Tracking Adwords & PPC Return on Investment (ROI)

In one of our email conversations with the team early this month, we talked about how to track conversions, specifically our best practice in conversion tracking.

The team has been noticing an increasing disconnect between the reported number of conversions reported on Analytics and Adwords GUI and this prompted us to write about this blog post.

Troubleshooting Data Differences: GA Goals vs AdWords Conversions

First stop, we have to make sure that Analytics goals have been set for your campaign. If you’ll see the screenshot below, this means you haven’t done this fundamental step to be able to track conversions on Analytics:

In order for Analytics to track conversions, Goals must be set or E-commerce tracking has to be configured properly.

While we’re on the subject, there’s no better way than to engage Goal/Conversion Attribution in the discussion than now.

Attribution is, as the root word tells us, gives credit. Conversion attribution therefore gives credit to the source of the conversion.

On AdWords GUI, we can only see conversions attributed to the “last click” before a conversion happens.


Jerome goes to Google and types in, “cheap motel cebu” and clicks on the AdWords ad from Hidden Valley Motel in Colon Street. He then books a room right then and there.

In this case, if you check on the AdWords GUI of Hidden Valley (after some processing time), you’ll see a conversion (of course given they set-up conversion tracking appropriately).

In the same scenario, if Analytics goal is set as well to track bookings, we should see the same conversion as well.

However, if Jerome does the searching, then he doesn’t book a room right then and there but a few days later, he types on his browser and books a room, what will happen to conversion tracking?

If you check Adwords GUI, you won’t see a conversion in this scenario because the last click attribution is given to “direct” since Jerome typed in the motel’s URL directly on his browser (unless Adwords & Analytics data is synced).

If you go to Analytics on the other hand, you won’t see a conversion as well. However, if you go to Conversions > Multi-channel Funnels, you should be able to see 1 Assisted Conversion.

Assisted Conversions are conversions attributed to a source of conversion besides the last click (the only conversion AdWords GUI tracks).

If you go to Analytics > Conversions > Attribution > Model Comparison, you should be able to change the attribution model and see which sources have been attributed the 1st click, 2nd click, etc.

So that should explain what AdWords & Analytics can show us in terms of conversions and this tells us the reason why there’s no escaping the use of Analytics in all of our campaigns.

How to Track Effects of PPC Campaigns

Now, for the most important question for our clients, how to know the effects of our work.

We’ve noticed this for years already, AdWords & Analytics conversions data just don’t coincide with internal data (say from a CRM light Salesforce or Brightpearl) of conversions from clients especially when we’re dealing with larger data from larger e-commerce clients. It just doesn’t add up 100%.

To answer this question, we want you all to know first how Adwords & Analytics is able to track and ultimately attribute conversions. This is quite simply through a browser cookie.

I’m sure by now you’ve noticed that when you do a search on Google for say “LED TV” and go to a site like, after you leave that site, everywhere you browse on the Internet, you are bombarded with image ads from Lazada about TVs.

This is because your cookies have joined Lazada’s Adwords (or whatever remarketing platform they are using) Remarketing list.

This tracking model however has a number of fundamental flaws from how we see it and they are:

  1. Browser specific – if you click on an Adwords ad using Firefox but then after a few days, you use Chrome to type directly and make a purchase, AdWords doesn’t get credited with a conversion (or assisted conversion) at all.
  2. Incognito – we believe more people are browsing incognito simply because it’s creepy for ads to be following us. When you are browsing anonymously (using incognito in Chrome or private window in Firefox), it deflects tracking of your online activity somewhat. While you might not be 100% anonymous (read about Super Cookies), browsing privately does adulterate conversion tracking in GA and AdWords.
  3. Multi-device browser behavior – we don’t know if you noticed this but as an avid online shopper ourselves, we have found our online shopping behavior has changed significantly over the years. More often than not, we actually spend time at night browsing the Internet using smartphones or tablets. The next day, we use the laptop or the desktop computer to make a purchase. In such a case, even if you clicked on an AdWords ad at first or somewhere in between this buying journey, AdWords doesn’t get credited.

With these fundamental limitations in mind, you should be changing the way you track the effects of your PPC campaigns. From the days of only getting credit for conversions that are directly tracked on Adwords or Analytics, you should now be moving on to the overall sales/conversion impact that’s recorded internally.

This way, you skip pass through all the fundamental flaws of conversion tracking and are able to credit your PPC campaigns accordingly including its “ripple effects” (the conversions that say someone who clicked an AdWords ad and he/she shares the site to a friend/family and the latter converts).

And with that, we end this session on conversion tracking. Please do drop us a line or two if you have any questions or thoughts on this entry.


NOTE: Here’s Google’s in depth Help Article explaining why Analytics Goal Completions and Ecommerce Transactions metrics are different than AdWords Conversion Tracking metrics.

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