PPC Tracking and Goals – You May Be Getting Them Wrong

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PPC Tracking and Goals – You May Be Getting Them Wrong

What makes up a paid search account? Of course you have your website and your account manager platform(s), most likely AdWords and Bing Ads. You also have your campaigns, ad groups, keywords, & ads. But are you forgetting your tracking, and are you creating appropriate goals?

One too many times I have had clients who have either missed the boat on tracking implementation or have designated goals that are not relevant to the reason why their site was created in the first place. It’s extremely important that you understand the possible fallacies of each particular paid search characteristic in order to ensure that you are running a successful paid search account.

In this post, we’ll explain why and how to use the Google Tag Manager to plug holes (and improve accuracy) in your tracking, and we’ll explain how to set up actionable goal reporting in AdWords and Google Analytics

Use the Google Tag Manager for Tracking

This one seems simple: no tracking, no data. So get tracking and you will get data. Easy enough, right? Wrong. Before you go and drop pixels all over your website coding, be sure you are aware of all of your options.

Because new pixels keep showing up from various sources, it would be best to implement or have your development team implement the Google Tag Manager. This will give you more control on all the pixels, also known as tags, within your site if you don’t deal with the coding. If you do deal with the coding, then this will make your job much easier and keep your pixels together.

The Google Tag Manager just creates one pixel for you to add. Once the container tag is added, you can manage all other tags within the Tag Manager. The container tag can also speed up your loading time for your pages. This isn’t because fewer pixels are firing, because there shouldn’t be fewer pixels firing, but because the container snippet executes asynchronously.

PPC Tracking and Goals – You May Be Getting Them Wrong

The tag manager also has two features that I am a huge fan of. The first is the preview mode. This allows you to review how your tag will work to make sure it is firing correctly. The other is that it gives you the ability to create rules and macros to tell the tag when to fire. This option provides a lot of flexibility, as you can create rules/macros based on URLs, referrals, events, and other custom values such as how much a user spends.

The advantages to implementing the Google Tag Manager snippet are endless. But just to review what we went over, here is a list of the benefits of using the Google Tag Manager:

  1. Don’t need to bug your development team to keep adding tags

  2. Organizes all of your tags in one location for easy management

  3. Can speed up the loading time of your site

  4. Can create rules and macros to tell the tag when to fire

  5. Can use the Tag Manager for Google & non-Google tags

  6. Preview mode enables you to ensure tags are firing appropriately

The container tag snippet should be placed on every page within your site at the top of the opening body tag. The only exception is that if there are any variables that the container snippet should use that fire on the page load, the container snippet should be placed underneath those variables but still within the body tag. And while you implement the container snippet, be sure to remove those existing pixels that have been added to the tag manager. Otherwise you will be double-counting.

If you are not using the Tag Manager because your site uses few pixels, be sure that you are recording the most accurate data. For example, if you are recording registrations, be sure that you have a page that only shows up when the user has registered, such as a thank-you or confirmation page. Here’s a scenario where loose recording can complicate things:

There will be people who, by force of habit, click through a paid ad even though they have already been to your site and registered. When they do this, depending on where your pixel is placed, it will cause the pixel to fire again even though they have already registered. In this scenario, it is usually the branded keywords that are inflated.

While you may have some third-party platform that accurately records conversions, the scenario still creates a few problems. The first is that it makes data-gathering more tedious and more time-consuming. The second is that because there are extra steps in gathering data, this increases the likelihood of errors. And the last problem is that not having accurate data in AdWords pretty much rules you out of using any neat features that Google comes up with, such as the conversion optimizer.

Set Up Smarter Goal Reporting

There are many actions that can be tracked through Analytics. It is a great tool that should be used when evaluating data and patterns of your audience in order to optimize your site. And AdWords allows you to import your Analytics’ goals. (If you do this, be careful that you don’t double-count the data by assigning a goal in Analytics that resembles a conversion in AdWords. You can find more information on how to link Analytics & AdWords here.)

PPC Tracking and Goals – You May Be Getting Them Wrong


While all of this is helpful in developing strategies, it is easy to overlook the overall goal. Here’s a good way to break it down:

  • The overall goal, such as registrations or sales, should be tracked in AdWords if you are buying into paid search.

  • The steps before and after the overall goal should be tracked in Analytics.

Let’s say you have a site that has four different ways a user can convert. One of those conversion types is getting a user to pay for a type of membership. The others are registrations, calls, & downloads. AdWords can track all of these but data behind their actions isn’t accurate because AdWords groups them all together. You can segment the conversion types, but then it gets complicated when dealing with the metrics.

If you know which conversion is the most important, it would be best to just track that one conversion in AdWords and track the other actions in Analytics. This will make more sense when it comes to optimizing for a stronger CPA, ROAS, or any other metric. Plus, this will give you more options to use AdWords’ features like the Conversion Optimizer.

After setting up your goals in Analytics and syncing with AdWords, you will be able to develop strategies on your landing pages. The strategies will be based on more information than just your conversion rate. You can see what is working and what isn’t within your pages. Leverage all of this data when coming up with new strategies, but make sure all of the data is being collected accurately and in a helpful and easy-to-read way.


CategoryPaid Search

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Jason Bruggemann

Jason Bruggemann joined PPC Associates in October 2012 after working at iProspect for nearly two years. Before he joined the ... [Read full bio]

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