Unravelling Data Discrepancies: Why Your Advertising Metrics Differ from Analytics 

Picture this, your Facebook Ad campaign has just finished, the click-through-rate (CTR), cost per click (CPC) and the clicks received have surpassed the estimated KPI. You want to dig deeper into the campaign performance, so you travel over to Google Analytics 4 (GA4) to review campaign metrics in more detail. You analyse engagement rates and average session duration, but you realise that the clicks from the paid Facebook source are different from what the native platform is telling you. Now you don’t know how accurate the data you have been analysing is. Ever found yourself in this situation? This one is for you. 

Why data discrepancies happen. 

Data discrepancies can happen across a wide range of channels, including social media ads, emails and referral traffic, to name a few. Many marketers have had this frustration, so how do you fix it?  Finding a solution isn’t a one size fits all approach. The reasons behind mismatched metrics can be complex and involve how information is tracked, reported, and understood.  

The first step and sometimes the most difficult is to understand why the data you’re tracking isn’t quite matching up in a native platform vs an analytics platform. You can then take the right steps to rectify any pitfalls. So, let’s explore common reasons clients encounter data disparities between platforms. 

Are your tracking links the issue? 

Tracking links have become a key accessory in monitoring how a campaign has performed. They work by giving URLs more context and can be used in specific ads, emails or PR pieces. They allow marketers to gain extra knowledge on how a specific campaign has been in driving traffic to a landing page.  

Just like accessories, if you don’t get it right, it can be a disaster. That’s why it’s essential to make sure your tracking links are configured correctly to stop data disparity. So, the first thing to do is to ensure your tracking links are configured correctly. If they are, it’s time to move on to other areas that may be causing concern.  

Different platforms use different tracking methods. 

Is it a discrepancy issue or are the channels using different attribution models? As an example, your analytics platform could be tracking sessions and your social ads are tracking link clicks, these attribution differences can cause anomalies.  

While your analytics platform might be tallying sessions triggered by fully loaded app openings or page views, social ads could be counting link clicks, regardless of whether the destination page has fully loaded. These differing attribution methods often result in inconsistencies. 

The key takeaway here? Data inconsistencies may arise from different tracking methods, so it’s essential to recognise the value of utilising different types of data, whether it be average session duration or scroll depth, each metric offers a unique perspective on your customer journey, allowing you to gain valuable understanding and insights. 

 Are first-party cookies stopping analytics tracking? 

Quite possibly. First-party cookies are king when it comes to trackable data. If you rely heavily on third-party cookies and have an expectation to track users across different channels, like from a social media platform to your website, well, you might be in for a surprise. First-party cookies are in use by a great deal of the platforms you’re likely advertising on, and they’re not keen on letting you track users across multiple platforms. 

Chances are that the channels you’re utilising have pixels or tags at your disposal. 

These tags essentially act as your tracking agents, allowing you to follow users seamlessly from one channel to another. These pieces of code are provided to you, but they need to be properly configured with your website. Cue the developer or the trusty Google Tag Manager (GTM) to work their magic.  

Configure a LinkedIn tag on your site, for instance, and voila! You’ll be able to track users from LinkedIn straight to your website, all thanks to those trusty first-party cookies. But here’s the catch: without these tags set up, you’ll be left twiddling your thumbs, unable to track users as they hop from one channel to the next. Don’t believe me? This is how the phasing out of third-party cookies will impact your campaign tracking.

Or could it be your consent management system? 

It could be time to review your consent management system. If you’re scratching your head right about now and thinking, “Huh?, then it’s time to rope someone in who knows what this means. A website that wants to be successful in tracking should ensure that users have clear and easy-to-understand options for providing or withdrawing consent for tracking.  

When your consent management system is being reviewed, consider whether your third-party and first-party cookie consent modules are grouped. If they are, this may be causing you issues.  Users might be perfectly fine with allowing you to track first-party cookies, but when it comes to third-party cookies lurking in the shadows, well, that’s a different story. 

So, ask yourself this: Am I giving my customers the freedom to opt out of third-party cookie tracking? And just as importantly, am I giving them the option to opt in to first-party cookie tracking? 

A screenshot of the website, which shows a cookie consent management system set up that allows users to opt-in or out of functional, statistics and marketing cookies.

How to stop data mismatches  

Even when you’re dotting your i’s and crossing those t’s, anomalies can still sneak in. Blame it on the private browsers, ad blockers, or those users who are just determined to keep their online journeys under wraps!   

While I can’t promise a discrepancy-free utopia, the steps highlighted above can minimise the data drama. So, to wrap up –  

  1. Tracking links are super helpful, just make sure they are confirmed correctly. 
  1. It may be an attribution difference rather than a data issue! 
  1. Make sure you are utilising tracking pixels and tags. 
  1. Consent Management Systems aren’t fun but are extremely important, make sure yours are user-friendly and give users the option to opt-in and out. 

When your data doesn’t match up, it can be frustrating but it’s also a natural part of the tracking game.  


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