-click columns in these views, AdWords will sum all of the conversions from all tracking. If you want to see the numbers by conversion code, then you need to segment by conversion action name:

Segmenting

This will allow you to see a breakdown of the conversion metrics by conversion code. For instance, the campaign below shows 584 many-per-click conversions, but when you segment them, you see that 176 came from the AdWords tracking code, while 122 came from the Google Analytics integration:

Campaigns

By using segmentation in this manner, you should be able to get the numbers to match up with the numbers you see in the Conversions page that I had a screenshot of earlier.

Important: If you do not have a many-per-click conversion column in your view, this segmentation will not work for you in AdWords! I have found the interface misleading, because AdWords will let you select the segmentation when you are not including many-per-click columns, but not give an error – so it seems like the feature does not work. All you have to do is add a many-per-click column and then you will see the segmentation.

 

Reason #2: Viewing the wrong data within Google Analytics
(Of 8 illegitimate reasons for discrepancies between AdWords and Google Analytics conversions)

Sometimes people will log into Google Analytics to view conversion data there in comparison to what the imported conversion data shows within AdWords. It is important to realize that the numbers will never match up because of differences in how the tracking mechanisms work. As described in http://support.google.com/analytics/bin/answer.py?hl=en&answer=2679221, AdWords and Google Analytics set the attribution time on conversions to different times during the click lifecycle. When conversions are imported into AdWords from Google Analytics, Google automatically converts the attribution to be done in the AdWords way (time of the last ad click before the conversion), as we have described here: http://www.finch.com/en/blog/10129-conversion-tracking-adwords-google-analytics-work-together. Also, Google Analytics will record conversions beyond the 30 day window that AdWords uses, but these conversions are dropped/ignored during the import into AdWords as described here: http://www.finch.com/en/blog/10203-importing-google-analytics-into-adwords-what-happens-to-30-day-conversions.

This means that when you look at data within Google Analytics, you will continue to see conversions rolling in beyond the 30 day window that AdWords has. Furthermore, these conversions will be attributed to the day they happened, not the day the last ad was clicked. You may have paused your old AdWords campaigns and launched with a new vendor (such as Finch). Your old campaigns would continue to show conversions within Google Analytics going forward in addition to the conversions that start coming in from the new campaign. As these conversions are imported into AdWords, the conversions will be mapped to the day the last ad click happened before the conversion. After 30 days, the conversions will not be imported into AdWords at all. The result is that you will see an inflation of conversions within Google Analytics that you do not see within AdWords, especially if you have a website that drives conversions with heavy lag between the ad click and date of conversion. You also need to make sure that when you are looking within Google Analytics that you are filtering on the campaigns that are currently active within your AdWords account, so that you do not include data of campaigns that have been paused.

Advertising

It is important to understand these considerations when comparing what you see within Google Analytics with what is imported into AdWords from Google Analytics. You should only attempt to make a very rough comparison when doing this type of exercise; to make sure that numbers are not different by an order of magnitude.

 

Reason #3: Auto-tagging is not enabled
(Of 8 illegitimate reasons for discrepancies between AdWords and Google Analytics conversions)

Since AdWords conversion tracking uses third-party cookies (meaning the domain on the cookie is a Google domain), all you have to do is put AdWords conversion tracking code on the receipt/landing page and it will record conversions for you.

Google Analytics is different: It uses first-party cookies (meaning the domain on the cookie is your domain). This means that critical referrer information must be present and is provided to the page tracking code on the landing page tied to your ad; otherwise Google Analytics will not be able to tie the conversion which happens later on to AdWords. AdWords takes care of this referring information for you automatically when you have auto-tagging enabled:

Tracking

Auto-tagging will automatically add a gclid parameter to the destination URL when the user clicks on your ad. This parameter is then picked up by Google Analytics and allows it to attribute the visit to your AdWords campaign. If you have disabled your auto-tagging, then Google Analytics will not be able to track information from your AdWords account unless you are including manual tagging on your destination URLs – and manual tagging will only provide partial information. You can read more about this topic here: http://support.google.com/analytics/bin/answer.py?hl=en&answer=1733663. Bottom line – you should make sure auto-tagging is turned on in your AdWords account to ensure the integration from Google Analytics is tracking your advertising correctly.

 

Reason #4: The Google Analytics gclid parameter is being dropped on redirects by your website
(Of 8 illegitimate reasons for discrepancies between AdWords and Google Analytics conversions)

A problem that Finch sees commonly is that websites will frequently set up 301 or 302 redirects such that the user ends up being redirected to a different URL when they click on an ad. During this redirect, the gclid parameter that I mentioned in illegitimate reason #4 is dropped, and therefore Google Analytics will no longer attribute the visit to AdWords.

The effect is that the conversions that result from any of the traffic that encounters these types of redirects are not integrated into your AdWords account. You will see lower numbers of conversions than you should in your AdWords accounts for the Google Analytics conversion code.

For more information on this problem, including a test to see if you have this issue, see this page: http://support.google.com/analytics/bin/answer.py?hl=en&answer=1714454.

Note: It is possible that only some of your destination URLs have these redirects set up, so when fixing the issue – make sure to check all of your URLs, and not just one of them.

 

Next time - read the remaining 4 illegitimate reasons for discrepancies between AdWords and Google Analytics conversions.