Google Conversion Tracking Issues
The constant benefit of Search as a direct marketing channel is its ability to track every penny spent on advertising, and to see how much of a return you’re getting on your marketing budget. It allows a new generation of marketers to turn their practice into an investment instead of an expense, which is very helpful when managers see a softening economy and view marketing as an easy expense to cut back on. However, what if the key piece of tracking in a search campaign–the conversion tracking code provided by the engines–is flawed? Even worse, what if it’s just unreliable?
Note: The issues portrayed in this posting impact people who run on more than four accounts simultaneously
Recently I discovered through some contacts at Google that their conversion tracking is not as strong as I originally thought it was. If you run a modest account–which the vast majority of advertisers do–then you are fine, as this problem doesn’t impact single accounts. However, if you’re like me and run multiple accounts on the same engine, then this pertains to you:
Google conversion code becomes unreliable if you have more than 4 (four) pieces of conversion code on the same page. Let’s be careful with how we define reliability. The conversion code won’t stop working. It also won’t stop reporting conversions. What could happen is that conversions could start getting double-counted, and if you have it set up to import revenue data into your AdWords reports, that data will also get double-counted. This will make your accounts look a lot more successful than they really are. To understand why it’s an issue, keep in mind that Google and Yahoo conversion cookies last 30 days on a searcher’s computer, and MSN’s code lasts for 7 days. If a searcher comes back to your site within that cookie window, any additional conversion actions will not be registered as a new conversion, but a new transaction within the original conversion. Now let’s look at why this is an issue:
Let’s say you run a website that sells apples and oranges. Since you have so many keywords in so many campaigns, you decide to have two separate accounts: one for apples, and one for oranges. You access both through your umbrella My Client Center account, also referred to as the MCC account. One day someone clicks on your ad and buys a couple apples. Then two weeks later they go to Google and click another one of your ads for oranges. If they then buy an orange, the sale will get registered as a conversion within your orange account AND a transaction within your apple account. The problem is the searcher now has two conversion cookies on her computer from your separate accounts.
Why Google sees an issue with four accounts and not two, I’m not quite sure, but now you understand where the underlying problem is. So how do we fix it? There are a couple options:
- Separate order confirmation pages: If your system can handle it, you may try having different order confirmation pages based on the items purchased. This is easiest if you have specific sites that separate your apple sales from oranges sales, but I’m told from IT people who know a lot more than I do that it’s possible within individual sites as well.
- Use Analytics Tracking: Google has a modified analytics tracking that will allow them to import adWords cost data from multiple accounts into one Analytics account. You can then use filters inside adWords to separate the costs from the different accounts. (More on this later in the week)
- Be Selective with how you use conversion tracking: If you’re running a TOMA or other brand awareness campaign in a separate account for budgeting purposes, do you really need conversion tracking activated? The bidding strategies used for such campaigns are usually based on position and CTR more than ROI, so you probably don’t even need to really track it. And if you do, use Analytics with your destination URLs tagged.
If you’re concerned that you might be receiving inaccurate data I would suggest using Analytics as your primary goal tracking and take the conversion data in the Google account with a grain of salt. This post will be updated over time as I get new and updated information from Google.