Your Conversions Are Hiding a Secret

Marketing capabilities have evolved so rapidly that we must do all we can to arm ourselves with clean, actionable data.

The number of tools available, the mountain of data that can be amassed, and the amount of possibilities there are can melt your brain.

It’s awesome, and it’s scary as hell at the same time.

Keeping up can be overwhelming.

For most businesses and organizations, the most valuable KPI to be measured are conversions.

Are my visitors signing up, downloading, watching, or purchasing?

Tracking conversions and making data-driven decisions is an absolute must today.

The data rendered from those conversions will naturally affect how we optimize.

For some of us, when we get our conversion-tracking set up and see data rolling in we can’t help but think How bad-ass am I?

Unfortunately, it doesn’t turn out to be the mic-dropping moment we thought it would be.

There is a big problem with those conversions.

The problem lies in the how we have decided to track our conversions.

A conversion is a conversion.

Not true.

It all depends on who you ask.

Ask Google Adwords and you get one answer; ask Google Analytics, and you’ll get a completely different response.

Depending on which set up you’re relying on, you’ll get different conversion data, which will ultimately affect your optimization decisions.

I know: It’s crazy.

Why are they different?

Google Adwords and Google Analytics have different attribution models.

Adwords and Analytics assign credit differently to the channels that deliver a conversion.

Adwords uses a Last Adwords Click model.  This model gives conversion credit to the last paid search interaction.

Analytics uses a Last Click model.  This model gives conversion credit to the last non-direct channel that led to a conversion.

It’s easier to show you how this works.

Check out these different conversion paths and observe how they are affected by the respective models.

Path 1: Paid Search > Organic Search > Direct > Email > CONVERSION

Path 2: Organic Search > Paid Search > Direct > CONVERSION

Path 3: Paid Search > Paid Search > Organic > Direct > CONVERSION

Path 4: Organic Search > Referral > Paid Search > Email > Direct > CONVERSION


Consider that we are tracking Adwords conversions, take a look now at the differences between the two methods:

  • Adwords conversion tracking would report 4 conversions. Nice job!
  • Analytics goals would import 1 conversion into Adwords. Ugh, is right!

Therein lies the rub.

I’m sure you can now see just how much this would affect your data and, consequentially, your optimization process.

Budget, bids, keywords, placements, targeting, and smart bidding strategies will all be influenced by these differences.

They may both be Google products, but they are two very different systems.

Look at some of those differences below:

  • Adwords will count one conversion per click or multiple clicks; it all depends on how you choose to have them counted.
  • Analytics goals can only be counted once per session, but, for e-commerce transactions, GA will count multiples as long as they have unique transaction IDs.
  • Adwords will report the time of the conversion as the time of the last ad click prior to converting.
  • Analytics will report both the time of a goal completion and an e-commerce transaction (at the time the action was completed).

Those are some pretty big differences, and they do lead to major discrepancies in your data.

Which One is Better?

This depends on your needs.

One isn’t simply better than the other.

It’s a matter of which approach is a more appropriate method for your measurement needs.

Adwords does a damn good job at reporting Adwords conversions, but it will only report Adwords conversions.

GA, on the other hand, will report all sources that have completed your goal or e-commerce transaction, and it will give you a ton of other data that Adwords can’t deliver.

It all depends on what the data means to your business and how you plan to use it.

If measuring the results of your Adwords spending is critical, Adwords Conversion Tracking is probably the best method.

But maybe you want to understand your audience’s conversion journey better, as well as the role Adwords plays in the path to conversion along with all your conversion sources.  In that case, Analytics Goals and its ability to slice and dice data would be the tool for you.

Call me a nerd, but I like to use both. Only I don’t prefer to import my GA Goals into Adwords.

Adwords conversion tracking is, most likely, going to give me higher conversion numbers, and when using any of the Adwords smart bidding strategies, like target CPA or ROAS, the more conversions the better.

But I also want a more robust data picture that I can analyze to look for opportunities and fixes for my marketing efforts. I can’t do that without GA.

One Last Bit of Advice

Don’t overthink it and wind up like a neurotic dog that can’t stop chasing its tail.

Keep it simple and give thought to what you need to get from the data.

What are your marketing goals? How do you measure the success of those goals?

Good Luck!