The Complete Guide to Tracking Facebook Ads in Google Analytics in 2021

17 min read

With the introduction of the infamous iOS 14 update, a lot of debate has been made around the best methods to track conversions that resulted from Facebook Ads.

Since its announcement in late 2020, we’ve seen a lot of (drastic) changes to the digital eco-system, especially when it comes to attribution. As for Facebook, among others, some of these changes include a now much shorter attribution window for our ads, down to a 7-day click default.

advertisement

So what does this mean for advertisers?

In short, in some of our accounts, we noticed a staggering +70% decrease in attributed sales. Ouch.

Some of the discussed solutions include post-survey or click aggregation tools. However, one other tool that seems to have gained even more relevance, is Google Analytics.

Now, if you have used Google Analytics for a while, you’re surely aware of some of its’ limitations, especially when it comes to tracking Facebook Ads conversions.

So how can we make sure we’re tracking Facebook Ads in Google Analytics to the best of our ability?

This article assumes you have conversion tracking enabled and implemented on your website.

Why Track Facebook Ads in Google Analytics?

As marketers, it is critical for us to understand which channels drive most of our visitors, sales, and revenue.

Whether users convert on a first-click or last-click interaction basis, all of these steps need to be accounted for so we can properly attribute credit where it’s due.

With Google Analytics, we can look at our data across different channels and understand at which stage in the users’ journey Facebook had the most impact, and see the different conversions (and assisted conversions) that resulted from our ads.

Besides that, Google Analytics also provides additional information that Facebook doesn’t (by default) about website performance and user behavior which can result in important learnings for your business.

How to Track Facebook Ads in Google Analytics

Google Analytics includes a few different reports so that users can easily track their social media results. Some of the most common ones are…

  1. The Channels Reports
  2. The Social Network Reports
  3. The Multi-Channel Funnels Report
Google Analytics dashboard with three arrows, pointing to three different reports: Channels, Social, and Multi-Channel Funnels.

On either one, Google Analytics provides valuable information on how users arrive at your website, their behavior on-site, and other relevant sets of information.

However, there are a few important differences between these reports, and some important things to know when using Google Analytics to track social media results.

How Google Analytics Tracks Social Media by Default

Google Analytics uses utm parameters to identify the different sources of traffic. In a few words, utm parameters are short pieces of text that can be added to URLs and can be used to track the effectiveness of online marketing campaigns.

https://theconversionlift.com/?utm_source=facebook&utm_medium=social

As such, when you run ads on social networks (or any other channel), you can add these utm parameters to your target URL.

Based on these parameters, Google will then be able to understand whether a visitor came from a social network, or not, and then place that session into the correct channel.

Now, here’s what’s important to know…

Depending on how you write these utm parameters, Google may allocate sessions to different/wrong channels, and some of the reports may not work as intended.

The "Channels" report in Google Analytics. The channel "Other" is highlighted, and there's an arrow pointing to the different sources, such as Facebook.

This is one of the main reasons why advertisers often claim their Facebook Ads and Google Analytics data don’t match.

To avoid this scenario, we’ll need to understand a little more about how each one of the reports is built before we can discuss how to write the correct utm parameters, and measure our data correctly.

Let’s get to it.

1. The Channels Reports

By accessing the “Channels” dashboard under the “Acquisition” reports, you can evaluate the performance of your different channels and see where your website visitors come from.

The channels report in Google Analytics, with the default channel grouping highlighted, and an organge arrow highlighting the menu.

Now, user sessions are assigned to each one of these channels based on the ‘source’ and ‘medium’ of these sessions. This is a key element in understanding how Google qualifies traffic.

Picture each channel as a “box” where Google will place sessions, depending on these parameters.

As you can see, according to Google’s default channel definitions, the ‘Social’ channel is composed by sessions that meet the following criteria:

  1. Source matches any social network listed by Google, or…
  2. Medium matches either social, social-network, social-media, sm, social network, or social mediaor referral, in case the source is also included in the list above.

Google automatically adds utm parameters to organic traffic from social networks and places them into the correct channel.

2. The Social Reports in Google Analytics

Now, the “Social Reports” also use the same utm parameters as those in the “Acquisition Reports“.

The "overview" report, in Google Analytics, under the "Socials" main dashboard.

We can find these under the “Acquisition” section of our Google Analytics account. There are few dashboards you can find in this report.

  • Network Referrals
  • Landing Pages
  • Conversions
  • Plugins
  • User Flows

For instance, under the “Conversions” tab, we can see the number of sales and revenue driven by each different social network.

The socials report in Google Analytics, with the "Assisted/Last Click or Direction Conversion" dimension highlighted. The value shows a 0.75 ratio.

One metric we see in this report that isn’t available in the “Channels” report, is the “Assisted Conversions” metric.

More on that in a minute.

3. The Multi-Channel Funnels Report

The third report we’ll cover is the Multi-Channel Funnels Report (MCF).

You can find these reports under “Conversions“, and then “Multi-Channel Funnels“.

The ovewview report, in the Multi-Channel Funnels report in Google Analytics. It shows 256 total conversions, and 135 assisted conversions.

Some of its’ most notable features include:

  • Assisted Conversions: which channels assisted in the conversions, rather than the channel that resulted in the last-click?
  • Top Conversion Paths: which channels are most often used by users until they convert?
  • Time Lag: how long does it take for users to convert after their first interaction?
  • Model Comparison Tool: which channels drive more sales, based on a last-click attribution model? And what about a first-click model?

These reports include vital information that enable you to understand the true impact of your Facebook Ads campaigns in a more meaningful way.

What You Need to Know…

You see, for both the “Social” and “Multi-Channel Funnel” reports to work, you need to ensure that users who come from your Facebook Ads campaigns are correctly placed into the “Social” channel, under the “Acquisition” reports.

In other words, if you don’t use the correct utm parameters as instructed in Google’s default channel definitions, these reports won’t work as intended, since your traffic will be categorized as something else.

In short, you won’t be able to…

  • See which social networks assisted other channels;
  • Use the attribution model comparison tool;
  • Understand the true impact of your paid social campaigns.

And if we want to use Google Analytics to measure our Facebook Ads performance, it is critical that we have a holistic view of our marketing efforts as a whole (now more than ever).

So how can you make sure you don’t miss out on this valuable data?

How to Correctly Track Facebook Ads in Google Analytics

Now that you know under which reports you can find your social media data, and what type of data you can access, all you have to do is to make sure your visitors are placed in the right “boxes”.

To do so, there are two things you can do.

  1. Edit Your Channel Groupings: to start, you’ll edit your default (and custom) channel grouping to include a new channel for paid social traffic. This will enable you to isolate paid from organic social traffic.
  2. Well-Planned UTM Parameters: ensure you (and your colleagues) all use the same parameters to avoid any issues.

Let’s take a look at both of these items.

advertisement

1. Edit Default Channel Grouping

The first step you’ll need to take to correctly measure your paid social traffic is to edit your default channel groupings and create a new channel for “Paid Social”.

This will make it easier for you to understand the differences between paid social traffic and organic social media traffic, in your “Acquisition” reports.

The "channels" report in Google Analytics, where it shows the "Paid Social" and "Social" channels highlighted.

Note: Editing your default channel grouping permanently impacts how Google categorizes data from this point on. You should create a different Google Analytics in which you will edit your default channel groupings. Do not create them in your unfiltered view.

To do so, head over to the Google Analytics admin section. Then, in the “View” tab, scroll down to “Channel Settings” and then click on “Channel Groupings“.

The admin section of Google Analytics, with the instructions to create a new channel grouping. There are arrows pointing to the "Channel Grouping" menu, and the "edit" button to the right.

Finally, edit the default channel grouping and include a “Paid Social” channel. To do so, set the rule so that the medium contains “paidsocial“, as in the image below.

The default channel grouping section, with a new channel being created. The channel is "Paid Social", and the rules for this channel are: "Medium contains paidsocial".

In other words, whenever you run ads on social networks, set the source to “facebook” (or Instagram, Twitter, etc), and the medium to “paidsocial“.

This will ensure that all traffic labelled with these utm parameters will be shown under the “Paid Social” channel, in the acquisition reports.

1.1 Custom Channel Grouping

Now, when you edit your “Default Channel Grouping” and include a new “Paid Social” channel, this will alter how Google labels traffic in the “Channels” report.

However, this will not impact how data is shown under the “Multi-Channel Funnels” reports. This would mean that you would not be able to see your new “Paid Social” channel in these reports, nor use some of its (valuable) tools to analyze your data.

The assisted conversions report, under multi-channel reports. There's a text asking the question "Where did my "Paid Social" channel go?"

Luckily, there’s a quick and easy fix for this issue.

In order for your newly created channel to show up in these reports, you’ll need to create a “Custom Channel Grouping“.

The Differences Between Default & Custom Channel Groupings (click to expand)

There are a few differences between the default and custom channel grouping. .

  1. The default channel grouping only affects the “Overview” and “Channels” reports.
  2. The default channel grouping has an impact on how Google labels traffic from the moment it is altered, and permanently changes how data is collected in that view for every user in that account.
  3. The custom channel grouping can show in the MCF reports, and is only visible to who created them.

To create a new custom channel grouping, access one of the “Multi-Channel Funnels” reports, such as the “Assisted Conversions” one, and click on “Channel Groupings“, and then on “Copy MCF Channel Grouping template“.

The assisted conversions menu in Google Analytics, with a zoom-in on the "Copy MCF Channel" option, under the "Channel Grouping" drop-down dimension.

Then, create a new “Paid Social” channel, with the same rules as in the default channel grouping. In other words, your Paid Social channel should include traffic where the “medium” contains “paidsocial

Now, you can select your new custom channel grouping as a primary dimension from the drop-down most to the right, and see your new data displayed accordingly.

The different channels in the "Custom MCF channel grouping" with two arrows pointing towards the "Custom MCF Channel Grouping" drop-down, and to the "Paid Social" channel.

Notice how there’s almost $5,000 in the new “paid social” channel that weren’t reported in the default channel grouping.

2. Use Correct UTM Parameter Values

As we’ve mentioned before, the “Source” and “Medium” parameters are what “tell” Google in which channel these visitors should be placed in.

Now that we have our “Paid Social” channel created, make sure you use the “medium=paidsocial” utm to ensure all visitors are sorted into the correct channel.

It’s that simple.

Here are a few additional considerations to keep in mind when creating your new parameters.

  1. Your medium is your most important parameter: while most people consider the source to be the most important parameter, it is wise to consider that Google attributes traffic to each ‘box’ depending on the medium, not the source.
  2. Don’t use “cpc” as a medium for paid social: this is a very common mistake that leads to traffic being assigned to the paid search channel.
  3. Use ‘+’ for blank spaces: whenever you’re adding parameters containing spaces to your ads’ URL, use a ‘+’ sign. Google will identify the symbol as space.
  4. Don’t use capital letters: Google is sensitive to capital letters, which means ‘Facebook’ and ‘facebook’ are two different channels.

So, Which Report Should I (Mostly) Use?

In our opinion, the “Channels” report will be the easiest one to use out of the three, and where you’ll likely spend most of your time in.

However, you would do well to use the other reports as well because, as we’ve discussed, last non-direct click attribution isn’t the only model that “matters”.

You see, each report provides different views on how your users are behaving, and which channels drive the most revenue to your business.

In some cases, while Facebook may not drive a lot of last-click conversions, it can have a significant impact on top-of-the-funnel traffic. Inexperienced marketers can then (wrongly) decide to shut off the channel, only to find that other channels suddenly stop performing as well.

In these situations, it is important to check the multi-channel funnel reports to ensure we don’t shut off any channels that contribute (a lot) to assisted conversions.

The bottom line is: make good use of all the reports Google Analytics offers and make good, data-backed decisions for your business.

Other Frequently Asked Questions

1. Why Doesn’t Revenue in the “Social” & “Channels” Reports Match?

To answer that question, we first need to note that there are some massive differences between these two reports. Here are a few of them.

a) Different Attribution Models

The first difference is that these two reports use different attribution models.

For once, the “Socials” report uses a last-click attribution model, while the “Channels” report uses a non-direct last-click attribution model.

Let’s see this example to better understand this difference.

Organic Search > Facebook > Direct

In the “Socials” reports, Google Analytics would attribute the conversion to “Direct”. On “Channels“, the conversion would’ve been attributed to Facebook.

b) Assisted Conversion Value

The second difference is that revenue reported in the “Socials” report includes the revenue driven from assisted conversions.

This is a whole different topic we don’t want to dive too deep into, but you can read more about it in Google’s official assisted conversions FAQ.

You can also see these numbers in-depth in the “Multi-Channel Funnels” reports.

c) Different Lookback Windows

The final difference is that these reports use different lookback windows.

In short, the “Channels” report uses a default 6-month lookback window, while the “Socials” report uses a much smaller 30-day lookback window.

This can obviously result in the different attributed revenue values you see between these two reports.

For more information on these topics, you can read Google’s documentation on the conversion difference between these reports.

2. Why Don’t “Link Clicks” and “Sessions” Match?

There’s a big difference between “link clicks” and “sessions“, in that they’re not (at all) the same thing.

  • Link Click: The number of clicks on links within the ad that led to advertiser-specified destinations, on or off Facebook. (source)
  • Session: A session is a group of user interactions with your website that take place within a given time frame. (source)

In short, a link click on Facebook can be, for instance, when a user clicks on your Facebook or Instagram profile. A session, on the other hand, occurs when a user enters a website.

This means that while we can have several different “link clicks” from the same user, in the same ad, the number of sessions will always be lower. In other words, if a user clicks the same ad twice, and then on the Facebook profile, this would count as 3 link clicks, and 1 session.

3. Why Isn’t Facebook Showing on my “Social” Channel?

As we’ve discussed in-depth in this article, in most cases, Facebook doesn’t show in the “Social” channel due to the incorrect use of UTM parameters.

In other words, you may be using UTM parameters that aren’t in accordance with Google’s default channel definitions.

Most likely, your Facebook traffic is being categorized either as “Other” or, in case you’re using “cpc” as a medium, it may be categorized as “Paid Search”.

4. Why Don’t Facebook & Google Analytics Match?

The short answer is that Google Analytics accounts for multi-channel conversions, while Facebook doesn’t.

If a user clicks on multiple different channels before converting, Google will attribute the conversion to the last non-direct source (depending on the report). Facebook, on the other hand, doesn’t really care for clicks on other channels. In other words, it will attribute a conversion to itself as long as there was a click on an ad.

Additionally, there may be a few other reasons that can result in different results.

  • Sampled Data: Google Analytics might be sampling your data. You can see more about this here.
  • Goals vs eCommerce: Unless you’re using eCommerce tracking, Google Analytics goals only occur once per session. This means if you had two equal conversions within the same session, Google will only register one. Facebook would count two.

advertisement

Closing Thoughts

If there’s one thing we’d like you to take from this post, it’s this: your Facebook Ads conversions will almost never match what’s reported on Google Analytics.

And that’s OK!

We often see marketers struggle to come up with answers as to why their numbers don’t match when the fact is, they’re not supposed to. In fact, we’re lucky to have access to so much available data and to have it presented to us in so many different ways.

When you’re tracking Facebook Ads in Google Analytics, you should be able to look at the numbers from a few different perspectives.

It is our skills as marketers and analysts that make it possible for us to understand which of the data is conclusive, and which isn’t.

And that’s the hard part… but the fun of it, too.

Do you have any question, or anything you’d like to add to this post? Let us know in the comments below and let’s talk!

Show CommentsClose Comments

Leave a comment