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Why we Don’t Report on Facebook Advertising in Google Analytics

Written by Tom Lambert - Aug 14 2018
As a Paid Media Manager at Born Social, I’m increasingly hearing conversations like this:

“The number of clicks/purchases/leads you are reporting doesn’t match up with what I’m seeing in Google Analytics. Is Facebook wrong and why are you lying to me?”

It’s time to put the record straight.

Every business advertising on Facebook is confronted with this discrepancy in reporting between Facebook and Google. It is nothing to be alarmed about.

So what do you do? We are going to outline why this discrepancy occurs and what the best solution is for your business.

How do Facebook and Google Analytics collect data?

This is the first step to understanding what’s going on.

It simply comes down to understanding the fundamental differences in the way the two platforms collect data.
  • Google Analytics uses cookies to measure how users interact with your website (read more here)
  • Facebook tracks actual people based on their profiles (more info here)
  • This is crucial to understanding how to report on the two platforms and is at the core of the major differences between the two.
You also need to be aware of the two different attribution windows being used here:
  • Facebook | 28 day click, 1 day view (default)
  • Google Analytics | Last click (i.e. the final referrer before the action was taken)
  • Obviously, these two default attribution windows are designed to benefit the two different ad platforms.
Facebook is interruption marketing, where you are targeting people who are less likely to convert right away, so it needs a longer window to track conversion. Google Ads are designed to target people who have shown intent to buy and are at the point of purchase, so they are likely to buy right away.

So it is necessary to read between the lines when reporting on both platforms and understand what is right for your business.

Are you selling a high ticket item, like a holiday, luxury goods or a service? Or are you offering a lower value impulse purchase, such as clothes or a gadget/accessory of some kind?

These factors will have a massive impact on how long it takes people to buy, how many devices they use and, as a result, how you should report on your marketing activity.

So, with all that in mind, let's move onto the main causes of the discrepancy.

Facebook can track conversions across multiple devices, Google Analytics can’t

When you visit a website on your mobile, then visit it later on your laptop, Google Analytics sees this as two different people visiting the website because you have used two devices. Facebook recognises that it’s still you, just on a different device because of the ability to recognise your Facebook identity.

Because Google can’t join the dots here and Facebook can, you can get a broader perspective on how people interact with your website after seeing your ads on Facebook.

Let’s take this a step further and pretend you are selling products online.

This is how it might look in the real world when I buy something from your online store:

I’m browsing Facebook at work > I click on an ad (on mobile) > Remember I should be working > Leave site > go home, eat dinner > Search directly for product on Google on my laptop > Click Google Search Ad > Purchase

This is a fairly typical conversion path in the mobile era, particularly amongst a younger, mobile savvy audience.

Facebook counts this as a conversion in Ads Manager, as I clicked on the ad and then purchased within 28 days. Google attributes it to the final place the traffic came from, in this case the Google search ad on desktop. As Google doesn’t recognise me on my laptop, it doesn’t see Facebook in the conversion path.

Amongst a younger audience this cross-device conversion path is very common. In fact, we often see 90% of Facebook ads served on mobile as this is where people use the platform the most.

This plays a significant part in creating a discrepancy in reporting between Facebook and Google Analytics, as Google’s default attribution model is based on last interaction, which worked perfectly until cross-device became a big part of modern purchase behaviour.

If you are seeing discrepancy in conversion numbers, it is possible to analyse the data from your Facebook ads to compare the ‘impression device’ that people first saw a Facebook ad on, and the ‘conversion device’, the device on which they actually bought.

This will allow you to identify the percentage of your customers that have seen your product on mobile and switched device to actually purchase.

This means you can put a number on the difference you expect to see in reporting between the two platforms.

Facebook can attribute conversions by impression as well as clicks

Because Facebook can track what people are doing within the app, you can also report on whether someone buys your product within one day of seeing one of your ads, without necessarily clicking. This is known as a ‘view-through’ conversion.

This means that you can still get an idea of the impact of an ad campaign, even if you aren’t including a link in your post.

This isn’t ideal for all advertisers and is often discounted in more advanced attribution models, but you have the flexibility on Facebook to set your attribution window to your desired length and include/exclude ‘view’ conversions to suit how long your typical customer takes to purchase.

You can easily change the settings in Ads Manager to add or remove ‘view-through’ attribution depending on what you think is best, but…

Facebook needs lots of data to work effectively

Facebook’s attribution is often labelled as ‘greedy’. This viewpoint doesn’t take into account the different roles that Google and Facebook play in your marketing mix.

Facebook is a ‘discovery’ platform, Google is a ‘search’ platform.

Facebook ads use machine learning to match people to products they will like based on their interests and the actions they take online.

Google’s marketing products look to capitalise on people who have shown high intent to buy as they have searched for your product.

As you can see when you break it down, both are designed very differently in order to make their ad platforms work as effectively as possible.

View-through attribution can be very useful, as it provides an extra level of data to help Facebook target your ads.

Reporting using ‘people based’ tracking is crucial to the success of the platform, as it’s algorithm relies on huge amounts of data to be able to show the right ads to the right people, at the right time to have the greatest impact.

This is arguably Facebook’s main benefit, as you are able to drive awareness of a brand or product to a new audience of people who are similar to your existing customers in a very targeted, measurable way, which is very difficult to do using other mediums.

In comparison, Google’s advertising solution, Adwords, allows you to use specific keywords relating to your product to pinpoint people who have shown clear intent to buy. Because the person effectively tells you that they are very likely to buy by using a high intent search term, Google doesn’t need to process anywhere near as much data as Facebook in order to show it’s ads effectively.

Google is a competitor

It is worth considering that by reporting on your Facebook ads solely in Google Analytics, you are using software created by a direct competitor to measure results from an ad platform that operates in a very different way.

Once you are aware of the differences between the two ad platforms and why they report differently, you can take results from both and read between the lines to get closer to the truth.

So what does this barrage of information actually mean?

It means that the truth lies somewhere in between.

With so many marketing channels now playing a part in growing a business, the problem of attribution is at the forefront of nearly all marketers minds.

You need to be using a tool like Google Analytics to track the actual behaviour of users on your website, the performance of the website itself, as well as gaining an understanding of where your traffic is coming from.

However, once you have an understanding of how Facebook fits into your marketing mix, you can start to join the dots within your data and see lift across all channels when your Facebook campaigns are performing well.

There are third-party solutions available to help attribute value to your different marketing channels, some of which are using machine learning to really start to help close the gap, but we are still far from seeing the problem solved.

The real answer is to just to stop worrying about attribution and start helping people discover your product on Facebook. There’s a reason they’re a multi-billion dollar company.