Written By: Matt Martinez, Paid Search Campaign Manager at MuteSix

When it comes to determining the true success of a website, you can’t simply rely on organic traffic because actual conversions are king. We also don’t recommended that you simply use Google Ads Conversion Tracking over Google Analytics (or vice versa) for your source of truth. Instead, let multiple platforms paint the clearest picture of your sales data by turning to both.

Within Google Ads, the most commonly used pixels to track conversions and sales data are Google Ads Conversion Tracking and Google Analytics. Each of these pixels has its own strengths, weaknesses, and best-use cases for marketers. 

By using more than one touch point for conversion data, advertisers can leverage each pixel’s strengths to fill in the other’s weaknesses. Additionally, this practice of looking at multiple platforms is ideal across all paid media efforts you are running. For example, Facebook is notorious for being more liberal with its conversion data attribution, while Google tends to be more conservative. 

Looking at these platforms and comparing them to each other will give you the most accurate evaluation of your brand’s performance. To do this, we recommend turning to both the Google Ads tag and Analytics. To better understand why, when, and how to use each, read on.

What are the differences between the Google Ads tag and Analytics tag?

There are two fundamental differences between the two.

Firstly, Google Ads tracks clicks, while Google Analytics tracks sessions. This is important, according to Google, because:

“If a user clicks on your ad twice within 30 minutes without closing his or her browser, this is registered by Analytics as one session, even if the user left your site and then returned shortly after. For example, if a user clicks on your ad once, clicks the back button, and then clicks your ad again, Google Ads registers two clicks, while Analytics registers one session.” 

This difference in how data is collected can cause discrepancies in conversion rates as well as general differences in click, impression, and session data. Knowing these variances helps advertisers understand how the data they are looking at relays different stories about conversions.

Additionally, Google Ads allows you to track attribution with more models than just last-click sales. Unlike the Google Ads pixel, the Google Analytics pixel tracks conversions via last-click attribution. This means that the ad a user last clicked prior to the conversion would receive 100% of the conversion attribution, even if there were multiple ads that the user actually clicked prior to the sale.

While this might seem insignificant at first, last-click attribution can often create an inaccurate picture of where your sales are coming from. For example, imagine you are running YouTube, Shopping, and search campaigns. In a last-click attribution scenario, a user who finds your brand from a YouTube ad clicks on a Shopping Ad three days later, then finally clicks on a brand and converts. Using Google Analytics, this will result in your brand’s Shopping ad getting 100% of the conversion credit, even though it was only a small piece of the buyer’s journey.

Google Ads, on the other hand, allows for many different attribution types including first-click, time-delay, position-based, data-driven, and more. These attribution models can give you a more accurate picture of where your sales and customers are actually originating from, which is essential for optimizing your advertising efforts for conversions.

How do you use each pixel moving forward?

Now that you’re familiar with the differences between the Google Ads and Analytics pixels, it might seem like the Ads pixel is the only one you need to use. While that initially may be a smart thought, both pixels have their place when it comes to interpreting data. Here are a few use cases for understanding which to use and why.

Use Cases for the Google Ads Pixel

Because the Google Ads pixel can show so much more data when it comes to attributing success to the correct funnel stage, the Google Ads pixel is ideal for optimizing campaigns in real time and on a day-to-day scale, while also giving insights as to which campaigns are truly driving revenue.

By being able to see which ads and campaigns are driving higher levels of attribution to sales, you can focus on increasing spend on those specific campaigns.

Use Cases for the Google Analytics Pixel

The Google Analytics Pixel, on the other hand, is ideal for big-picture data, as well as for grasping user behavior. While it might be limited in terms of attribution modeling, it significantly outperforms the Ads pixel when providing insight into consumer demographics and shopping behavior.

Additionally, the Google Analytics pixel can shed light on the effect other channels have on conversion paths. While the Ads pixel can tell us the role campaigns play on conversions within Google Ads, Analytics can show us the impact of multiple channels on conversions.

This broad view and insight into consumer behavior make the Analytics pixel the ideal choice for bigger-picture marketing strategy and identification of how multiple different channels work in tandem for your marketing strategy.

Final Takeaway: Use Both the Google Ads tag and Analytics tag for the Clearest Picture

At the end of the day, it’s important to understand what your “source of truth” is for conversions, but that doesn’t necessarily mean you need to have only one. Using different platforms to understand data in context will help you build better strategy and optimize the right way, rather than gathering limited, and often inaccurate data, from only one source.

If you need help extracting key learnings from one or both pixels to make informed media investment decisions, reach out to our Google experts today.

How Much Do Google Ads Cost in 2023?

Google ads cost on average between $1 to $2 per click, although this number varies greatly depending on keywords. Small and mid-size businesses can enjoy a great return on investment with Google ads thanks to adequate planning and strategizing.