By Brett McHale
One area that seems to elude many digital marketers is the relationship between conversion tracking and website analytics. Often, when businesses get started with online advertising, they have established each piece of the puzzle separately, with Google Analytics monitoring site traffic, and paid channels (like Facebook and Google Ads) tracking conversions individually within their respective dashboards.
This set-up may be effective on a small scale, but it will inevitably cause issues when your efforts expand. Having the proper tracking to view granular paid channel performance in Google Analytics will allow you to add another layer of attribution to hold each channel accountable for what’s really happening on your website.
In addition to Analytics, Google offers tools to streamline the process of managing website pixels and conversion tracking for each channel. With the combination of clean conversion tracking and reliable analytics, you should be able to scale your paid programs without having to worry about whether the information you’re looking at is accurate.
In this post, I’ll walk you through how to use Google Tag Manager and Google Analytics to improve your paid channel performance reporting in four steps.
Step #1: Implement Google Tag Manager
Google Tag Manager allows you to implement and manage the tags on your site in one place. This means you only have to place a snippet of code once across your site as opposed to manually inserting a tag from every channel individually. After the GTM tag is implemented, you will be able to add and manage tags all in one place. The reason I start here is that many advertisers will manually place each paid channel’s tracking pixel individually on the pages of their website. This can create confusion and clutter within your website’s code. To simplify the process of adding multiple pixels and tracking codes to your site, I highly recommend setting up Google Tag Manager as soon as you can. This will also make the life of your future web developer much easier if your team and operations scale.
To get started with tag manager you’ll have to create an account.
Once there, you’ll want to follow the steps for establishing your account information. Name the account after your business and continue to set up the “container.” The container will be your website address:
You’ll want to select “web” before proceeding. Google will then generate two tags for you to place across your site.
The top tag will be implemented within the <head> and the second after the opening <body> tag. It’s a good idea to copy and paste these tags and save them in a document so that you can easily access them at any time. If you use a platform like HubSpot to manage your site, it’s rather simple to apply these tags across all web pages quickly.
Keep in mind that if you use a third party for landing pages, you’ll want to have this code injected there as well.
Before you implement the GTM tag across your website, you’ll want to remove tags from any paid channels that had been previously manually installed. You will be able to transfer these tags to GTM afterwards, but removing them in the meantime will ensure that those tags aren’t firing multiple times or causing issues once the GTM tag is in place. It’s also a good idea to save these pre-existing pieces of code in a document – I’d suggest the same one that you have the GTM tags in for safe keeping. If you are managing accounts for clients, make sure that they give you publishing permissions in their GTM. This will allow you to create new tags and publish them on your own.
For Facebook, there is a quick way to implement the pixel into GTM. After you finish setting up your Tag Manager account and remove pre-existing paid channel tags from your site, go to Facebook Business Manager and select “Pixels” from the main drop-down menu:
Select “Set Up Pixel”:
Then select “Use an Integration or Tag Manager”:
This should then allow you to choose Google Tag Manager from the list and follow the walkthrough to easily implement the pixel. In Google you can add your conversions by going to Tools > Conversion > and then selecting the specific conversion you would like to add. At the bottom of the page there should be an option for “Tag Setup.” There you will be able to select the Google Tag Manager:
This will provide you the information you need to create the conversion in Google Tag Manager. This includes the conversion ID and conversion label.
To create a new tag for any channel, select “New Tag” from the Google Tag Manager home screen and then choose the channel you want to set up:
When doing so you will be prompted to choose how each tag fires or when it is “triggered.” For Tags like LinkedIn, Facebook, and Google Remarketing, you’ll want to set them to fire on “All Pages”:
For something like Google Ads conversion tracking, you’ll want to have the tag fire only on specific page URLs:
Here, you can specify which pages you want the conversion to fire. For example, “thank you” pages or any destination page associated with the conversion. After doing so, you also have the option to add a conversion linker to the pageview event. Conversion linkers are used to help tags measure click data so that conversions are measured effectively. To add a conversion linker tag, simply select “New Tag” and “Conversion Linker” from the tag configuration menu:
Then you’ll want to have the linker trigger to “All Pages.”
Once you add in your tags from each respective channel, select the “Submit” button at the top of the page. This will push the changes you made to Tag Manager Live:
To ensure that your GTM is firing properly, I suggest downloading the Google Chrome extension Tag Assistant. This plug-in will allow you to see which tags are live on specific web pages.
You can also get the Facebook version of this tool to ensure those tags are firing as well.
To use these tools, go to your website and enable the Tag Assistant extension:
Here you can see the two tags are in place and firing. This is a good way to ensure you removed old tags properly without having to dig through each page’s code.
Step #2: Set Your Google Analytics Goals
The essential piece of the reporting puzzle is tying Google Analytics Goals back to your efforts in paid media. In case you haven’t established Google Analytics Goals yet, I’ll walk you through the process.
Sign into your Google Analytics account and select the proper view for your website. On the left-hand side, select “Admin” (FYI, you’ll need to have admin privileges in order to create goals in Analytics).
After that you’ll want to select “Goals” from the desired view:
From there you can view existing goals or create new ones. You’ll want to ensure that the goals that exist or the ones that you create are synonymous with your paid advertising conversions, like demo requests, ebook download, free trial start, purchase, or add to cart. You have a few options when it comes to creating the types of goals you want, including goals from a template, custom goals, and smart goals. I recommend creating custom goals because they allow you the flexibility of specifying destination URLs:
The idea here is to create goals that are identical to the conversions you have in place within your paid channels. For example, if you are driving traffic to an ebook landing page on Facebook, then you will want to have ebook “thank you” pages established as goals within Analytics. In a scenario like that, you’ll want to select “Destination.” From there you will be able to specify the destination landing page for the conversion event in the same way you would in your paid platforms. Assuming Tag Manager is properly established, you will be recording conversions within each individual channel respectively – with goals set up in Analytics for those conversions, you can now use Analytics to compare and ensure that the results are comparable.
Step #3: Start Using Analytics URL tracking
In order to see the specific source of traffic in relation to the goal completes, you can use Google’s URL campaign builder.
Here, you can create unite URL UTM parameters for each specific paid channel campaign. Under “Campaign Source,” you can put the respective channel (Facebook, Google, LinkedIn, etc). After having everything set up and your campaigns running, you can then go to “Goal Flow” underneath the “Conversions” section in Analytics:
From there, you can then select one of your custom goals in the top right and view the amount of goal completes from each respective channel. For example, ebook downloads:
There are other ways to get channel visibility like this, but I found this to be the simplest way to do it.
Step #4: Keep Track of Your Reporting
After you have Google Tag Manager and Google Analytics set up for your desired conversions for each channel, you’re almost done. Because you’ll be able to see what channels are driving which goals, you’ll want to make sure you’re keeping on top of regular reporting to make the most of this information.
If you’re seeing numbers that are not aligning to your reports in Google Analytics from Facebook, for example, you can go into your custom conversions and see if there is an issue there (on the Facebook level). The idea is to make Google Analytics your source of truth when tying back costs from your paid efforts. You will also be able to use Analytics to monitor page traffic and the associated metrics for pageviews and bounce rate (this comes in handy as Facebook’s click data is usually far from accurate). You will also be able to get insights into how users are interacting with the rest of your site after entering through a paid channel. For example, a user lands on your site through and ad but navigates to another page and converts. You will be able to see this information and tie it back to the overall paid ROI.
If you want to consolidate all of this data into one simple dashboard, consider using a tool to connect your accounts and create reports automatically. Some good options include Databox, OpenStack, and WordStream Advisor.
With Google Tag Manager and Google Analytics goals working in harmony, your paid channel reporting will become streamlined and a lot more accurate. If you ever wondered what results you actually received from paid advertising, having these systems set up is the first step towards clarity.
By Brett McHale
Brett McHale is the founder of Empiric Marketing, a digital marketing agency dedicated to scaling startups through paid search and social.