How Google Analytics Can Be Dangerous!

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Robert | Monday, July 26th, 2010

Filed under: Advanced, Basic, Intermediate, PPC Tips & Advice

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Have You Noticed Lately?:
Have you noticed that the goal data in Google Analytics is different (often, very different) than the conversion data in Google Adwords? That’s because Google Analytics is a free product. As such it is not supported like Google Adwords, nor is it anywhere near as sophisticated as Google Adwords.

Google Analytics is good for getting a handle on trends, but should not be relied upon when trying to be accurate in counting goals and conversions.

Google Adwords, on the other hand, is the reporting mechanism that paying customers rely on, and is much more accurate and sophisticated than Google Analytics.

Relying only on Google Analytics will lead to incorrect conclusions and disastrous results.

Analytics Goal Tracking Vs. Adwords Conversions Tracking – Similarities:
Although both Analytics and Adwords Conversion Tracking rely on embedding a few lines of JavaScript tracking code (some people call this a pixel) on certain pages of your website, that’s about the only thing they have in common.

Analytics Goal Tracking Vs. Adwords Conversions Tracking – Differnces:
Google Analytics tracks goals only within the session in which they occur. By that I mean that if a searcher clicks on your ad and completes an action that you’ve defined as a goal, Analytics will record it as a goal. However, if the user does NOT complete the desired action within that particular session, but instead bookmarks or otherwise notes the page and returns later and completes a desired action, Analytics will NOT record that action as an intended goal.

Google Adwords, on the other hand, drops a 30-day cookie when the user clicks on your ad. If the user returns to your website anytime during the next 30-day window and completes a desired action, Google Adwords will consider that action as part of the original click and will credit the keyword, ad group, ad copy and campaign that caused the desired action.

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The Problem:
The problem that is created when marketing professionals rely on Google Analytics is that they undercount the number of goals or conversions that resulted due to a pay per click (PPC) campaign. I agree that Google Analytics is a fine, free tool that provides useful information. But you should recognize its shortcomings and NOT view it as the definitive source for goals and conversions. If you fall into that trap you will undercount conversions (and in my experience you will far undercount goals & conversions), which will lead you to think (falsely) the average cost of acquisition (COA) at both top-of-funnel (TOF) and bottom-of-funnel (BOF) is higher than it really is. You’ll then be led to make decisions about your Adwords campaigns that are incorrect. Please see a previous blog titled “Can You Generate A Positive ROI With Adwords?

This point is driven home by an e-commerce example. A visitor may click on an ad and get deep into the purchasing funnel, only to abandon the session because they need to consider something before they buy. Then they return to your website a few hours or a few days later and they complete the transaction. Google Analytics will record this activity as an organic search result. However, it really ought to be credited to the pay per click search engine marketing campaign where it originated. If you don’t recognize the cause and effect, you will give credit where credit does not belong.

Another Differences To Consider:
If you rely on Google Analytics rather than Google Adwords as the definitive source of goal and conversion data you will also miss additional conversions that are, at a minimum, influenced by if not caused by the impression of a display ad that was not clicked at the time of impression (but which left an impression in the mind of the user).

If you are operating content network campaigns with display ads (remember to always separate content campaigns that contain display ads from content campaigns that contain text ads – please see a previous blog titled “Divide & Conquer Your Adwords Content Network Campaigns”), then there is a metric in Google Adwords called “View-through Conversions”.

What Is A View-Through Conversion?:
A view through conversions occurs when 1) a person sees your display ad anywhere on the Google Content Network (GCN), 2) does not click on the display ad, but 3) returns to your website anytime in the next 30-days and completes a desired action. The idea is that the display ad left an impression in the mind of the user, who consciously or unconsciously noted your product or service, and returns to your website at a later time and completes a desired action.

View-through Conversions are NOT shown in the default view of Google Adwords. If you want to see how many View-through Conversions have been recorded by Google Adwords, select a time frame, then click on the “Columns” sub-link under the “Campaigns” tab. There you will see the following menu:

View-through Conversions

Check the box next to “View-through Conversions” and click “Save”. A column will then appear titled View-through Conversions”.

Now you can see additional conversions or goals in Google Adwords that are not counted in Google Analytics.

Conversions (1-per-click) Vs. Conversions (many-per-click):
While we’re on the subject of conversion tracking we might as well discuss the difference between 1-per-click conversions and many-per-click conversions.

1-per-click conversions are defined as a visitor to your website who completes one or more desired actions (i.e., a conversion) within a 30-day period.

On the other hand, many-per-click conversions are defined as a visitor to your website who completes a desired actions (i.e., a conversion) within a 30-day period, and each time they complete a desired action another many-per-click conversion is recorded.

For example, if a visitor to your website click on an ad and completes a desired action, it is recorded as a single 1-per-click conversion and a single many-per-click conversion. If the visitor returns to your website in the next 30-days and completes another desired action, it will NOT be recorded as an additional 1-per-click conversion, but it WILL be recorded as a second many-per-click conversion.

Many-per-click conversions are very useful in e-commerce environments. They allow the e-commerce vendor to recognize when the same user has returned to their website and purchased another item.

Closing Comments:
Google Analytics is a fine, free tool. However, it must not be relied on when determining the number of goals or conversions you’ve generated via your paid search campaign. If you fall into this trap of relying on Google Analytics to determine how many goals or conversions you’ve generated you will reach false conclusions about the cost of your TOF and BOF cost of acquisition (COA). I’ve even seen companies conclude that paid search is not cost effective because they’ve relied on too much on Google Analytics and not taken into account the more sophisticated tracking in Google Adwords. Don’t let that happen to you.

As always, if you have questions or comments about anything in this blog please let me know through the comment section below, or send a Twitter comment to @mySEMexpert. And please feel free to contact me if you would like a free consultation about your PPC SEM efforts. Good luck in your endeavors.

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