The Untrackables!

Tracking SoftwareIf you set up analytics code, enable conversion tracking, and / or use third party analytics software to track clicks and conversions, you are doing the right thing. In order to manage and monitor your marketing efforts, analytics tracking a necessity. But don’t completely and blindly rely on your analytics system when making business decisions, because it has loopholes that can obscure your tracking accuracy.

The Problems with Online Conversion Tracking Software

The way Google Analytics and other tracking products collect data is by using a first-party cookie and JavaScript code to track how visitors interact with your website: how they got to it, what they did on it, and whether they completed any of your site's conversion goals. The collected information can provide good insight on the performance of your advertising campaigns and detect their profitability.

Unfortunately, no tracking software can be 100% accurate on the data it collects. There are many loopholes and blind spots in the system in which lost clicks can fall into.

Analytics programs can often fail to track and credit clicks to Google AdWords. For example, I recently paused one of my managed campaigns (an online retailer) per my client’s request, because the conversion rate seemed poor and the ROI was barely at the break-even point. But when I paused, sales suddenly dropped dramatically all across the site. When I re-enabled the campaign, things got back to normal, and sales are all normal again. So, even though the analytics data showed poor performance, the campaign was vital for sales. How can that be? And what does it tell us about the accuracy of the system? It means that, sometimes, the power of a campaign goes beyond the tracking system's ability to measure it.

Let's see what can cause a discrepancy between AdWords data collected and actual sales results:

  • A visitor who erases cookies after each session
  • A visitor who blocks cookies to begin with
  • Visitors that randomly visit your site from a different location (office, coffee shop, library, etc.) where a new or different cookie must be used every time
  • Shared cookies between two or more people on shared computers
  • Visitors who use their own proxy code
  • Visitor can see an AdWords ad and convert through Amazon or other channels and not be counted as an AdWords conversion.
  • Phone calls - a visitor can use the phone to buy or order service. There are now several options to track phone calls. Google phone tracking is currently available to selected accounts, and other products are also available to track calls. If you don’t track calls, that can well explain the discrepancy between your analytics conversion data and your actual sales performance.
  • Word of mouth - a customer can see an ad and tell someone about it. That someone may directly visit a website or arrive at the site through an organic result. There is no way to track this type of conversion and retrace it to AdWords, although it is truly an AdWords conversion.
  • 30 days limit - even when everything works well, AdWords will count a conversion happening up to 30 days after the last click. If someone came through AdWords and converted after 30 days without clicking on an AdWords ad again, it won’t be counted as an AdWords conversion. In today’s economy, some buyers can take longer to make a purchase decision.

So, do rely on analytics to get your performance insights, but don’t put 100% weight on your analytical data when you want to make business decisions. Sometimes an AdWords ad is good just for being seen. Don’t make assumptions before you check your actual overall performance. My decision to pause a non-performing campaign ended up hurting the overall sales - don't make the same mistake!

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