Analyze This! Lesson Three: Why Doesn’t My PPC Data Match My Analytics Data?

One challenge I come across periodically is explaining why PPC dashboard numbers do not match our analytics dashboard. This is something that every pay-per-click marketer has experienced when reporting and reviewing analytical data. If you are managing a PPC campaign and using analytics to report goals, conversion, or other data, then you need to know why these reports tend to not align.

Below are a few areas that can lead to data collection errors when tracking PPC through your web metrics.

1. Tracking URLs not implemented correctly: This doesn’t just happen when you forget to add your tracking code, but can also causes issues when you have missing characters, different campaign names, or other variables misplaced. This is actually very easy to mess up and if you are not careful, will cause inaccurate reporting when you view your PPC data. (Note: those using AdWords linked to their analytics campaign can turn on the auto-tagging function, which saves a lot of time.)

2. There IS a difference between a visitor and a click: The problem between PPC campaigns and your analytics is that PPC dashboards tend to track a click on an ad while an analytic account tracks a visitor to the page. Several errors can take place along this route, such as disabled JavaScript, navigating through a page to quickly (not letting the ga.js file execute), or cookie blocking, just to name a few. What you will typically see is the PPC dashboard reporting a slightly higher number of clicks then your analytics reports visitors.

3. Invalid clicks: AdWords/AdSense has a built-in system that throws a red flag up if a visitor from the same IP address clicks on an ad several times in the course of a small amount of time. This is to keep advertisers from having to pay for potential malicious clicks to keep the quality and integrity of the AdWords/AdSense system. Google AdWords will retroactively adjust invalid clicks, lowering the number of actual clicks shown on your PPC dashboard. However, web analytics software like Google Analytics does NOT retroactively remove those clicks. If a visitor came through they will still be counted, and you may see an increase in pageviews and total visits from returning users.

4. Third party ad systems: Doubleclick is a prime example of a third-party ad system. Most third-party ad-tracking systems redirect your ad to their server and then to your landing page. This can cause issues with tracking URLs because sometimes a second “?” is added into your URL. The core of this issue is that you are not allowed to have more than one “?” within a URL. There are some workarounds, such as replacing your first “?” with a “#” or “&” symbol, but you should first view this link in order to get more detailed information on fixing this issue —

5. Cost data import lag: Google Analytics updates your AdWords cost data every 24 hours, so typically you will see a 24-hour gap between your analytics cost data and AdWords cost data.

These points are crucial to understand and make allowances for in order to make accurate decisions from your AdWords and analytics reports. The last thing you will want to do is show misaligned reporting data to your boss and not know how to explain yourself.

My next post will discuss how web analytic interpretation can also skew data. I will be covering how to properly execute and interpret reporting so that when you make a report to your company’s executives you can be sure of its accuracy.

What issues have you faced with your analytics and PPC vendor systems? We’d like to hear what others have come across during their web analytics travels!