Google Ads Conversion Tracking vs. GA Goal Import: Which one to choose?

Conversion Tracking in GoogleAds can be done in two different ways. Either you install the Code you get from Google Ads directly and install it onto your Success page or you utilize the Goal Import method from your Google Analytics account. What are the differences between the two methods? What are the similarities? And which one should you choose? Let’s find out in this video….

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Comparing Analytics and Google Ads conversion metrics

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So you want to track conversions in your Google Ads? Well then you have two methods to choose from. You could either, if you already have Google analytics installed, import your existing goals or e-commerce conversions into Google Ads or use the built in Google ads conversion tracking installed onto your website and track it that way. What are the differences? What are the similarities? Which one is better? All and more coming up.

Hey there measuregeeks. Julian here back with another video for you. Today in a bit different camera set up. Let me know if you like it. But it’s not the only thing that’s new because today I want to show you a video from our MeasureMasters membership program. Now this is a premium membership for any marketer who wants to master the art of tracking analytics and data. And we have a little segment within MeasureMasters where our members can ask questions. And if I don’t have a good resource to send them to or a video, then I produce a video for them. So this is a video from our Ask Measuremaster section where the question was asked what are the differences between Google ads conversion tracking and the import of goals via Google analytics. We’ve got lots to cover, so let’s dive in.

Hey there, MeasureMasters. Julian here. Back with another MeasureMaster Ask Question. This time it comes from the community. I don’t have a direct quote here but I was asked by several person in the last few weeks whether I could explain the Google analytics conversion tracking versus the importing of Google analytics goal conversions into the Google ads settings a little bit more closely and examine this a little bit more. So if you don’t know what this is all about, if you are setting up goal conversions in your Google ads account here under tools and conversions, you can first of all set up a conversion via the website. And if you fill this all out, you will get, let’s go back here exactly this for example, a purchase conversion. And this will actually give you a tracking code that you either install through Google tag manager. So you need to install the conversion ID in the conversion label or a tracking code right here that you need to install on the thank you page, for example, where the conversion actually happens.

And then Google ads will start tracking this. And this is the setup of Google AdWords. You don’t have to have Google analytics at all to set this up and this will then record AdWords conversions or Google ads conversions in your account. Now you also have the ability to set up or import conversions from Google analytics. So if you have Google analytics connected to your Google ads account, you can click here on Google analytics and you can choose, for example, your eCommerce contractions. Or the goals that you have set up, let’s do this and import and continue them. So then these goals will be imported. So we have two rows here now. We have one time the sources analytics and the purchase, um, which is the conversion tracking that we have set up through AdWords. And the question is what is the difference between those, because presumably they have the same data set to work with, right?

So we have set up Google analytics in our conversions. So we have a goal conversion setup and we have set up in Google tag manager for example, our conversion tracking. So these should be the same, right? Um, sometimes you see discrepancies. Where do these discrepancies come from? So the question really here is, is there any difference or what is the difference between Google ads conversion tracking that you set up and the important of Google analytics goal conversions? Well, there is a crucial difference. And first of all, how do we set up this tracking? If we utilize the conversion tracking from Adwords, we would have a tracking code. We either install this through Google tag manager or directly on our conversion site, and then this will send data over to Google Adwords. And on the other side we could set up Google analytics, our tracking code on all websites.

We could declare one of these website views as a conversion and then pipe this all into Google Adwords. So there’s a difference between the actual sending the data directly into Adwords or piping it through Google analytics. So far, not a big difference here, but in the system that actually takes up this data, there is a crucial difference and we need to examine how Google AdWords or Google ads for that matter. Sorry, I always use them interchangeably since they have changed the name over the last few weeks. Um, how they actually differ from sending Google analytics data into Google AdWords. So let’s take a look. First of all at Google ads conversion tracking. What Google ads conversion tracking sees is the actual ad click because they have that tracking installed obviously on for example themselves. And they can see the ad click, the user clicked on the ad.

That is something that the system of Google ads will register. And then you have the conversion tracking the code installed on your thank you page. And this will also be registered through Google ads because every time somebody goes to the page or the code is executed, it will send data over to Google ads. Now this system is set up that every time somebody goes to the conversion page, every time a conversion is actually triggered, it will send data over to Google Ads. Now these two crucial data points need to be in place in order for it to register within Google Ads because the questions that are actually asked at first of all, was there an ad click and then did this ad click lead to a conversion. So these are the two crucial data points that Google ads will actually look at. If you have the Google ads conversion tracking code set up and say, okay, I’m going to count this as a conversion.

Now sometimes I get to ask the question, well, is that right that the Google ads conversion tracking code needs to fire every time a conversion happens? And that’s correct. You need to fire the conversion code every time a conversion happens, even if the user didn’t have a prior ad click. That’s not something you decide. But the ad, um, platform or in this case Google ads itself will just take up the signal of your conversion tracking code and see if there was a prior ad click attached to it. So send all the conversion tracking information that you have available. So every time a user converts over to Google ad words on their server side, on the side of Google ads itself, they will decide, okay, was there prior ad click? And if so, we will count this as a conversion. So these two crucial tracking points need to be in place for Google ads conversion tracking to work and actually the ad click.

That’s not something that you control. Google ads does that automatically, but you need to install that conversion tracking code on your thank you page, um, or on your conversion action that you want to track. So send the data over and then you Google ads. Conversion tracking code will work. Now post to that, Google analytics works a little bit different. Google analytics doesn’t really see if there was a prior ad click or not. It just registers where did you use a come from. It can see that that the user came from Edwards. But you have also the Google analytics code installed on all pages obviously on your website. Also on the thank you page and if the user visits the thank you page inside of Google analytics, you can declare or tag or configure your installation. So it actually tells or classifies the user who has visited that thank you page as a conversion.

So that is where you would say, I want to classify this page, you or this event as a goal conversion. You could also in um, e-commerce tracking into Google analytics, this will also be counted as a conversion obviously. So Google analytics works differently in that sense that it’s only installed on your website, but on the whole website itself. So every time a user comes to a landing page, it will look at where did they use a come from. And then if you convert, he will say, okay, the user came from Edwards and now I’m going to send that data over to Edwards. The crucial difference here is the two questions that I ask, first of all was their conversion. If so, okay, we are gonna evaluate whether we should send data over to Adwords or not. And the second crucial question that is asked is, was the last known source Google ads?

So did the user come from Google ads and then convert? If this is not the case, then there will be no data sent to Google ads. Um, so there’s also a crucial part that we need to examine further. What if the source was not the last as Google ads, will Google analytics actually send data? So let’s examine that in a little example here. Let’s say a user visits the website three times and he comes from three different sources. The first time, for example, it comes from Google ads because he saw an ad for a dishwasher that was cheap. So he clicks on a Google ad result. He comes to your website. He says, okay, I really like this product but I’m not going to buy right now because I need to talk to my wife for example first. Then he forgets all about it, but he’s retargeted by your genius

re-targeting methods on Facebook. And he sees the ad again and says, Oh, I want to come back to buy this dishwasher. He comes back to your website, but, uh, he’s not ready to buy just quite yet. He talks to his wife first at home maybe, and then he says, okay, we are going to buy this product. So he Googles for your shop and uh, your product. And he finds that dishwasher on in the organic search results. So he doesn’t click on a Google ads but actually clicks on a Google ads Organic result, comes to your website and converts. So he has converted on the third visit. And what ah, how does that now translate to the AdWords conversion tracking or um, yeah, the conversion tracking if you import it to Google analytics. So Google ads conversion tracking would actually say, okay, the two crucial questions that I asked myself is, was there prior ad click? Yes.

And did you use a convert? Yes, he converted. And therefore Google ads would simply say, okay, the user has now converted through my ad and I’m gonna put this into the interface of Google ads and counters as a conversion. Now, crucially difference is here when you look at Google analytics and the import of Google analytics code because Google analytics sees all the sources that you user came from. So he sees that Google analytics, uh, uh, Google ads was one source. Google, Facebook ads was one source and then Google organic was one source. This is going to ask himself was there a conversion? Yes, there was a conversion was the last known source Google ads. No, it wasn’t. And therefore it will not send data over to Google ads and will not import this conversion into Google ads. So we need to look at this attribution rule in detail.

The last non direct source, what does that actually mean? Well, if we look into a Google analytics account right here and we go into our acquisition, all traffic reports, that’s a report that you probably use a lot if you are a digital marketer. You look at all your different sources here and you may see, okay he will go completions for example, the purchase, um, go right. So you see 15 goal conversions came through Google organic and there is just one source known here that is actually um, attributed to this sale. So 15 sales were coming, came through Google organic. How does it actually know that this was just one source here? Well, Google analytics actually has a attribution rule that says the last known, non direct, uh, source will be attributed. So you know that Google analytics generate sessions. So every view is a session. And then if the last session, uh, came through the source and it’s not a direct, it will then attribute it to Google organic as opposed to if we look at, for example, the conversion and we have the multichannel funnel that we can look at and we can look at the top conversion paths.

If you look at these top conversion paths, let’s make it a little bit wider here we see different conversion paths, especially those that are a bit more complex. So the user came to first through organic, referral, organic, referral, and then direct. Now how would this be attributed in the reports? The standard reports that we see up here, Google analytics will always say, okay, the last non direct source, so this is the direct sources. The last one was direct. I’m going to ignore this and I’m going to go for the referral. So the referral, willl get the attribution for that last non direct source. In this case it would be referral to, I don’t know if I can find a good example here with um, here would be social network. Um, yeah. So every time you look through any kind of these reports except the multichannel funnel report, um, obviously it will be attributed to with this rule in mind.

So even if you look here under the goal report source medium, we see Google organic had 15 and being organic had one. Now if there is no, um, if there is no known source that is not direct, it will still attributed to direct none, uh, just a second here. So it will be in direct none and a lot of times, but the crucial difference here when we look at our conversion tracking is obviously that there is no data that is sent over to Google ads, although we are kind of tracking the same thing and that sends a conversion. But although Google analytics sees that it at some point came through Google ads, it will not send that data on to Google ads. So look at this a little bit in more detail for the attribution, both of them count a conversion, both tools counter conversion, but um, the sources that are counted for Google ads, it’s only sees Google ads prior ad clicks. It will always say, okay, if the user has clicked and there was somehow a contact with my ad, I will attribute this and this will be counted in Google ads. But in Google analytics it looks at a more broader spec perspective and it will only count the last known source. In this case it was organic and therefore it will not send any data on to Google ads. So you would not see this conversion in Google ads if you only had the import functionality of Google analytics installed. Again, differences here are the attribution rule that is deployed. Google ads only attribute sales that had a prior ad click, so it only sees that prior ad click. Doesn’t matter if there were any sources in between or anything that happened on the website. If the session got terminated or so, uh, it doesn’t care about any of that.

It only cares about the prior ad click and then the conversion. And Google analytics as opposed to that is the only attribution to that rule of last known source, last known direct source. Some people also call it last click or last cookie. Um, some people say that it’s a bit outdated and we have attribution modeling nowadays, but I would say that when you set this up by default, it will still use this last click attribution rule unless you, um, well you can’t really change this around in the Google analytics interface. Now the advantages of Google ads conversion tracking are definitely that there is more data available. As you have seen in our example something Google analytics only cares about the prior ad click. Therefore it would potentially, um, gather more data than using Google analytics and therefore you would have more data available for optimization.

The disadvantage here is that it might duplicate data. So let’s say you had a, let’s go back to our example here. You have a conversion tracking also was set up for Facebook and in Google analytics you have three tracking system. Let’s say you have Google ads, you have Facebook ads and you have Google analytics. Now all of these systems would count conversions. Google ads would say, okay, I have one conversion from my prior ad click. Facebook ads would say, Oh, I have also a conversion countered from my prior ad click. And Google analytics would say, Oh, I have a conversion counted for Google organic. So if you add us all up, you have three conversions that were counted, although only one conversions in the backend system that actually happened, right? So potentially if you would take all these different tracking systems together, they would all count one conversion and therefore generate three conversions and duplicating or tripling your conversion count.

So this is potentially, if you only would look at Google ads in that sense, um, doubling the conversions and not attributing the conversions to one source. So keep that in mind. The third thing, uh, that, uh, the advantage of Google analytics in that case would be that you have more accurate data because you don’t duplicate data, it’s only attributed to one source. So you can also attribute costs to just one source. So generally when you do marketing optimization, so you want to attribute, um, one source to one sale and then split up your budget. For example, this is easier done in Google analytics. Then taking a stab at, um, the different tools that you have available and saying, Oh, Google analytics counted 50 sales. And in my backend system I have 60 sales. So that’s 90%. Um, and it’s not 90%, but, uh, it’s, it’s, it’s a majority of my ads.

That’s why I give a Google ads my, my budget. That would be a false math obviously. And you should have some kind of, um, attribution, um, looking at all your sources and Google analytics is a better tool for this. So again, best this in the Google analytics conversion tracking code is better used for if you do specialize Google ads channel optimization. So if you look at all the different ads and how they perform, you want to use Google analytics conversion tracking. Ah no Google ads conversion tracking and if you want to use, uh, if you want to do channel optimization or marketing optimization on a whole with different channels, then you might want to look at the Google analytics import feature or Google analytics in particular, um, for that matter because you only get one source that everything was attributed to.

All right, what is my recommendation in the end?

I would always say to install the Google apps conversion tracking. Why? Well, you get more data for optimization. So you, um, if you are somebody who invests money into Google ads, you want to be able to have signals that a keyword performed better or worse. And I would always say that a good signal. So I, um, a conversion at some point feeds into your system and then you can say, okay, I’m going to turn off this ad campaign because it’s not profitable for me anymore. Or it seems widely profitable for me because I have a lot of conversions. Obviously you can go into detail if, uh, this actually, um, is something that that lines up with your Google analytics tracking in the end as well.

With the background of Google ads also introducing more and more machine learning signals, you might want to feed the system with more signals in order to do these calculations that are needed for machine learning. So you might be familiar with bid strategies or attribution modeling that you have in the system. And if you want to, um, let Google ads the side, which ads should be optimized for, uh, which goals should be optimized for, then you might want to load the systems with more and more signals in order for it to do its job correctly and a better job. And yet, and I also am a fan of rather gathering more data and more conversion data than too little, then you have more positive signals in the system again, for optimization. Now, if you don’t have Google ads conversion tracking set up yet, um, what would I recommend?

Well, there are always like these three cases. First of all, I don’t have any tracking set up. Google AdWords needs data or conversion data to work with. I would definitely recommend to set up the Google ads conversion tracking first in order for it to work correctly. If you have Google ads, Google analytics already set up and connected to your Google ads account, then you and you have Google analytics goals set up, then I would rather tell you to import the goals first of all. So you get data into the account. It’s very crucial to get data into your Google ads account. And then later, um, once you have time and it’s also resourcing with Google tag manager if you have the skill set and also the people to set this up. I would then um, argue to set up Google ads conversion tracking as well.

And then the last part is having set up both of these tracking codes. So if you have both of these tracking codes set up, this is always a good practice because in Google ads you will actually be able to set this into the account. So, for example, in, um, Google ads, we can go in and actually if you have both of them set up, we can use a column here, include in conversions. So when you optimize your account, let’s go back here into your campaign settings. You always have your data in here and you have your conversion column. But also you can set up a conversion column that is called conversions and then all conversions. So if you want to include your one of your data points into these conversion columns, you can do so by using again going into, um, one of these and saying, okay, I want to include them into the conversions.

And then they will be shown in that one conversion column and not the all conversion columns. So the crucial difference here between the conversion column and the all conversion columns is that the all conversion columns shows all the conversions. So as it says, the name says, but the conversion column only says the ones that you include in the conversion. So you can always choose to only set up one. And I would actually recommend to only set up, I would recommend to set up both but only to include one of these conversions in your conversion column. So you only optimize against one. Otherwise you would be doubling your conversions obviously. Again, so this actually faulty setting, you should decide, okay, let’s say I decide again, um, this is my analytic setting. This is my website setting. Now I want to only use the Google ads conversion tracking. So I’m gonna set this to yes and this one I’m going to set to, no, uh,

like this, it will still be counting in my account in the end, but I will be able to only use the website conversion as my optimization goal that I optimize against and the sale conversion tracking, um, or the analytics conversion tracking that I import will not be something I will use. But I will still be able to check against that and see whether, um, under the all conversion paths I have all the conversions in there. So I would, if you have both installed, uh, click one of these tracking setup mechanisms on include conversions on yes and leave the other one turned off. So you will be able to still see the differences but not use them in your account to optimize against. So just as a summary here, what are the two differences? One is the tracking mechanisms, how Google analytics sees the data and how Google Ads sees the data with the just caring about the last prior ad click. The second part is the attribution of sales. This is a crucial difference as well. And therefore I hope I could show up how these two tracking mechanisms differ and what you should choose in the end and what the difference is between Google ads conversion tracking and Google analytics conversion tracking import.

All right, so there you have it. These are the crucial differences, similarities between Google ads conversion tracking and the import of goals from your Google analytics account. Now as I said at the beginning, this video came from our premium membership MeasureMasters. If you want to check it out, link is in the description down below. And that’s already it with this week’s video. If you liked it, then I’d love to have a thumbs up from you. If you don’t like it, click that thumbs down button twice. And if you don’t want to miss out on the next videos we do, then definitely subscribe to our channel or check out this video, which is also pretty interesting. Now my name is Julian. Til next time.

Julian Juenemann
About the author: Julian Juenemann

Julian started and grew venture-backed startups with his unique 'data first' approach to Online Marketing. He then founded to help marketers, like him, the data-driven way of digital marketing.

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