Understanding Differences Between Google Analytics & Facebook Pixel Tracking Data

by Laura
Last updated: September 26th, 2020

If you’re going round and round in circles, not knowing why your Google Analytics and Facebook Data don’t match up, then you’re not alone. We’ve all pulled our hair out at this one. The reason for the difference in reporting is that Google Analytics and Facebook use different tracking methods. So if you read nothing more of this article, then this is your take home…they are different, they will always be different, you haven’t messed up and neither your data analyst or facebook advertiser is lying to you, this is actually normal. If you want to learn why, then read on.

To understand the discrepancies, you have to understand the mechanics behind the tracking methods and a little bit about marketing psychology and theory.

Google Analytics Tracking Method

The main reason why tracking in Facebook and the tracking you see in Google Analytics is so different is because of Attribution. Google Analytics uses what we call Last Click Attribution, this means that whatever touchpoint was the last one that they clicked on (not just saw it), is the one that appears in the data. So, if I did a Google Search and then clicked on a website, then purchased, Google Search would get the attribution for that conversion. This example is a very simple and unrealistic sales funnel, but it does make sense from a basic point of view. Google has recently released multi-channel funnel conversions tab with an assisted conversions view but it isn’t very clear and hopefully this will improve as time goes on.

Facebook Pixel Tracking Method

Facebook doesn’t track this way, instead they use cookies to attribute conversions. When you see or click on a Facebook Ad, Facebook sets a cookie within your browser and within your Facebook account to remember that you interacted with an ad. It will remember this for a set number of days depending what they advertiser has set up, this is usually anything between 7 and 28 days. So, if at any time after your interaction with an ad, you decide to purchase then Facebook will attribute your conversion to the ad.

So why is this important and how does it work in reality?

People are complicated, I’m sure that’s something we can all agree on! We are not linear beings and because of this it’s rare that we would ever see an ad, grab our card immediately and purchase. Let’s face it, sometimes our wallet is in a different handbag or the kids are going crazy & you need more time to read about the product before purchase. To convert a customer, they usually require what we call “touchpoints”. A touchpoint is any time that you see a brand, ad or product. The average number of touchpoints a customer requires to make a purchase online is 8. To remember when I said a simple sales funnel was unrealistic earlier, this is why.

Examples of tracking discrepancies

Scenario 1)

Imagine that I see an ad on Facebook, I click on it but then decide to purchase another day because i’m busy right now. In Google Analytics, the Attribution will be given to Google Search or to Direct Traffic, but really I converted after seeing and clicking on that Facebook Ad a few days ago, it was just a delayed conversion. Facebook’s cookie will pick this up, and attribute it to the ad, hence the discrepancy.

Scenario 2)

Imagine that I saw the ad on the Facebook App on my phone, but I decided later to read a bit more about that product on my laptop, then complete my purchase on desktop. Google Analytics would report this is a search or direct traffic conversion rather than a facebook ad conversion because Google Analytics doesn’t accurately track between devices yet. (it’s working on it!) However, Facebook (because of the cookie, and you being logged in on both devices) can track across multiple devices much easier and will attribute my conversion to the original ad I interacted with.

So what is right and what is wrong?

Neither of these methods is right or wrong. In fact, they are both right. We recommend that you look at both sets of data to weigh up marketing decisions. You can use both sets of data to make informed decisions about questions like, why aren’t they converting immediately, what’s the barrier? Is the experience less appealing on one device than the other? Are they just not finding the landing page convincing enough the first time?

You should never expect a customer to convert first time, no matter how enticing the product, offer or ad because often life gets in the way of a simple purchase funnel. It’s fantastic you do achieve that though! Just keep in mind that it’s going to take an average of 8 interactions for someone to be convinced to buy. In my opinion, Facebook’s pixel tracking is far more superior to Google Analytics for it’s own conversions because it takes into consideration a more holistic customer journey.

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