Understanding Discrepancies in Conversion Tracking Between Google Ads and Google Analytics

Have you ever noticed that conversion tracking in Google Ads never matches the conversion data in Google Analytics? A simple solution to these data discrepancies is to simply import Google Analytics conversions into Google Ads… OK, that might clear up the data discrepancy, but only because you’d actually be looking at Google Analytics numbers in both platforms.

Two platforms are often better than one

But what about those of us who have conversion tracking set up in Google Ads and separate goal conversions set up in Google Analytics? At our agency we don’t like it not knowing if something is broken. Using separate conversion tracking on different platforms for the same website is one way to identify and address problems quickly.

How many times has a coding team made a minor change to a website template and inadvertently  deleted the Google Analytics tracking or the conversion tracking for your PPC campaigns? I’ve seen it so many times, there’s just no way I’m just that lucky to have repeatedly hit the web-dev-team-code-removal lottery.

Discrepancies require a little detective work

Linking your Google Ads account with Google Analytics is standard practice in order to see click and spend data in Analytics. When an Analytics conversion coming from PPC occurs it will be attributed to the Paid Search channel. Again, if you import these conversions from Google Analytics to Google Ads, your numbers will match perfectly (Analytics vs. Google Ads) because technically you’re only looking at Google Analytics numbers. However, if you’re tracking in two different platforms and wanting to match specific PPC activity with a conversion in Analytics, you may have date discrepancies because of the clicked ad occurring on a different day than the conversion. (more on this in just a bit)

Similarly, on Bing Ads, a conversion is recorded to when the click occurs. This is pretty straightforward if the PPC click occurs on the same day as the conversion event. However, if you’re running Bing Ads campaigns, you’re probably well aware that while they perform great at a lower cost, they generally bring in a bit less traffic and fewer conversions. Regardless of the number of conversions, counting them accurately is important.

Side note: If you ever wondered why you get very little Bing Ads traffic on mobile, it’s because iPhones and Android phones don’t utilize Bing or Yahoo as the default search engine.

Like Google Ads, a conversion on Bing Ads that occurs on the 31st of the month will be associated with a PPC click that occurred on the same day. But let’s say a user clicks on a PPC ad and visits the site on 31st of the month, but for whatever reason doesn’t complete the conversion until a few days later – say the 3rd of the month. The conversion will show up in Analytics for the 3rd and in Bing Ads reporting for the 31st. But if you compiled a Bing Ads report on the 2nd and send it off to your client, you would not be reporting that conversion because (according to Bing Ads) it didn’t happen yet. What is the reason behind this “discrepancy”? Again, on Google Ads and Bing Ads, conversions get attributed back to the time and date when the click occurred. Below is an example showing one Google Ads click and one conversion on a specific search term from Jan 16th.

In Analytics, conversions are tracked when they occur: a form submission, a visit to a thank-you page, a phone call event, etc. It stands to reason then that the conversion should be recorded right when it happens. Below is that same Google Ads conversion in Google Analytics (please note these Ads and Analytics accounts are linked properly). Notice there is no click data for Jan 18 th which is when the conversion took place (was recorded) in Google Analytics.

There probably have been several times when you’ve looked at Google Analytics and seen one click with two conversions for a particular day, resulting in a conversion rate of 200%. You might wonder: “What did this person do? Did they hit the back button, refresh, come back, hit submit twice? Has click fraud been detected?” And since you just don’t have enough hours in the day to figure it out, you ignore it and hope the client doesn’t notice so you don’t have to answer for it even though it’s making you nuts.

Technically, you could have no clicks on a day when a conversion took place in Analytics. Wait, what?! Yes, no clicks with a conversion. See the previous graphic. It’s not broken account linking. It’s not wrong. It’s not photoshopped. It’s just a little deceptive because the reporting table in Analytics is a mash-up of two or more platforms reporting on similar things with similar names.

Certainly you can take the easy way out and import your Analytics conversions into your Google Ads account. But by using multiple sources you’ll have greater insights into your data and will also be able to confirm and verify each platform’s data. With this type of analysis, you’ll have greater data accuracy and will be able to tell your client the full story. Using multiple platforms is a little extra work, but it is worth the effort for the additional value you’ll be able to provide.

Guest article written by: Paul Mancini is the in-house paid search and Google Analytics expert at periscopeUP, a Baltimore-based digital marketing agency. He thrives on providing solutions that ensure analytics are both accurate and actionable.

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