The other day we wrote a blog about a recent Facebook advertising test we ran. When we looked at the results, we were displeased with the discrepancy between our Facebook reporting and Google Analytics. We always expect some discrepancy but things are a bit fishy when Facebook over-reports by more than 50% compared to Google Analytics. Since we know this is a problem that plagues anyone with Google Analytics, we thought we’d share some of the top reasons discrepancies exist so you can have a resource to turn to when comparing third-party reporting data and Google Analytics.​

Causes of third-party and Google Analytics discrepancies

Latency and pixel placement

When a user clicks on an ad from Facebook (or another third party), Facebook reports that click right away. However, there is a lot that can happen between when the click happens and when the page loads. If a user navigates away from the landing page before the page loads fully, Google Analytics probably will not register the user as a session. This is common with mobile devices because of accidental web clicks when a user meant to scroll. Another way this is common with mobile devices is when a user’s mobile device isn’t very fast so it takes a while for the Facebook app to minimize and a new webpage to populate the screen.

As a solution to this problem, we recommend two things: First, place your GA tracking pixel correctly. Google suggests placing your pixel before the tag on a page. Second, check your site speed at Google’s PageSpeed Insights. This resource offers insight on how you can decrease the load time of your landing pages so they can load quickly and pixels fire as soon as possible.

Ad blockers

If users are using an ad blocker (e.g. Ad Block) the third party will report a click but Google Analytics will not.

Cookies and Javascript

Google Analytics depends on JavaScript and cookies to be enabled otherwise no data will be reported. That being said, there isn’t too much to fear. A 2014 study by WebAIM found that only 2.4% of respondents did not have JavaScript enabled.

Cookies

Because Google Analytics keeps track of user data using cookies that are assigned to a unique browser, multiple people using the same browser will most likely be recognized by Google as one visitor.

Multiple link clicks in a session

By default, Google Analytics tracks sessions in 30-minute intervals. If the same user clicks on an ad twice within a session, the third party will report multiple clicks whereas Google will still only report one session.

Overcoming the discrepancies

Discrepancies will always exist between Google Analytics and third parties. As long as you keep your eye on things, you should be able to get an accurate view in your data. That being said, to further dial in your data, the first three things we recommend are:

  1. Goal tracking
  2. Google’s URL builder
  3. Focusing on the key metrics that lead to a goal completion

Google Analytics Goals

Goals in Google Analytics are a straightforward way to track actions that take place on your website. Let your mind run wild, goals can be set up for just about anything. E-commerce goals? Check. Key page views? Check. Video views? Check.

URL Builder

Google’s URL builder allows you to apply custom parameters to your URLs so that Google Analytics can identify and effectively track clicks coming to your website from different sources on the web. For instance, all of our traffic from Facebook is tagged with URL parameters that tell us where the click came from (desktop, mobile etc.) and what content was clicked.

Key Metrics

It can be easy to get hung up on discrepancies when focusing on sessions and unique users. For that reason, we like to pull reports to understand what users are doing prior to goal completions. The User Flow and Behavior tabs are a good place to start.

In closing

For small discrepancies, try not to get too bogged down with numbers that don’t add up. Most of the time, discrepancies can be linked back to the above reasons. Like any other tool, Google Analytics isn’t perfect but there is still a lot of valuable insight to be gained.

Corey Zalewski specializes in social media advertising within KELLYBRADY’s digital marketing team. Prior to KELLYBRADY, Corey provided digital marketing assistance for a private university and multiple non-profits. He has a B.A. in marketing and a Master’s in Business Administration.

KELLYBRADY is a digital, creative and media agency providing a unique combination of innovation and service. Their four decades of marketing experience allow them to seamlessly optimize online and offline media from strategy to execution with a focus on brand, response, analytics and overall results.

Contact: Jason Hol (Jason.Hol@kellybrady.com)