What’s the difference between Google Ads and Google Analytics results?

What’s the difference between Google Ads and Google Analytics results?

Článok je dostupný aj v Slovenčine Slovenčina

I hear one question all the time. “Why is Google Ads showing me different results than Google Analytics?” This question can be answered by explaining how these systems work. To help you understand, let’s take a more general look at things. We’ll be introducing investment tools, reporting tools, and what the difference is between them.

Explaining the concepts of

An investment tool: a tool/network through which we invest capital for media. Simply put, an investment tool is where you spend your money.

Examples: Google Ads, Facebook Ads Manager, Price comparison sites, Sklik (Google equivalent in Czechia), Bing and more.

A reporting tool: A tool we use to report the results for a given period. A tool through which we cannot spend money directly.

Examples: Google Analytics, Facebook Analytics.

I would only place Google Data Studio here if we used data from Google Analytics or other reporting tools.

It’s all about the point of view

The main difference between the two is very simple. I’ll use an example of a hockey team.

A forward got a decisive goal during the last second of the match and won the championship! Everyone is cheering and celebrating. But an argument is happening in the dressing room.

The forward says that he won the game on his own. Without his shot, they wouldn’t have scored. The defender says that the forward wouldn’t have had the puck without his help. And now, the goalkeeper is saying that without stopping the puck, they couldn’t have even begun the last offensive that eventually won the game.

Not only that, but each player had also helped us win the first match of the tournament and even a month after that match, we’re still talking about it.

Each of these players arrogantly claims that it’s their own work, failing to acknowledge the work of the other players. This is exactly how investment tools look at conversions. Each of them ignores the remaining channels and assigns conversions to themselves, no matter where they were in the conversion path.

In addition, they attribute conversions for longer periods of time after the last click or the last impression (we’ll tell you more about it later).

Exercise: How do investment tools assign conversions?

Scenario # 1

The user went through Google Ads, Facebook Ads, and Direct.

[Google Ads ignores both Facebook Ads and Direct, so it’ll claim this conversion. Facebook Ads ignores Direct, so it too claims the conversion.]

Scenario # 2

The user went through Facebook Ads, Direct, Google Ads and Bing Ads.

[Like in the first scenario, investment tools ignore the following sources of a visit and assign conversion to each source. Facebook Ads, Google Ads, and Bing Ads all claim this conversion.]

Scenario # 3

The user went via Direct, Google Ads and Direct

[Google Ads ignores Direct, so it claims the conversion.]

The coach came to the dressing room and looked at the team. He said, “Yes, the forward gave the winning goal, but the more I think about it, the more the other players deserve some praise too. The goalkeeper stopped the puck, the defender passed it to the forward and the forward scored. I saw how it went down.”

And this is the difference in reporting tools. Google Analytics assigns conversions to the last non-direct visit (default attribution model), meaning that the last source of the visit will get the assigned conversion and only that one channel.

However, it also allows us to look at the conversion path and what channels/campaigns played in the conversion. It gives us a more comprehensive view of the way users lead to conversions.

The coach added, “I don’t care who helped us in the tournament. Today’s game is what’s important.” The reporting tools look at conversions this way too. They assign conversions to the channel on the day the conversion is made, not on the day the click was made.

Scenario # 1

The user went through Google Ads, Facebook Ads, and Direct.

[The reporting tool assigns a conversion to Facebook Ads (ignores Direct), but Google Ads will gain an assisted conversion.]

Scenario # 2

The user went through Facebook Ads, Direct, Google Ads, and Bing Ads.

[The reporting tool assigns a conversion to Bing Ads, but the remaining channels will get an assisted conversion.]

Scenario # 3

The user went via Direct, Google Ads and Direct.

[Reporting tool assigns the conversion to Google Ads (Ignores last Direct).]

When are conversions recorded?

Reporting tools are used for reviewing a given period. The advantage of reporting tools is that if we look at a given time period, each of us will see the same results. This is because reporting tools assign conversions to the date they were made.

Investment tools assign conversions made a few days after clicking on the ad or on the impression of the ad. Each network assigns conversions for another time after the interaction (click or impression). This period, when they assign the conversion to themselves, is called the attribution window and can be changed in the given networks.

Some networks use the conversion window 30 days after the click or 1 day after the ads are displayed. Everything depends not only on the type of business (the decision-making process for buying a flat is different from buying diapers) but also the type of campaign.

When we launch primary search campaigns, we’re interested in conversions after clicking on an ad. For content campaigns (banners or videos), we should consider impression-based conversions (known as view-through conversions).

The way this conversion is written is the attribution model, but we won’t get into this topic in this article. If you’d like to know more about conversions, just let me know in the comments.

Here are some demonstrations to see how conversions are assigned by investment and reporting tools.

Scenario # 1

Google Ads, Facebook Ads, Direct, Conversion

[Google Ads and Facebook Ads will write a conversion to themselves. Google Analytics writes a conversion to Facebook Ads and assisted conversion to Google Ads.]

Scenario # 2

3x Google Ads, Direct, Newsletter, Conversion

[Google Ads and Newsletter will write a conversion to themselves. Google Analytics writes a conversion to a newsletter and assisted conversion to Google Ads and Direct.]

Scenario # 3

Direct, Facebook Ads, Conversion, Google Ads, Conversion

[Facebook Ads will claim the first and second conversions. Google Ads claims the second conversion. Google Analytics writes the first conversion to Facebook Ads and the second conversion to Google Ads.]

Which tools should you use?

To summarize, it should now be clear which tools we use to evaluate results. Reporting tools show us a more comprehensive view of the conversion paths, but we also have the option to use different attribution models.

However, if part of our campaigns is on the content network, we should consider adding a view-through conversion report (impression-based conversions). The reason is not only the low level of clicks on the content network, but ad impressions can also affect users to do a conversion.

This begs the question: “Then why should we set up conversion tracking in investment tools? Won’t it just make more work for us?”

Good question. Each investment tool has its own way of recording conversions using pixels and events. These are the key feature to set even though we’ve set up conversion reporting using reporting tools like Google Analytics.

This is because investment tools use this data for machine learning and optimization. In order to have enough optimization data, they ignore other channels. That’s why each investment tool will always ignore other channels and should use a longer attribution window for better optimization.

You can see how it is. More data = better optimization.

What would I recommend?

  • Look at the results in reporting tools, but don’t just look at the standard attribution model, but also at all the paths to the conversion. 
  • If a content network is part of your media mix, consider view-through conversion tracking and even creating a separate ad account for the content network if needed. 
  • Edit your attribution window according to your business. 
  • Record conversions in both the reporting tool and all the investment tools you use! 
  • Automate reporting numbers and focus on insights.


This is all about the difference between investment and reporting tools. It is important to understand the differences and know which ones are suitable for reporting and which for optimization.

What are your experiences using these tools? Do you use reporting or investment tools for reporting? Do you have anything else to add? Let us know in the comments below.

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