Interpreting Google Analytics, AdWords, and Facebook conversion data can flummox even experienced marketers. Knowing how each tool attributes conversions helps you understand and optimize your strategy.

Before we get started, let’s go over a few terms on how each platform assigns a conversion.

Conversion tracking terms you need to know

  • Conversion Tracking – A tool that shows what happens after a customer interacts with your ads
  • Conversion Tag – A JavaScript tag that sends information back to the ad platform when fired
  • Click Conversions – Conversions resulted from clicking on your ad
  • View Through Conversions – Conversions from viewing the ad, without clicking on it
  • Conversion Path – The sequence of steps a visitor took before converting
  • Attribution Windows – The time after viewing the ad that you associate a conversion
  • Attribution Models – The rules that determine how the tool assigns credit for conversions throughout a conversion path

How attribution models work

Attribution Models work by governing where and how each platform attributes a customer conversion. The last interaction model attributes conversions to the last click a user takes before converting. The first click model attributes conversions by tracking the click path from the beginning of their journey. You can assign attribution windows to show how long it took someone to reach a goal on your website. The idea is to use data to pin down which events led your client to make a conversion on your website.  

Conversion metrics differ across tools because they credit touchpoints differently through conversion paths. For example, Facebook might show their promoted ads converting more customers than Analytics. This is because each platform assigns a conversion or a goal based on their own attribution model.

How does Google Analytics goal tracking work?

Google Analytics is primarily used for web analytics. So, instead of installing the tag only on conversion pages, this tag is on every page of a website. As a result, goals are set up through the admin panel of Google Analytics. They need no extra code installed on the page when it’s around an event most of the time. Goals can be set up in Google Analytics around events instead of page views, but this is rare.

If your Google Analytics account links to your AdWords account, then you’ll be able to import those goals as conversions in AdWords.

Google Analytics attributes conversions to the time the conversion occurs, not the steps before that led to conversion. For example, if you click on an ad on October 1st and converted on October 30th, the conversion will attribute the conversion to October 30th.

How does AdWords track conversions?

Conversion Tracking tags are separate from remarketing tags in AdWords. Usually, people place these on thank you pages. You can also place them to fire on events through Google Tag Manager. Google is beta testing Google Signals to allow cross-device reporting. Users have to have Ad Personalization turned on to collect that data.

It does record and attribute a conversion to your campaigns if a user converts at any point during the attribution window.

How does the Facebook Pixel attribute tracking?

The Facebook Pixel acts as both a remarketing tag and a conversion tracking tag. Unlike Analytics and AdWords, which rely on cookies, Facebook tracks information by the user. This means Facebook can trail your conversion path even if you change devices by the last click. Facebook has an advantage over Google Analytics because it reports on cross-device conversions.

Facebook attributes conversions from outside channels if the converting click path interacted with a Facebook ad. For example, if you click or view through a Facebook ad showcasing shoes, but decide to buy the shoes elsewhere, Facebook’s metrics will show that sale as long as they are during the conversion window. This means Facebook credits itself for conversions beyond its own platform, even if they weren’t involved in the click.

Check out our presentation on how the Facebook Pixel works

Why your conversion data isn’t consistent

Conversion data differs across platforms because Google Analytics, AdWords and Facebook use different attribution models to reach their conversion goals. Facebook’s attribution model will often show higher conversion metrics than Analytics because it accounts for cross device traffic and because it credits sales by covering wider conversion paths across more web channels.

How to improve the accuracy of your conversion data

For more accurate data collecting, explore these reports in Google Analytics, AdWords and Facebook:

  • Google Analytics
    • Overlapping channel visualizer with Multi-Channel Funnel 
    • Multi-Channel Funnel Assisted Conversion Report to understand what part of the funnel the campaign contributes to most
    • Model Comparison Tool shows historical conversion data under other attribution models
  • AdWords
    • “Days to Conversion” Segment to understand conversion latency.
    • Attribution Model Comparison Tool shows historical conversion data under other attribution models
  • Facebook
    • Compare conversions through different attribution windows
    • Conversion breakdown
    • Impression breakdown