14 May 2020
Help; the clicks my vendor is showing don’t match what I’m seeing in Google Analytics! Unfortunately, this is a very common problem. In fact, we’d say it’s the norm! Usually, the number of clicks a vendor is reporting is significantly higher than what you’re seeing in Google Analytics, which can be quite distressing. However, there are a myriad of potential causes behind this discrepancy, and while more than one factor may be at play, let’s take a look at one of the most common issues. Clicks Are Not the Same as Users If you’re running display or pre-roll video ads, the vendor is probably delivering those ads over an ad server or ad exchange. The vendor is most likely tracking clicks, which are calculated based on server logs. On the other hand, Google is tracking “users.” A user is not necessarily the same thing as a click. A user is a unique person that has come to your website. To put it more accurately, it is a unique device and/or browser. Let’s dig a little deeper. Scenario 1: Let’s say John is surfing the web using his iPhone and a Safari browser. He clicks your display ad three times. Your vendor would count this as three clicks, but Google Analytics would only count this as one user. That’s because the first time John clicked your ad and Google Analytics fired, he was “cookied.” A code snippet was appended to him so that Google could recognize him. Now, any time John visits your website on his iPhone in Safari, he’ll just be counted as one user unless he clears his cache or the cookie expires. Scenario 2: Let’s say John is surfing the web using his iPhone and a Safari browser. He clicks your ad two times. Later that night, John is on his laptop in a Chrome browser and clicks your ad once. Your vendor would count this as three clicks, but Google Analytics would count this as two users. Once on the iPhone in Safari (even though he clicked the ad twice) and once on the laptop in Chrome. Unless John changes his device and/or browser or clears his cache he’ll continue to be counted as one user in Google Analytics … but your vendor will count a new click each time he clicks on your ad. Conflating clicks with users is the quintessential apples/oranges issue in third-party reporting. But, it’s far from the only possible cause of reporting discrepancies. In an upcoming post, I’ll discuss some other common causes and how to use your web data for the best results possible. If there’s a particular issue your brand is wrestling with, give us a call or join the conversation on LinkedIn or Facebook. This post is part of a series on digital marketing analytics. To read the others, follow this link.