Google Analytics and Facebook Ad Tracking

why google analytics and facebook ads conversions don't match

Facebook campaigns have long been an effective way to drive traffic and leads for businesses of all sizes. Facebook allows your brand to target highly specific interest-based audiences and run remarketing campaigns that can drive positive ROI on even small ad spend budgets. As with every advertising initiative, it needs to be monitored closely to track performance, ROAS, and make adjustments as needed.

Facebook makes it relatively easy to track overall spend, CPA (cost per action), reach, and impressions from within their Ad Manager. When it comes time to track the most important metric, conversions, you can find yourself in trouble. Conversion numbers from Facebook and Google Analytics often don’t match. The discrepancy in reporting between the platforms can be as small as a single conversion or wildly different, usually with no rhyme or reason. Not only is this frustrating for marketers, but it can cause stakeholders to question the accuracy of data across the board in addition to making it impossible to accurately assess the performance of campaigns.

So which metrics are correct? Probably both. There are several reasons that conversion metrics in Facebook and Google Analytics might not match.

Why The Metrics Don't Match

Discrepancies in conversion tracking between Facebook and Google Analytics can be caused by all sorts of technical or tagging issues but almost all of them fall into 1 of 4 reasons.

1. Attribution Models

Google Analytics tracks conversions using a model called “Last Click Attribution”. This means that Google Analytics will attribute the conversion to the last action the user took on the site. Let’s look at an example of last click attribution. 

Email attribution

In this example, the user first came into the site via organic search, then came back with a direct visit, then came back to the site a third time from an email where they finally converted. Google Analytics recorded the conversion medium for this user as “Email”.

Facebook attribution will count any user who has interacted with your ads at any stage as a conversion. Whether it was their first click, last click, or somewhere in the middle, if they interacted with your campaign, Facebook will take credit.

2. Tracking Users vs Cookies

Facebook can recognize and track users across multiple devices and browsers via the Facebook Pixel. If a user starts their interaction on a mobile device and then picks things back up on their computer to complete the conversion, Facebook knows that it’s the same person. Google Analytics (out of the box) isn’t able to make that same connection. Google Analytics will record that as a new session, new user, and attribute a different conversion medium.

3. Lookback Window's and Attribution Dates

Google Analytics and Facebook record the date of a conversion differently. When a user takes a conversion action on your site Google Analytics will record that action on the day it happens. Facebook however has different “lookback” windows for attribution. Facebook ads have a default setting of 28 days, meaning if the user interacted with your campaign and then within 28 days took a conversion action on your site, Facebook will count that as a conversion.

When setting up a campaign you have the option to set your lookback attribution window to 28 days, 7 days, or 1 day. This setting can be applied independently to clicks (they interacted with your ad) and views (they saw your ad). If your business has a longer conversion cycle having the lookback window set to 28 days can be useful for understanding your users’ consideration period, however, it will cause discrepancies in reporting between the platforms.

4. Referrer, Channel, or Medium Recording Incorrectly

Facebook traffic is notorious for not always being recorded as being from Facebook in Google Analytics. This happens for several reasons, all of which are fixable.

  • A user clicks on a link to your site in the Facebook mobile app which opens an in-app browser. Facebook is technically the referer but the page will be opened within the app, not externally. Google Analytics may not recognize Facebook as the referrer, but Facebook knows.
  • Ads that link to an HTTP version of the page when the site is HTTPS will almost always be tracked incorrectly in Google Analytics. When the user lands on the HTTP version of the page they’re usually redirected to the HTTPS version. Facebook knows that this traffic came from Facebook, but Google Analytics will record the referral as coming from the HTTP version of the page, not Facebook.
  • Incorrect UTM parameters in your ads can also cause tracking discrepancies. Unless you have custom channel groupings in Google Analytics, your source and medium must match up exactly with what Google knows. Custom parameters like “paid” don’t make sense to Google Analytics unless we define them. Since Google doesn’t know what to do with it these sessions and conversions will show up under “other”.
  • Slow load times can cause users to abandon their visit to your website and prevent Google Analytics from firing. If a user clicks on a link to your site and it’s taking to long to load they may hit the back button before the page can load and Google Analytics fires. This would be recorded as a click (and potential future conversion) within Facebook, but Google Analytics would have no record of it.

How To Track Facebook Campaigns Correctly in Google Analytics

Use UTM Parameters

UTM parameters are tags that are added to the end of a URL. These customizable tags pass back information to Google Analytics and allow you to choose how traffic is filed in terms of source, medium, campaign, and content.  Google has a free tool to help you build these.

Google URL Builder

Every URL in a Facebook ad should have the source set as Facebook

The medium can be set to CPM or CPC (if you’re tracking conversions by impressions or clicks respectively). If you’re using custom channel groupings the medium could be “paid_social” or whatever your custom name is.

The campaign name should be your Facebook campaign name.

The campaign content field should be your ad name so that you’re able to track the performance of each ad.

Facebook does offer a parameter tracking tool, however, most marketers find it easier to use the Google-provided tool.

Correct Protocols and Host Names

If your site is HTTPS then all URLs in your ad should be linking to the HTTPS version of your page. If your site is running on HTTP, then all URLs should be pointing to the HTTP version of the page. The same logic applies for WWW vs non-WWW.

If the final ad destination is https://www.yoursite.com any links pointing to;

  • http://www.yoursite.com
  • http://yoursite.com
  • https://yoursite.com

could all be recorded incorrectly in Google Analytics since the user would be redirected to the correct URL.

Enable Cross Device Reports in Google Analytics

While Google Analytics can’t do cross-device tracking out of the box it does have the ability to provide cross device tracking to help you gain additional insight. This is a relatively new feature and at the time of this writing is still in Beta, so it’s not going to be perfect, but even in Beta, it provides a world of information. It’s shockingly easy to set up as well.

The Google Analytics Cross Device Tracking Reports allow you to see anonymized user data across phones, tablets, and computers. You’ll be able to see on which devices users start and finish their conversion journeys with your site.

Google-analytics-cross-device-tracking

To get Cross Device reporting set up you’ll first need to do is active Google Signals in your account. To do this;

  1. Go to the Admin area of your account.
  2. Go to the column for Property, then Tracking Info, and Data Collection.
  3. Accept the terms and it will begin tracking automatically. 
Google-Signals

Pick A Method and Stick With It

Once you’ve explored all the options for making sense of your Facebook conversions compared to Google Analytics, determine what your settings will be moving forward.

  • Will Google Analytics or Facebook be the single point for truth for conversions?
  • What lookback window will you use?
  • Will you give credit for assisted conversions?
  • What attribution model will you follow?

Most importantly, once you’ve decided what makes the most for your brand, stick with the method moving forward.

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