The Difference Between Google Ads Tracking & Google Analytics Tracking
Let’s talk about the purple elephant in the room: Google is a single company, but the data from Google Ads and Google Analytics don’t always (and often don’t) line up.
This singular fact has confused brands and advertisers since the tracking programs have both been up and running. If it’s all one organization, why is the data so different?
You see this with paid social ads, too, and most other ad platforms for that matter. This has always been the case, even before the recent iOS update that sent everyone for a loop.
So why does this happen?
In this post, we’re going to take a look at the difference between Google Ads tracking and Google Analytics tracking and why the two give such different data.
How to Spot When Your Google Ads Conversion Tracking & Google Analytics Conversion Tracking Aren’t Consistent
Here’s an example of how Google Ads conversion tracking doesn’t line up with Google Analytics conversion tracking.
The top data is from Google Ads. You can see that it’s tracked $231,403.90 in revenue.
Now let’s look at what Google Analytics has to say about all of the campaigns run through Google Ads during this same time period. They’ve tracked $201,229.80 in revenue.
We’re looking at a $30,000 difference in revenue. That’s a significant difference, and even though the numbers are “close” that’s still a big enough gap that it might leave marketers scratching their heads.
All things considered, this can be a fairly normal difference. If you had a consistent 20%+ discrepancy in revenue, then you could have a tracking issue that needs resolved and should be investigated. If you’re under that 20% margin, though, this is expected for the following reasons.
5 Reasons Why Google Ads Tracking & Google Analytics Tracking Don’t Always Line Up
There are 5 common reasons why Google Ads conversion tracking and Google Analytics tracking have an awful lot of data that just doesn’t add up. Let’s take a look at each one.
1. The Attribution Models & Times Aren’t Consistent
You’re likely using a different attribution model on Google Ads than you are on Google Analytics. This directly impacts how conversions are tracked and recorded.
An attribution model determines how Google attributes credit to different touch points once a conversion happens.
The default attribution model for Google Ads is last-click within an attribution window of 30 days, meaning that the last ad click that drove the conversion within a 30 day window is what gets credit.
Google Analytics, however, uses a non-direct last click attribution model for non-multi channel funnel reports.
Simply put, here’s what this means: If a user clicks on your ad but then comes back later via organic search to complete a Google Analytics Goal, Google Ads gives credit to the last Google Ads clicked. Google Analytics, however, will give credit to the search.
Even if you choose other types of attribution models or look back windows, Google Ads only tracks ad clicks, whereas Google Analytics looks at additional sources.
2. Google Analytics Has a More Complete Picture
We just mentioned it: Google Ads tracks which ad gets credit for the conversion if a user makes a purchase within 30 days.
Google Analytics tracks many more touch points. They see that same traffic coming from social media, organic search, email newsletters, referral links, and Google Ads.
Most customers do have a multi-touchpoint journey. They don’t just click on an ad and convert; they might click on ad, click away, and search for the brand later to reconsider. They sign-up for an email offer, still don’t convert, and then finally convert off a retargeted ad on Facebook.
That first ad still played an important role in the conversion, but it isn’t the whole story.
That being said, Google Ads does filter out invalid clicks; Google Analytics does not.
3. Conversions Are Tracked & Measured Differently
The term “conversions” means different things in Google Analytics than it does in Google Ads.
In Google Analytics, goal completions are tracked when users accomplish a specific, tracked action. This can be seeing the purchase page or sending a message through your contact form. Only one goal is attributed per user session.
In Google Ads, goal completion can be tracked multiple times for every ad click. If a customer makes a purchase and then doubles back and makes another purchase or takes another action, that can be tracked.
In Google Analytics, you can also have multiple types of goals being tracked at once. In Google Ads, you’re optimizing for specific types of conversion events for each individual campaign; that can also play a role.
4. You Have More Manual Control in Google Analytics
Google Analytics is capable of tracking a little more partially because you can manually input relevant data that it doesn’t capture on its own.
In Google Analytics, for example, you can issue refunds or reverse transactions (which may happen if someone requests to cancel an order). This gives you a more accurate look at the sales that are happening long-term.
This isn’t an option in the Google Ads reporting section; you only see what conversions happened, not if they stuck.
5. The Reporting Times Are Different
Google Ads conversion tracking and Google Analytics actually record goals and transactions at different times.
Google Analytics will track goals and transactions after a 72 hour processing window.
Google Ads, on the other hand, will report conversions after your chosen conversion window, which is 30 days by default but can be up to 90 days long.
This means that you’ll likely see conversions in Google Analytics after day three, but it could take up to 91 days (depending on your attribution window) to see that same conversion show up in Google Ads.
Final Thoughts: How to Get the Most Accurate Data
So looking at all of these different factors that drive discrepancies, we’re sure that you want to know how to get the most accurate data possible.
Our Google Ads agency uses systematic data-driven processes. What we strongly recommend to our clients is to set up both Google Analytics and Google Ads tracking so they can get as much information as possible. That being said, we recommend using Google Ads conversion tracking with the Google Ads’s tracking codes that can be created inside of Google Ads. This is the easiest way to get the most direct data possible specific to Google Ads data.
Knowing how to assess the data that you have matters just as much. Don’t forget to assess your average order values and profit margins when reviewing your Google Ads campaigns, because the number of conversions aren’t the only thing that matters.