AUTHOR’S POST-PUBLICATION NOTE: As of April 2022, I no longer support or recommend the use of Google Analytics and for details as to why that is, check out episode 53 “Why I Un-Installed Google Analytics (And Why You May Want To Follow My Lead”. For analytics software options I do recommend, there’s episode 54, “How To Ethically Track Your Visitors”.
This is a transcript of episode 11 of the OMGrowth podcast, published on January 27, 2021
So you have these two friends – they’re a couple and you’re friends with both of them – and they each tell you their version of how their last fight went down. There’s a lot of common ground here, but you also notice a bunch of the details are kind of “off”.
And this is the exact experience you can expect from your friends at Facebook and Google when you’re looking at your analytics. But unlike whatever your friend-couple is going through, I can actually help you understand what the deal is from the analytics side of things.
“OK, WHO IS LYING?!”
When you notice that Facebook Analytics tells a bit of a different story from Google Analytics, the first instinct is always to ask, “OK, but which one is right?”.
And as it is the case any time you’re trying to figure out which side is right and which side is wrong, it’s going to depend on who you’re talking to.
When it comes to Facebook Analytics and Google Analytics, each platform is telling their version of the truth.
You know your girl loves an example so let’s use one: say I’m scrolling my Facebook feed on my mobile phone and I click-through on to your sales page from an ad. I look around, I like what I’m seeing but then I see a text come through about Rupaul’s Drag Race and – hello shiny object syndrome with a disco ball on top – I’m onto something else.
But later on, I’m getting caught up on emails and there you are again, telling me about your offer. Once again, I click-through, but this time, I buy your thing because I’m also all caught up on Drag Race news.
So what does this mean, according to your analytics? Well, it depends on who you’re asking!
—> According to Google Analytics, that Facebook ad was an attribution to the sale, but it was your email that actually made the sale.
—> But Facebook Analytics doesn’t see #allthethings and it doesn’t account for all the other touch-points.
It sees that 1) your ad was clicked-through on and 2) you made a sale, so your Facebook Analytics will likely take credit for that sale.
Because yes, Facebook was a factor to the purchase being made – the ad got you the traffic and you did make a sale – but it’s not the picture in its entirety.
“THEN WHICH IS BETTER?”
“OK, Lanie, so you’re saying Google Analytics is better?”
No, not at all! In fact, if you’ve logged into Facebook Analytics, you’ve probably thought the same thing I have about how much sexier Facebook’s reporting is, especially when it comes to the client journey.
I have a sneaking suspicion – or maybe it’s straight-up hope – that part of this new upgrade to GA4 that is coming to Google Analytics is taking notes from the way Facebook is presenting data. Not only is it beautiful and easy to gain those SNAP! insights that I fan-girl so hard over, but Facebook’s tracking is totally different.
While Google tracks using cookies, Facebook tracks people.
For the uninitiated, “cookies” are tiny bits of data stored on your computer’s web browser and they’re designed to follow you around – leaving digital crumbs, essentially – tracking where you’ve been. This is the means by which Google tracks your activity, whereas Facebook tracks YOU.
Again, this difference makes it such that you’re tracking slightly different things in different ways, so even if each platform is reporting on the same thing, their data collection is such that it is inevitable that they’ll each tell a slightly different story.
And we didn’t even get into HOW attribution is collected! How are they calculating who gets the credit for the sale? How is Google and Facebook doing the math in order to attribute the value of that purchase?
Google works on “last click attribution”, meaning that its default settings are such that it will give 100% credit to the last click that was involved for that sale to happen, regardless of the timeline.
Meanwhile, Facebook works with 28-day click and 1-day view attribution. Meaning, if I clicked through from Facebook 2 weeks ago, the Facebook campaign is laughing like a Disney villain shouting “miiiiinnneee!”
ANYTHING ELSE I SHOULD KNOW?
Even if you could get Facebook and Google to agree on, well, anything – and P.S. if you have that superpower, you can clearly solve world peace, climate change and male pattern baldness so, please do that! – but here’s something outside ANY analytics platform that you need to know, love, cherish and accept:
WHILE DATA MAY BE THE MOST VALUABLE RESOURCE IN THE WORLD, IT IS NOT AN EXACT SCIENCE.
There are so many things that can – and do! – go “wrong” with data collection. The reasons why data goes wrong, well, it depends. (Don’t you hate that answer? I do, too!)
I also hate the following issues because these are the usual suspects when it comes to your data collection not being 100% (pun intended with the little stats joke):
- other data sources running interference;
- campaigns that aren’t tagged;
- visitor’s sessions timed out;
- cookies are disabled or cleared;
- visitor comes from different devices;
- visitor is using a shared device;
- your set-ups (tracking pixels, subdomains, cross-domains, etc.)
So here’s what is always the most important and valuable question of any of these episodes: WHAT DOES THIS MEAN FOR YOU?
Well, when you’re comparing data sources like Facebook Analytics and Google Analytics, here are some ACTION ITEMS for you to take with you.
1) Look at the trends and the story-telling.
The less hung-up you get on specific numbers and minutiae, the easier it will be for you to identify WHAT the data is trying to tell you about how you’re performing. Focus on the story you’re being told by both platforms and then take a step back to ask yourself what these stories are both telling you to do next.
2) USE UTM PARAMETERS.
Start naming your campaigns and use UTM parameters to have more control over tracking your specific efforts and promotions. If you need help figuring out how to do that, go to omgrowth.com and look for the button that says “need help with tracking your campaigns?” and you’ll find, well, help with tracking your campaigns.
3) MAKE SURE YOUR DATA IS VALID.
If the stories your data sources are telling end up being totally different, try to figure out WHY.
When it comes to comparing different analytics platforms – actually, scratch that! – when it comes to comparing ANYTHING, taking the “celebrity death match” approach of pitting them one against the other won’t get you nearly as far as exploring what they have in common and how you can leverage each of their strengths into being YOUR superpower.