Conversion Tracking: Google AdWords vs Analytics

Conversion Tracking Google AdWords vs Analytics

Any marketer that invests in digital marketing at some point uses Google Analytics and AdWords for campaign tracking. Both of these platforms are useful and provide good insights into the success or failure of your marketing efforts.

However, if you are an expert marketer, you know that the data gathered by both platforms is not always the same. In fact, due to the different conversion tracking methods used by each, there are bound to be discrepancies.

If you have ever found yourself wondering why these data discrepancies occur when comparing data from AdWords and Analytics, this post will answer all of your questions.

In this post, we will discuss the differences in conversion tracking in Google AdWords vs Analytics. We will also explore the reasons for these differences.

Conversion Attribution Model: Google AdWords vs Analytics

One of the biggest differences in conversion tracking by Google AdWords and Analytics is that they use different attribution models. In summary, Google Analytics provides a more holistic picture than Google Adwords, which may sometimes be misleading.

Google Analytics

Google Analytics is one of the most popular website analytics tools and for good reason—it provides in-depth analytics via a user-friendly interface. It gives a comprehensive view of site performance as it analyzes all traffic sources and provides detailed traffic analytics.

The attribution method used by Google Analytics is “last-click attribution” excluding direct traffic. This essentially means that the last source that drove a user to your website will be considered the traffic source. As such, 100% credit for a conversion is given to the click that precedes sales as that is the last source that brought traffic to your website.

What you have to understand here is that a user may visit your website several times before finally making a purchase. And, they could do so by coming through different sources. In “last-click attribution” only the last source, except direct traffic, is given credit for the resulting sales conversions.

This model is better than the last-interaction attribution model that also considers direct traffic. So, if a user clicks on an Adwords ad and comes back later directly, then it would be considered direct traffic. The drawback of this attribution model is that it does not give any credit to the first and intermediate interaction channels that led to the conversion.

Overall, the conversion tracking attribution model used by Google Analytics is effective as it gives credit to the final source that brought a user to your website even if they didn’t convert right away.

Google AdWords

Conversion tracking and attribution by Google AdWords are slightly biased to favor AdWords. This is because of the fact that it gives credit to AdWords for any interaction with the user in the conversion path and not just last click or last interaction.

AdWords uses the “last AdWords click” attribution model, therefore, AdWords is given credit if it was a factor anywhere in a user’s conversion path. A conversion path, in this case, would be all the sources that brought a user to your website before finally making a purchase.

This means that with this model Google AdWords will be given credit for more conversions than Google Analytics data and thus campaigns would appear more successful.

Example: Google AdWords vs Analytic Attribution

Take the following three conversion paths, for example:

  1. Referral>Organic Search>Paid Search>Direct
  2. Referral>Organic Search>Email>Paid Search>Organic Search
  3. Paid Search>Organic Search

Out of these three, Google Analytics will attribute a conversion to paid search (AdWords) only once, for the first conversion path as it does not consider direct search.

However, Google AdWords will attribute all three conversions to paid search as it played a part in getting a user to convert.

Therefore conversion tracking using Google Analytics is less biased and often gives less credit to paid search. On the other hand, conversion tracking using Google AdWords will always favor the paid search and give it more credit.

Conversion Tracking Metrics: Google AdWords vs Analytics

Google AdWords and Analytics use different conversion tracking metrics and assign slightly different meanings to similar metrics. This means that conversion tracking for the same user activity would yield different data from Google AdWords and Google Analytics.

Here are some of the common conversion tracking metrics used by both and the way both tools track and measure these.

Transaction Date

Google AdWords considers the date of the last click that led to a transaction, even if the transaction was completed on a later date. This means that if a user clicked on an ad date X, but completed the transaction after a few days on date Y, then AdWords will consider date X.

Google Analytics, on the other hand, considers the date of the final transaction and does not take into account the day of the click.

Conversion Count

Google Analytics counts each goal one time when a goal is completed in one session but can count multiple transactions with different transaction IDs in one session.

With Google AdWords counts one conversion per ad click or multiple conversions after a click, depending on your count settings.

If you only want to track the number of leads converted, you can opt for one conversion per click count setting. And, if you want to count all transactions/sales that happened after a click, you can choose the “every” counting option.

Google Analytics does not provide this flexibility and therefore, sometimes the transactions count data from Google AdWords and Analytics might differ.

Phone-Call Conversions

Phone-call conversions can currently be measured via AdWords but not by Google Analytics. Google AdWords can track and record call conversions originating from certain extensions and lasting for a preset duration.

Google AdWords vs Analytics: Other Conversion Tracking Differences

There are several conversion tracking differences between Google AdWords and Analytics that can lead to discrepancies in data from both sources.

Here are some of these key differences between Google AdWords and Analytics:

URL Tracking

Google AdWords can only track clicks on ads, but Google Analytics also provides post-click data about what happened on the website after a user clicked on an ad. To get a holistic picture, you need to integrate your Google AdWords and Analytics accounts.

However, for Google Analytics to show details on your ad keywords and costs, you need to tag your ad URLs to ensure proper tracking. You can do this either by using AdWords’ auto-tagging feature or by manually adding tags and UTM parameters to your ad URLs.

For AdWords, it is preferable to use dynamic URL parameters as these allow you to pass ad-related information in the parameters. This lets you track exactly which ad or keyword referred a visitor, along with several other benefits.

You can use UTM.io to create and add dynamic URL parameters for your ads. The tool also has UTM templates, so you don’t need to create UTM codes from scratch every time.

UTM tracking is essential for tracking your paid ad campaigns and ensuring seamless integration with Google Analytics.

Session Tracking

Google Analytics sometimes fails to record a session when a user has blocked some activity like cookies tracking. From the moment a user clicks and a session starts, there are a lot of activities that go on to create the session.

Here are the steps involved before a session can be recorded:

Session Tracking - conversion tracking adwords vs analytics

Image Source: Google

If any of these activities is incomplete, Google Analytics will not be able to record a session.

Google AdWords records only clicks and bases all conversion metrics on that, so the ad clicks data might not always match Google Analytics sessions.

Reporting Frequency

Conversion tracking numbers for Google AdWords are reported within 3 hours and are more frequently-updated than those for Google Analytics. Analytics conversion tracking data is typically reported within 9 hours of a transaction and therefore, is a bit slow.

Conclusion

When comparing conversion tracking via Google AdWords vs Analytics, you can clearly see that there are certain differences. Overall, Google Analytics provides a broader picture and a more fair attribution of conversion than Adwords.

As such, if you want to look at your website performance and conversion analytics on a broader level, Google Analytics should be your first choice. However, if your goal is to analyze the impact of your ad campaigns in more detail, then AdWords is clearly the platform of choice.

Dan McGaw

Dan McGaw is an award-winning entrepreneur and speaker. He is the founder and CEO of Effin Amazing, a marketing technology and analytics agency, and the creator of UTM.io, a campaign management and data governance tool. Named one of the godfathers of the marketing technology stack and one of original growth hackers, Dan has decades of experience in digital marketing, technology, and analytics. (His team won’t let him take this out even though he says it makes him sound old.)

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