For anyone advertising online, we are very familiar with both Google Analytics and Google Ads Reporting. Looking closely, we see that there are discrepancies between the numbers in these two accounts that raises the questions of how do they differ and which one is better to use?
There are two main areas where the platforms are different.
- Clicks vs Sessions
- How they interpret conversions
Clicks vs. Sessions
This one is pretty straight forward; Google Analytics will always track sessions where Google Ads will always track clicks. The difference here is that a session groups together users that click into your site multiple times within a 30 minute period. A click is counted every time a link or ad is used to get to your site. For example if a user clicks a text ad, hits the back button and then clicks the text ad again within 30 minutes, this will count for 2 clicks and only 1 session. This is the most common instance where we find differences between the clicks that we see in Google Ads and the sessions we see in Google Analytics.
One other important thing to note is that Google Ads will automatically filter out clicks that it deems to be invalid or fraudulent clicks. Google Analytics will report every session that came to the page, regardless of whether or not the click was fraudulent. There are other reasons where these two metrics will differ, most of which are a result of more technical issues. Some other relevant reasons are:
- Turned off auto-tagging for your URLs in your Ads account
- Your site has a server side URL rewrite
- Your landing page might redirect to a different page
- Landing page for your ads is not being tracked
- Users might have set their browser preferences in ways that prevent Google Analytics used on websites from collecting data
- Landing page not able to load code properly
- Users return during the lifetime of a campaign
- Users return to your site via bookmarks
- Server latency
For more detailed information on any of these topics you can check out the Google Help page here:
The difference in conversion tracking has a few more caveats, but on a basic level the difference between how each tracks conversions is found in when and what each conversion is attributed to.
In Google Ads, conversions are attributed to the last ADS click only. This means that if your ad was the clicked first, last, or anywhere in between of an individual user’s conversion path, it will receive a conversion in Ads. However, in Analytics, conversions are only attributed to the LAST CLICK of the conversion path everywhere except for the Multi-Channel Funnel. This means that if your ad was clicked and then the next day that same user went to your site organically and purchased something, only the google/organic would receive a conversion in Analytics. For this reason, it is very important to understand how to use the Multi-Channel Funnel and Assisted Conversions in Google Analytics if you are using that to track the effectiveness of your Ads campaigns.
The other major difference to note in conversion tracking is the date that the conversion is attributed to. Analytics will associate the conversion with the day that the transaction actually happened. Ads on the other hand, shows the conversion on the day that the last ad was clicked. For example if an ad is click on January 2 and then a purchase is made via a separate channel on January 5, the two platforms will show different dates that the transaction happened. Ads will attribute it to January 2 while Analytics will show the transaction happening on January 5.
A few other less prevalent ways where these two platforms can differ are:
- Reporting freshness
- Account level tracking
- User preferences to different tracking methods
- Cross-device conversions
- Phone call conversions
For more information on any of this check out the Google Support page here:
In conclusion, there is not necessarily a best platform for tracking performance because it can change depending on exactly what you are looking for. The important piece to understand is that each platform differs somewhat in the information that it is presenting, which makes it most effective if both Analytics and Ads are used in tandem. By using them together, you increase your chance of recognizing trends and catching errors, issues, or mishaps before they become a problem. This can also put you at an advantage when making decisions because you will have a more accurate understanding of the data in order to make informed and insightful choices.