The Commonly Overlooked Difference in Click Attribution between Google Analytics and Google AdWords

 

Fact: Conversions in Google Analytics are reported differently than in Google AdWords.

Implication: If you’re getting paid search conversion data from Google AdWords, and organic or referral conversion data from Google Analytics, the total conversion count is likely inflated.

 

Well, not quite.

There were likely less than 66 conversions in total. To understand why, let’s have a look at how each tool credits conversions to a traffic source.

Google Analytics – Credit to last click source

Google Analytics uses last click attribution. This means that credit is given to the traffic source of the final visit before the conversion was made. There is one exception to this though, and that’s when final traffic source is direct. In this case GA will overlook the direct visit, and report on the first non-direct traffic source that preceded it.

Google AdWords – PPC takes it all

AdWords doesn’t “know” about clicks coming from non AdWords sources before or after the AdWords clicks. As long as the user visited through a Google ad and at some point later converted (within 30 days), a paid search conversion is counted. Doesn’t matter if the user also came from other sources after and/or before that paid search visit.

First visit

Second visit, then converted

GA reports the conversion source as

AdWords report the conversion source as

PPC

Organic

Organic

PPC

PPC

Direct

PPC

PPC

PPC

Referral

Referral

PPC

Organic

PPC

PPC

PPC

Organic

Direct

Organic

n/a

In the table above, notice how conversion credit is different in the scenarios where a PPC visit is preceded by an organic or referral visit.

In our example, if a visitor came through a paid listing, didn’t convert, and the next day came through an organic listing and converted, the same conversion is reported by both the SEO and PPC fellas. If we tally up both conversion counts, the total will equal more than the real number of search driven conversions.

To avoid doubling up in your reporting, I suggest using just one platform such as Google Analytics to report on conversions. At the very least, be aware of these differences, and don’t be surprised when the total number of conversions in your reports is higher than the actual number of conversions the site generated.

October 2, 2012 by Filed in Analytics, PPC, SEO

2 Responses to “The Commonly Overlooked Difference in Click Attribution between Google Analytics and Google AdWords”

  1. October 02, 2012 at 6:45 am

    John said:

     

    Note that you can actually dive deeper using Google Analytics' "multi channel conversion funnel" feature. This allows you to actually see the full conversion paths, so you can correctly attribute both 'normal' (last touch) and 'assisted' (first touch) conversions.

    Also note that it makes heaps of sense for Google to attribute PPC as much as possible, for obvious reasons ;)

    Reply

  2. October 12, 2012 at 3:21 am

    Hadrien said:

    Good reminder!

    Click attribution is far too often overlooked by both clients and agencies, and could lead to serious descrepancies between what's reported and actual results.

    Some bid management tools allow the advertisers to change the click attribution model in the reports (first click only, last click only, prefer first or last, u shaped, etc.). Unfortunately neither Analytics or Adwords allow you to change this.

    Another difference to take into consideration is the cookie duration. In Adwords, the lifespan of the cookie is 30 days while it Analytics can track conversions occurring after 30 days. So in theory, Analytics could assign a conversion to PPC 31 days after the click while Adwords would not recognise it as a PPC click anymore. Again, some PPC management tools allow you to track conversions for longer time frames, which can be extremely useful for clients who have long-term purchase funnels (Selling a house would typically take longer than buying a t-shirt!).

    Reply

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