🚨 Note: All standard Universal Analytics properties will stop processing new hits on July 1, 2023. 360 Universal Analytics properties will stop processing new hits on October 1, 2023. That’s why it is recommended to do the GA4 migration.
Confused on how you should be tracking conversions in your Google Ads account?
You have a couple of options. You can either use the built-in Google Ads Conversion Tracking method, or you could import your existing goals and eCommerce conversions into Google Ads from Google Analytics.
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This guide is a side-by-side comparison for tracking conversions in Google Ads and Google Analytics including the differences, similarities, and benefits of each method.
An overview of what we’ll cover:
- Setting up Google Ads conversion tracking vs. importing Google Analytics goal conversion
- How do Google Analytics and Google Ads tracking mechanisms differ?
- Advantages of Google Ads conversion tracking
- Advantages of Google Analytics tracking
- When to use Google Analytics vs. Google Ads to track conversions
- Our MeasureSchool recommendation
So let’s dive in!
Setting Up Google Ads Conversion Tracking vs Importing Google Analytics Goal Conversion
Results may vary slightly between built-in Google Ads conversion tracking and imported Google Analytics goals. This is because the setup processes for each method are different.
Why do the two approaches sometimes produce different results? Let’s demonstrate by implementing each method of tracking conversions: Google Ads built-in conversion tracking and importing Google Analytics goal conversions.
Google Ads Conversion Tracking
To set up conversion tracking using the built-in feature in your Google Ads account, go to Tools → Conversions.
Here, we’ll create a new conversion action. For our example, let’s say we want to track Website conversions.
Next, you’ll need to configure the conversion tracking information. Once done, it will generate a tracking code.
If you already use Google Tag Manager, you can install this code through GTM using the Conversion ID and Conversion Label values.
Alternatively, you can also manually Install the tag yourself. For this, you’ll need to add the tracking code on the final web page where the conversions occur, like the checkout page or the thank-you page.
Google Ads conversion tracking registers ad clicks since the tracking occurs in the same tool that displays your ads.
🚨 Note: Learn how to improve your brand awareness and distinguish yourself from the crowd in our guide on how to set up Google Display Ads.
When a user triggers your event on your web page after clicking your ad, the tracking code will register the conversion and send it to Google Ads.
This means Google Ads will only track this data if the conversion takes place from an ad click. Plus, it’s still necessary to fire the conversion Tag each time a conversion happens.
Hence, it’s very important that the code is configured at the correct locations for it to trigger on every conversion.
This is because Google Ads asks two questions whenever a conversion is made: “Was there an ad click?” and “Did this ad click lead to a conversion?” Those are the only two data points that matter when you set up conversion tracking with Google Ads.
This is the easiest method because we don’t manually need to check whether every user has a prior ad click or not. The platform will itself run the code to check the eligibility of the conversion.
Google Analytics Conversion Tracking Import
Additionally, you can also set up and import conversions from Google Analytics.
🚨 Note: To do this, you’ll need to link your Google Analytics account to your Google Ads account.
After navigating to Tools → Conversions in Google Ads, choose Import.
Then, choose Google Analytics as the source of the imported data and click on Continue.
Next, you can select transactions and goals that already exist in your Google Analytics account.
Click on Import And Continue once you’ve picked the conversions you’d like to import into Google Ads.
With this, your Google Analytics goals will be imported to your Google Ads account.
This means that Google Ads doesn’t have to confirm whether certain requirements (i.e., conversion and ad click) were met. It just uses the data from Google Analytics, which has its own method of collecting and analyzing conversion data.
How Different Setups Affect Your Data
So what’s the difference between the two methods of tracking conversions? Why do we care about using one versus the other?
Both methods use the same dataset for tracking, but there are still some discrepancies in the results returned by Google Ads and Google Analytics.
Let me show you why.
With Google Ads conversion tracking, we install a tracking code that collects data and sends it directly to our Google Ads account.
On the other hand, if we’re importing Google Analytics goal conversions, the tracking code is installed through Google Analytics. Thus, our conversion data will be sent into our Google Ads account through Google Analytics.
So there’s a difference in the way the data reaches your Google Ads account. However, this isn’t even the most crucial difference.
The bigger difference is the way that Google Ads and Google Analytics collect data.
Contrary to Google Ads, Google Analytics doesn’t check whether a user previously clicked an ad. It just tracks where the user came from—including if a user came from your Google Ads.
Since we’ve already installed Google Analytics code on all web pages, it will fire the event and track it as a conversion once the user reaches the transaction confirmation page or the thank-you page.
And since Google Analytics tracking code is installed on all web pages, it can track exactly where a user came from when it lands on your website. So if the user arrives from Google Ads, Google Analytics will send this data to the Ads account.
The main question that Google Analytics asks is “Was there a conversion?” If there was, it would also ask “Was the last known source Google Ads?”
Thus, if a user came to your website by clicking on an ad and then converted, the data will be sent to Google Ads. Otherwise, it won’t send the tracking data to Google Ads.
But, what happens when the last known source for a specific session isn’t Google Ads?
How Do Google Analytics and Google Ads Tracking Mechanisms Differ?
Let’s consider a scenario where a user visits your website three different times, each from a different source.
The first one might be from Google Ads because the user saw an interesting product. The user will land on the website, but the conversion may not happen instantly as the user may not buy the product at first glance.
However, due to retargeting audiences, you’re able to reach the user promoting similar products. The user may visit your website again as part of their research process but still not buy the product yet.
Later on, when the user finally decides to buy, they will remember your website because they visited it twice already. In this case, they may search for your store online.
This time the user finally buys the product and converts.
But since this source for this session was “organic search” instead of directly from your ad, will we still be able to attribute this conversion to our ad campaign?
This will depend on how you have configured your conversion tracking in either Google Ads or Google Analytics.
Google Ads Conversion Tracking
Google Ads conversion tracking takes just two questions into consideration.
The first one is “Was there a prior ad click?” We know that there was an ad click earlier in the funnel, so the answer is yes.
Secondly, it will consider “Did the user convert?” We also know that the user finally converts on the third session.
Since Google Ads can identify the user between the different sessions and the answer to both questions is “yes,” it will track the purchase as a conversion attributed to the ad. Thankfully, pretty simple.
Google Analytics Conversion Tracking Import
Google Analytics analyzes all the different sources that brought a user to your website, including Google Ads, Facebook Ads, and organic results.
However, out of all the different sources, Google Analytics only attributes the last known source before the final conversion takes place.
Hence, in cases when Google Ads wasn’t the last source before conversion, the Google Analytics code won’t import conversion data to Google Ads as a successful ad conversion.
This is because of the Attribution Rule: Last Non-Direct Source. According to this rule, Google Analytics will attribute any conversion to only its last non-direct source. All reports in Google Analytics follow this rule except the Multi-Channel Funnels report.
Let’s go to our Google Analytics account and open Acquisition → All Traffic → Source/Medium.
This report shows the different sources from which users visited our website.
For example, you can select a goal to view the sources for that goal’s conversions.
The Source/Medium report will attribute the purchases to a single source—which is the last non-direct source.
Google Analytics always uses sessions instead of users as the standard period for considering sources. Thus, if the last known session came through an organic search, then it will be credited for all the conversions.
If we want to figure out whether the user ever navigated to our site via an ad, we’ll have to take a different approach.
To do this, we’ll go to the report under Conversions → Multi-Channel Funnels → Top Conversion Paths.
This report shows the path the user follows before visiting our website.
For example, a user may have a source history that includes Organic Search → Referral → Organic Search → Referral → Direct source followed by a successful conversion.
In all such cases, the last known source before the direct source will be attributed. In the pictured example, the attribution goes to the Referral channel.
We can verify this attribution rule with any other report of Google Analytics as well.
Let’s open Conversions → Goals → Overview report. This report displays the same data as the Acquisition report.
🚨 Note: In cases when there isn’t a last known source before the direct conversion, the attribution will be (direct)/(none).
Thus, this is a major difference in conversion tracking when we import Google Analytics goals. Google Analytics doesn’t send over the data for conversions when Google Ads isn’t the last known source for conversions.
Why do these two Google tools interpret this data so differently? It has to do with the different attribution process for each tool.
Attribution of Sales
When any conversion takes place, both Google Analytics and Google Ads will notice them.
However, Google Ads conversion tracking will only see whether or not there was a successful ad conversion.
On the other hand, Google Analytics uses attribution rules that only credit the last known source for any successful conversion.
Hence, a user who clicks an ad but doesn’t convert until a later session will be counted as a successful conversion for Google Ads but not for Google Analytics.
Therefore, if you only install the Google Analytics import functionality, you won’t be able to see similar conversions.
But Google Analytics can show more accurate data for the conversion tracking because it only counts the last known source and can include all of the session information between the ad click and the conversion.
There are also newer methods of attribution like attribution modeling, but the default setup will still only consider the last known source.
So the question still remains, which method is better? Should you use Google Ads conversion tracking or import your goals from Google Analytics?
Let’s break down the situational advantages for each tool.
Advantages of Google Ads Conversion Tracking
One of the major advantages of installing Google Ads conversion tracking is that there is a significant amount of data available because a majority of the conversions are tracked. This data can be effectively used for optimization purposes in your Google Ads channel.
However, one drawback of the Google Ads conversion tracking is that it may duplicate conversion data.
So, for example, if we have conversion tracking set up for Google Ads, Google Analytics, and Facebook Ads, all of these platforms will count a different number of conversions.
In such cases, Google Ads might count one conversion because of a prior ad click on their platform. For the same conversion, even Facebook might consider a conversion for a prior ad click on their platform.
Similarly, the Google Analytics platform will also consider the conversion for organic results if the last known source is through organic searches.
In such cases, all the platforms track the same conversion. Since each tool attributes the conversion to its own source, they duplicate conversion tracking data across platforms.
Advantages of Google Analytics Tracking
Contrary to Google Ads, Google Analytics doesn’t duplicate data and thus tracks conversions more accurately.
This is because it attributes each conversion to just one source. This can be quite useful for marketing optimization where you want to know exactly which step made your user convert.
So, if you receive 50 different conversion results from different tools, and your total conversions for sales are 60, then you may assume that most of your conversions are due to marketing and ads.
However, this may not be entirely true because there may be a duplication of the data in the 50 conversions you tracked with different tools.
With Google Analytics, you’ll have a single source that gets credit for each conversion. This will help in attributing costs to that source for optimizing your marketing budget.
When to Use Google Analytics vs. Google Ads Tracking
Google Ads conversion tracking can be the best option when you’re using only Google Ads and want to track how different ads are performing.
On the other hand, Google Analytics is the best option when you’re using more than one channel for marketing.
This way, you can optimize your overall marketing and sales campaigns. Every time a conversion occurs, you can be sure that Google Analytics will attribute only one channel for conversion, which will usually be the most important and effective channel in the funnel.
🚨 Note: Learn how to optimize Google Ads Campaign using the top five strategies.
Our MeasureSchool Recommendation
I would personally recommend installing Google Ads conversion tracking.
This is mainly because you receive more data with Google Ads that you can use for optimization. This can be helpful to see how different keywords are performing and then allocate your ad budget accordingly.
Google Ads consistently launches and updates machine learning signals that improve the accuracy of your results, so you can count on this tool being even more reliable in the future.
We can effectively use these signals to understand which keywords performed better. These signals can also enable us to use bid strategies or attribution modeling for our campaigns.
🚨 Note: Learn how to maximize the return on your investment in ads with our Google Ads bidding strategies guide.
Thus, if we want Google Ads to optimize our ads or our goals, it is better if we feed it with more signals.
Lastly, the recommendation to use Google Ads conversion tracking is based on the concept that more data is always better than less data.
If you don’t have Google Ads conversion tracking set up yet, that will be the first step towards conversion tracking.
But if you already have a Google Analytics goal set up, you can import Google Analytics goals into Google Ads to start conversion tracking. Later on, when you have the resources, you can add Google Ads conversion tracking.
The ideal thing to do is set up both tools. Google Ads allows you to customize the conversions that you want to include in your reports. But this is possible only if you have set up Google Ads conversion tracking and also imported your Google Analytics goals.
For example, in Google Ads, let’s suppose you have sales and the purchase conversion tracking installed.
Under the Conversions actions, you’ll find the option to Include in “Conversions”.
Open Campaign settings in your Google Ads account and go to Columns → Modify columns to see all conversions in your Campaigns report.
Under the Conversions tab, check the Conversions and All conv. option. Then click on Apply.
Thus, you can include any one of your tracking campaigns’ data into the conversion columns.
Another way to check which conversion data is included is to go to Tools → Conversions. Open the details of any one of your campaigns. You can choose to include that campaign’s data in the conversions.
These conversions will fall under the Conversions column, while the All conv. column shows all the conversions tracked by different tools and sent to Google Ads.
Thus, you should set up both the tools for conversion tracking, but only include one of the data points in your conversion data. (Remember, if you include data from both the tools, there will be duplication of data—so don’t skip this step!)
You can go to either of the conversion actions and open Edit Settings.
Uncheck the option to Include in “Conversions”, and click on the Save button.
This will still track your conversion data from the tool but it will not use this data to optimize Google Ads.
You can still see these conversions under the All Conv. column. But if you have both tools, you should only choose to include one of them in the conversions column to analyze effectively.
So that’s it! This is how you can set up conversion tracking using Google Ads or by importing goals from Google Analytics.
Both the methods differ in the way they track data. Based on your marketing goals, you can set up either of the tools for conversion tracking. With time you can also aim to install both the tracking methods to collect more data for optimization.
If you want to analyze your users’ activity on your ad campaigns check out our guide on how to set up WooCommerce Google Ads conversion tracking.
Were you able to understand the pros and cons of the two methods of tracking conversions? Which method do you prefer? Let us know in the comments below!
Thanks for the video, totally understood how to setup tracking now 😉
I wonder if now, both ways: importing conversion from Analytics or using direct Google Ads conversion tag deliever the same data. With the first approach we can set up the atribution model and the same option is available for Google Ads conversion.
Hey Piotr! This is a good question indeed, as now an attribution model can be selected in Google Analytics, but we should also take into consideration the cookie consent aspect. Users might be using ad blockers or other tools to block Analytics. In addition, many users might reject Analytics cookies in order not to be tracked. Even if the same models are applied, numbers may also not match due to the click-through conversion window settings in Google Ads. Thus, data discrepancies can be experienced anyways.
Thanks Julian, this cleared up quite a bit of confusion for me. What I am still struggling with is the ‘Include in conversions’ option is no longer there for me?
I have a GAnalytics imported goal for transactions and also a goal set up in Google Ads, so I’d like to make sure I’m not getting duplicate conversions.
Is it now the primary/secondary action thing? And if so I should be putting Google ads Conversions as primary, and Analytics goal as secondary?
Hi Sophie! You are absolutely right. This is a new Google Ads update with primary/secondary actions introduced instead of the ‘include in conversions’ option. Basically, if you mark your conversion as a primary action, it will be used for campaign optimization, whereas secondary actions will be shown in the report for analysis only. In your case, you should mark imported goals as secondary to avoid duplicate conversions.
Thanks for this great article. We are importing offline conversion events from GA (we send these events to GA using the measurement protocol). One issue we are dealing with however is that sometimes we are seeing GAds attribute a conversion to the first known paid session instead of the last know one. So if a user had multiple paid sessions before converting, it shows up in GAds for the date of the first session. Not sure if GA or GAds is doing this, but we have our GAds conversions set to use Last-Click attribution. How can we make it so… Read more »
Wondering if this article is applicable to GA4 as well ?
Hi! Thanks for the article! Regarding this – super important – distinction between Ads and Analytics conversions:
Do you have a source for this? I read it on one or two other blogs, but at google no-one can really confirm it, nor is anything specifically mentioned in the google documentation. Thanks already.
This Google article could be helpful.
Hello, thanks for this! What a happens if you have both methods installed? Are conversions duplicated or more accurate? (i’d rather not try it)
This would not harm since you have the option to mark your conversions as primary/secondary actions in Google Ads. If you mark your conversion as a primary action, it will be used for campaign optimization, whereas secondary actions will be shown in the report for analysis only.
What are your thoughts now with GA4? Would you still suggest setting up conversions directly in Google Ads vs importing from GA4?