by: By Lisa Campolmi, Media & Research Strategist

Perhaps you’ve attempted to dive into the world of digital tracking – but felt stopped in your tracks. Perhaps that happened because different vendors sent you reports that appeared to conflict with one another.

If that’s the case, then I’m writing this for you.

We know that booking an ad is not the last step of the process. Tracking performance is how we’ll know if we’re reaching our advertising objectives and campaign goals, and it will inform us about the adjustments we need to make along the way.

It’s worth your time. This blog post will explain the discrepancies you may have seen, so that next time you try to track your ad’s performance, you don’t close your browser window more confused than when you started.

Discrepancies in Reporting

Ad vendors like Facebook, Instagram, Pandora and Trip Advisor are giving you one set of numbers, and Google Analytics is telling you something different. What’s the deal? Aren’t they both talking about clicks to the website?

If it makes you feel better, paradoxes like these can challenge even the most qualified digital media experts. New changes in technology have made advertising click reporting – particularly if a campaign is targeting mobile users – both unpredictable and perplexing.

There’s a reason why Google Analytics will routinely report “visits” to a website dramatically lower than advertising “clicks to website,” and I’ll share it with you.

While Google Analytics is an excellent free platform that helps website owners understand what visitors do when they are on a site, the reporting will never match the advertising vendor’s reporting – because the two systems are tracking different information.

Google Analytics reports visits, and advertising vendors report clicks.

Wait... aren’t those the same thing?

Not quite. Google Analytics is a cookie-based tracking system. A cookie is a small text file created by a website that is stored in a computer, tablet or smartphone. Cookies provide a way for the website to recognize and track a user. Conversely, advertising vendors use IP addresses plus user tracking – a totally different system of log file analysis. This system is typically regarded as more dependable and dynamic, leading to higher tracking rates.

Stay with me here. In order to have a visit registered in Google Analytics, several processes must happen simultaneously. When a user lands on a webpage, coding (such as JavaScript or CSS) must begin downloading along with Google Analytics tracking codes, video, and any audio on the page. If load times are slow, a visit may never register at all. That that means a visit won’t be recorded if:

  • A user doesn’t have JavaScript, images and cookies enabled on his or her device or browser.
  • Browser settings and apps disable cookie loading (it often happens on mobile devices).
  • A user lands on the page but immediately navigates to another page, thus interrupting the download.
  • The landing page is redirected from another page – this interferes with Google Analytics’ ability to launch the required tracking code.

That’s why Google Analytics might not register a website visit. On the other hand, totals may show up very differently on advertising vendors’ reports, as they track how many times a digital ad or video received a click.

Advertisers tend to show much higher numbers, because a user may click on an advertisement several times and each one will count. (Most vendors now track total clicks vs. unique clicks separately to remove this duplication.) Or, as mentioned above, a user could click on an advertisement, but face a variety of technical obstacles that keep that click from becoming a visit.

Where To Go From Here

Understand that each of these reporting systems is an excellent way to get a snapshot of a brand’s digital activity – but recognize that Google Analytics reporting and vendor tracking are completely different systems, offering different information.

We recommend choosing advertising vendors that are IAB certified or use third party verification. Established vendors offer this routinely to assure advertisers their reporting is accurate and ethical. You can read more here and here.

If you’re feeling intrigued but overwhelmed, I’m just a phone call or email away. I’m happy to break down how this could work for your business or organization. Email me at or give me a call at (805) 541-9005.

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