How to Explain Data Discrepancies Between Facebook and Google Analytics

FACEBOOK  & GOOGLE ANALYTICS · 10-MINUTE READ · By  Kayla Eide-Hall on October 3 2016

 

Are you struggling to reconcile Facebook analytics data with third-party data from Google Analytics? Not sure how to present both sets of data to your client? Wondering how to explain the discrepancies?

 

You’re in luck. Whether you’re trying to evaluate paid Facebook ads, or you want deeper information about an organic Facebook campaign, this guide is for you.

 

The first five sections address the five major stats used to track Facebook initiatives. Each section explains how data differs in Facebook compared to Google Analytics, and how to take advantage of both.

 

The section explains how to create a report that integrates Facebook data and Google Analytics data, so you can take advantage of all data when presenting results to your client.

 

Stat to Track 1: Paid Facebook Conversions

 

When it comes to conversion tracking for Facebook ads, boosted posts, and other paid advertising methods on Facebook, make sure you’re comparing apples to apples. Because Facebook’s Ad Manager/Pixel and Google Analytics use two different tracking methods to gather performance data, you have to be aware of these differences and adjust settings so that both sets of data are as similar as possible.

 

Unlike Google Analytics, Facebook tracks indirect “non-linear” conversions, meaning that if a user clicks your Facebook ad and views your site, leaves your site, then returns the next day and makes a purchase, Facebook attributes that conversion to Facebook. Google does not. Google Analytics tracks only direct last-click conversions — when a user clicks your Facebook ad, views your site, and converts right then and there without leaving.

 

You also need to know that Facebook’s default attribution model is different from Google’s. According to Facebook’s official help page on the subject, Facebook conversion reports use a default 28-day window for click-through conversions and a one-day (24-hour) window for view-through conversions. By uniquely tracking view-through conversions, Facebook takes credit for a conversion even if a Facebook user only sees your Facebook ad without clicking it, then visits your website and makes a purchase. Furthermore, Facebook doesn’t differentiate between the two types of conversions; click-throughs and view-throughs are combined into a single data point for total conversions.

 

View-through conversion tracking is something Google can’t do for Facebook traffic to your site. In contrast, Google Analytics records this conversion type as a direct source conversion. As far as Google is concerned, that same user typed your web address into their browser without influence from another online source. (Tracking parameters like UTM codes can’t help you here.) Google has no idea the user saw your Facebook ad.

 

Finally, Facebook tracks cross-device conversions (mobile to desktop, desktop to tablet, and so on) better than Google does. This is because whereas Google installs a single-location cookie to track a user’s activity on a single device, Facebook tracks activity using its Facebook user profiles (and the on-site Facebook Pixel). Facebook’s reference point for tracking a single user is more easily transferrable across devices.

 

The result is that when a Facebook user clicks your Facebook ad on their smartphone and visits your site without purchasing, then later returns by typing the web address into their browser on a desktop PC while logged into Facebook, Facebook reports that purchase as a Facebook conversion. Google reports it as a direct source conversion. Again, Google has no idea that Facebook was involved in the conversion.

 

Tips

 

1. Be aware that Facebook’s view-through conversion tracking may not be accurate. Just because Facebook showed a user your ad doesn’t mean the user actually saw the ad before visiting your site. Perhaps the user already knew of your site and coincidentally visited it without influence, then made a purchase. Either way though, Facebook takes credit for this assumed view-through conversion.

 

2. Remove 24-hour view-through conversions from your Facebook attribution settings. Do this if you want to simplify conversion tracking, and you don’t mind excluding view-through conversions from your data (recommended). After removing view-throughs, your total click-through conversion numbers should match up better between Facebook and Google Analytics.

 

To remove them, log into your Facebook Ads Manager account, then click the Columns drop-down menu and select Customize Columns.

 

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Next, click Change Attribution Window in the bottom right-hand corner of the pop-up window.

 

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Now, check the box for your preferred click-through attribution window setting under “After Clicking Ad”. Then, exit out of this small window by clicking outside of it, and click Apply. By only selecting a click-through setting and not selecting a view-through setting (under “After Viewing Ad”), you effectively turn off view-through conversion tracking. Facebook will now only track click-through conversions, like Google Analytics.

 

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3. Review Google Analytics-reported Top Conversion Paths under the “Multi-Channel Funnels” report. As Google’s multi-click conversion report, this report can help you either confirm or debunk whether your Facebook campaigns are contributing to conversions as much as Facebook data wants you to think they are. (Advanced Google Analytics users can also use this report to guide their creation of a custom attribution model for increased control over conversion tracking.)

 

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4. Pay attention to direct source conversions in Google Analytics when you’re running a Facebook campaign and include this metric in your reports. Remember (and remind your client) that this data may include conversions Facebook is taking credit for due to non-linear tracking and/or due to cross-device activity.

 

Facebook almost always reports a higher number of conversions than Google Analytics. Its tracking methodology is set up to make Facebook appear as valuable as possible. To account for this, you should take Facebook data seriously, but also with a grain of salt, and compare it with Google’s data for the most accurate big picture.

 

 

Stat to Track 2: Unpaid Organic Facebook Conversions

 

Tracking website conversions for unpaid “organic” Facebook referrals (such as clicks on a non-boosted Facebook post) requires a different strategy from tracking paid ad conversions, because this type of conversion isn’t tracked in Ads Manager or Facebook Insights. In fact, the only way to track these organic conversions is to use Google Analytics or another third-party analytics software.

 

Fortunately, Google Analytics can show you Facebook referral traffic with conversion data for individual landing pages/URLs. Simply navigate to Acquisition>Social>Conversions, and select Facebook under your listed Social Networks. (If no Facebook conversions have been recorded for the selected date range, Facebook will not appear in the list).

 

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However, if your Facebook page and/or multiple Facebook posts include several links to the same landing page, then tracking only landing page performance for Facebook referrals won’t show you the big picture. You’ll see what landing pages are working, but you won’t see which posts or Facebook page links are working.

 

Tips 

To get more detailed data in Google Analytics on conversions for individual Facebook links, create a custom URL for each of your unpaid Facebook posts/page using UTM parameters. Google’s URL builder makes it easy to create these custom URLs every time you need a new one.

 

Make sure to enter “facebook” as the Campaign Source tag to record traffic from this URL as Facebook traffic. Also enter a unique identifier for the specific promotion you’re running as the Campaign Content tag, again to record traffic accordingly.

 

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Now you will be able to see conversion data for individual Facebook posts/links, because you’re giving each its own custom URL to be tracked.

 

 

Stat to Track 3: Facebook Clicks vs. Google Sessions

 

One exceptionally common complaint that marketers have when comparing Facebook Insights or Ads Manager data to their Google Analytics data is that the number of click-throughs to your website reported by Facebook doesn’t match the number of Facebook-referred sessions reported by Google.

 

Both Facebook Insights and Facebook Ads Manager show you how many people clicked an ad, post, or page link. Google Analytics similarly shows you how many people were referred to your site by Facebook in the form of sessions, and allows you to drill down by landing page. However, clicks are not the same as sessions.

 

There are three main reasons you will likely see discrepancies between Facebook click data and Google Analytics sessions data:

  • If a user clicks your Facebook post more than once in 30 minutes, Google Analytics records only a single session. In this case, two Facebook clicks equal one session.

  • If a user clicks your Facebook post and visits your website, then becomes inactive for more than 30 minutes (times out), and then re-engages with your site after 30 minutes, Google will record two separate sessions. Still, Facebook reports only the single click. In this case, one Facebook click equals two sessions.

  • When a user accidentally clicks your Facebook post and immediately clicks out of the still-loading landing page, Google Analytics may not have time to record a session.

 

Tips

 

First, make sure your website records as many sessions as possible by ensuring that your Google Analytics tracking code is placed as close to the top of your site code as possible.

 

Also, include both the click and session metrics in your reports to get a more accurate understanding of how users are engaging with your site after clicking through from Facebook. By comparing Facebook-reported clicks with Google-reported Facebook referral sessions, you can assess whether or not those clicks you see in Facebook are truly valuable.

 

Go even further by checking your average session duration and pages per session metrics in Google Analytics (under Acquisition>Social>Network Referrals>Facebook). Are users spending time on your site once they arrive from Facebook, or are they leaving immediately? Do they stay on the first landing page, or do they continue on to explore additional pages?

 

Stat to Track 4: Facebook Demographics vs. Website Demographics

 

Are you targeting the right market with your Facebook campaigns? Find out by analyzing demographics data across both Facebook Insights and Google Analytics.

 

Facebook Insights provides valuable demographic information about the people who engage with your Facebook page. Similarly, Google Analytics provides demographic information about your website visitors.

 

Tips

 

Learn more about the Facebook users who engage with your website. While all interaction with your Facebook page is valuable, the users who continue on to interact with your site are presumably more valuable than those who don’t.

 

To investigate, navigate to the “Your Fans” report in Facebook Insights under the “People” section. Record the available demographic data, including the gender percentages (Men vs. Women), age range percentages for each gender, number of fans by country, number of fans by city, and number of fans by language spoken. Record this same data for “People Reached”.

 

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Now, go into Google Analytics and obtain the same data for Facebook referral sessions in the last 28 days (which is the default date range for Facebook Insights). To do this, navigate to Audience>Demographics>Overview.

 

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Here, create a custom segment. Click Add Segment, then click +New Segment and select Traffic Source from the left-side menu. In the Source field, enter “facebook” and make sure “contains” is selected in the drop-down menu. To finish, enter a name for your segment and click Save. This custom segment will now show you gender and age data for your Facebook referrals.

 

 

 

This same segmentation method can be used to find location and language data in Google Analytics, reported under the Geo tab (below the Demographics tab).

 

Compare the two sets of data (Facebook Insights vs. Google Analytics) to gain insights into how Facebook is driving engagement with your brand. Perhaps you have a large number of Facebook fans in one age range, but the Facebook users who actually click through to your website are from a different age range.

 

Once you discover differences such as this, you may be able to adjust your Facebook strategy accordingly. Is your Facebook content geared too much toward the wrong age range? Are you failing to engage one gender compared to the other? Test new ideas and watch how your data changes (or how it doesn’t).

 

 

Stat to Track 5: Facebook Engagement vs. Website Engagement

 

Knowing what works on Facebook is good. Knowing what works on your website is also good. Thinking about them together is even better.

 

Facebook Insights gives you a lot of information that Google can’t about what’s working on Facebook. Conversely, Google Analytics gives you information that Facebook can’t about what’s working on your website.

 

Unique Facebook Data:

 

  • Page Views

  • View Sources

  • Actions On Page

  • Post Reach

  • Post Likes/Reactions, Comments, Shares

  • Positive/Negative Feedback

  • Spam Reports

  • New Likes/Unlikes

  • Organic vs. Paid Likes

  • People Nearby

 

Unique Google Analytics Data:

 

  • Time On Site

  • Bounce Rate

  • Avg. Session Duration

  • Pages Per Session

  • Second Page Viewed

 

Tips

 

Similar to the way you can compare demographics data from Facebook Insights and Google Analytics (see Stat to Track 4), you can also benefit by comparing data on user behavior.

 

For example, using the Google Analytics Social Network Referrals report (shown below), you might look into which page on your site visitors navigate to (Second Page) after clicking through from Facebook and arriving at the first landing page. Perhaps you’ll find that a particular landing page often leads users to perform a search using your site’s search function. Upon discovering this pattern, you may realize a different landing page would be more effective to include in your Facebook post/page.

 

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Creating an Integrated Report with Facebook & Google Analytics Data

 

Combining data from Facebook and Google Analytics into one integrated Facebook report (either manually or through report automation) is a surefire way to cover all of your bases when making strategy decisions, and to prove to your client that your work is producing results.

 

To create your integrated report, follow these four simple tips:

 

  1. Choose the right KPIs/metrics to report based on your client’s goals, and organize them together accordingly. For an in-depth guide on how to do this, check out the article “How to Present AdWords Results for Happier Clients,” which provides tips that can be applied to Facebook reporting just as they apply to AdWords reporting.

 

  1. For duplicate metrics (for example, total conversions reported by Facebook and total conversions reported by Google Analytics), report the two metrics side by side, clearly identified as Facebook data and Google data. Follow up those two metrics with their average value, as illustrated below.

 

 

  1. Include notes on the differences between similar metrics. For example, note which type of Facebook conversions you’re reporting (view-through and click-through, or only click-through) and the type of Google conversions (click-through).

 

 

  1. In addition to including notes on your metrics, add in-depth commentary on the meaning of the data. Which data points show success? Which show room for improvement? Are there certain data points that prove your work has been effective? Point them out.

 

Finally, when presenting your Facebook report to your client, keep at the forefront of your mind the differences between Google Analytics data and Facebook data, so you can help your client see the bigger analytics picture. With that big picture, both of you will be able to discuss more easily what’s working and what isn’t, and how to move forward based on all of the data you have at your disposal.

 

Happy reporting!

 

About Kayla Eide-Hall 

kayla-eide-hallKayla Eide-Hall is a freelance writer and editor for various publications. She has experience writing on topics that range from home technology and business IT to jet charter destinations and small business marketing. Kayla lives in San Diego and holds a degree in Journalism from San Diego State University.

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