The difference in conversion attribution between your marketing platforms

Tobias Pennings
Jun 3, 2024

Making decisions based on data is essential in online marketing for optimizing marketing strategies. Yet tracking is not as easy as it seems, even when using a Server-Side Tagging setup. Different analytics and marketing platforms, such as Meta Ads, Google Ads, TikTok Ads and Google Analytics, use different methods to process and analyze data. These variations can lead to discrepancies in the reported data, making it difficult for you as a marketer to get a consistent picture of your marketing performance.

Google Analytics, for example, uses UTM parameters added to website URLs to track visitor origins. Meta Ads, on the other hand, uses fbc and fbp cookies to track what users do outside of their social media platform. These cookies link external actions to the ads users have seen or clicked on on Facebook or Instagram. This will allow Meta Ads to claim a conversion because the fbp cookie corresponds to a visitor who saw an ad while Google Analytics attributes this conversion to organic search traffic. As a marketer, how are you supposed to know which platform you can believe where a conversion is coming from and which marketing platform or campaign is performing better than the rest if everyone gives different reports and every platform claims the same conversions?

In this article, we dive deeper into the nuances of tracking methods of online platforms, and explore how these differences can affect data interpretation. Understanding how these systems work and where they differ is crucial to optimizing digital marketing efforts and gaining accurate insights into consumer behavior.

Attribution window

An attribution window (or attribution window) indicates the period of time during which a conversion can be attributed to a particular source or campaign. This concept is crucial in the world of online marketing because it determines which interactions and events on one domain (social media platform or search engine) led to desired actions, such as purchases or signups on the other domain (your website or online store). However, different platforms use different attribution windows, which can result in different insights and strategies.

An attribution window means that if a user makes a conversion within a certain period of time after interacting with an ad, that conversion is attributed to that ad. This helps marketers understand which campaigns are effective and which are not. A shorter attribution window may result in fewer attributed conversions since people often take time to reach a decision, while a longer window may include more conversions but also introduce more noise and less accurate measurements.

Facebook uses a 7-day attribution window for click conversions and an additional 24-hour window for display conversions. This means the following: a user clicks on a Facebook ad and visits the web shop. At that time, that person does not yet make a purchase. But within 7 days after that first click, that user returns to the web shop and makes a purchase. Meta Ads then counts this purchase as a click conversion. But Google Analytics sees that that user came directly to the site in their session in which the purchase occurs and thus does not assign this conversion to Meta Ads.

If a user who eventually converts saw your ad on Facebook but did not click on it, and then opens the browser and goes directly to your site's URL, Meta Ads will claim this conversion as a contribution from their ad. But in Google Analytics, this conversion will be attributed to direct traffic; in fact, there is then no link to Facebook at all as the source of all of that user's sessions.

For example, suppose a user clicks on a Google Ads campaign and does not convert that day. But five days later, that person sees a retargeting ad come by on Facebook and clicks on it. This day, the user does decide to convert. This conversion will be reported as a click conversion by both Meta Ads and Google Ads. As a result, double conversions will be reported when you, as a marketer, compare the results of multiple platforms.

Understanding these differences and how they affect data interpretation is crucial for marketers. Without this knowledge, decisions based on incomplete or conflicting data can lead to wasted marketing budgets and less effective campaigns. Therefore, it is essential to have a good understanding of both the different attribution windows and their impact on conversion data interpretation.

Clicking on the Meta ad on Monday and not converting until Friday

Attribution date

Another reason for different conversion rates is how platforms handle attribution date. Attribution date refers to the specific time when a conversion is attributed to a specific marketing action. This is a crucial concept because it determines how marketing performance is measured and analyzed. Google Analytics records events on the day the action was performed in the user's time zone. Meta Ads, on the other hand, reports conversions based on the date of the ad click or display in the time zone of the Facebook ad account. This difference in attribution data leads to differences in reported results between different platforms, especially for websites and web shops that operate internationally.

In addition, Google Analytics records multiple sessions when a person visits a site multiple times in a day, depending on the time between visits and the source of their visit. Sessions can end in two ways: after 30 minutes of inactivity or at midnight, which marks the end of the session period. In addition, a session also ends when there is a change in the campaign source. For example, if someone clicks on an ad and visits the website in the morning, and clicks on another ad and returns to the website in the evening, these are counted as two separate sessions. If a user visits your site via an Instagram ad at 11:59 pm and converts after midnight, Google Analytics will not attribute this to an Instagram paid social campaign while Meta Ads will most likely claim this conversion.

Understanding these differences in attribution date handling is crucial because it directly affects how marketing performance is analyzed and interpreted. If you as a marketer are not aware that these differences are present, you may draw incorrect conclusions from collected data, which can lead to incorrect analysis of campaigns on different platforms and forming suspicions about the data within Google Analytics. By knowing this way of attributing conversions, you as a marketer can make more informed decisions and explain to your clients why your reports differ from what they can see.

Your visitors may be in a different time zone from your marketing platforms

Recognizing users

Different marketing platforms use different methods to recognize users, which can lead to variations in the interpretation of marketing performance. By recognizing visitors, we mean recognizing where a visitor came from. In other words, answering how/through which action the visitor came to the site.

Google Analytics uses UTM parameters to recognize third-party users, which are small pieces of text that you add to a URL to identify the source, medium and campaign when the user clicks on the hyperlink or campaign with that destination URL. When someone clicks on a link with UTM parameters, you give that user additional information at the time they land on your site so Google Analytics can see exactly where the visitor came from, through which action they landed on the site and to which campaign the session started is attributable.

Meta Ads uses fbc and fbp cookies to track users. The fbc cookie records the click ID of a Meta ad and is passed along in that user's session. The fbp cookie is not linked to a specific click, but to the user's Meta profile. If you have ever logged into Facebook, Instagram or Whatsapp in your browser, your own fbp cookie will be filled with a specific code that Meta can decipher. So if it is recorded that a user sees a campaign and then converts on the site, Meta can examine whether the fbp cookie attached to the conversion event matches all Meta profiles that have seen the campaign.

TikTok Ads uses ttclid cookies to recognize users and measure ad effectiveness. This cookie stores the click ID when a user clicks on a TikTok ad and can link all conversion events received to the appropriate campaigns based on this ID.

Email marketing platforms usually recognize users based on their email address. When someone clicks on a link in an email, their email address is used to identify and track them.

For Google Ads, Google uses the glcid, wbraid and gbraid cookies. The gclid cookie is used to track default clicks on a campaign. The wbraid and gbraid cookies were created after the iOS 14 update for the difference between web conversions and app conversions.

Understanding these different methods of user recognition is crucial because they affect data interpretation. After all, if a user clicks on a Google Ads campaign, a Facebook campaign and a TikTok campaign within one day and then converts, that conversion event will be filled with different parameters. So all marketing platforms will claim for the same conversion that they took care of it. If you then report to your client that Meta Ads has caused many conversions but the client sees in Google Analytics that this is not the case, you will need to be able to explain this difference in your reporting.

If different platforms use different identification methods, the same users may be tracked and reported in different ways. The platforms themselves also cannot decipher the other platforms' cookies, so they can only see for themselves if they have provided the conversion. This can lead to inconsistencies and misunderstandings about the true impact of marketing campaigns. By understanding how these methods work, marketers can make more informed decisions and optimize their strategies for more accurate and effective results.

Every visitor is recognized by 'invisible' data

Problems with firing pixels and scripts

We've all done it before: clicking on a Facebook, TikTok or Google Ads ad and closing the window even before the site is fully loaded. At that point, the tracking scripts or pixels are also not yet loaded. This means that, among other things, the page view and session started are not measured in your analytics and marketing platforms, but the marketing platforms do count the click. This inconsistency is a big problem for marketers and one of the biggest irritations in the online marketing world. Even when you use Server-Side Tagging, thus bypassing AdBlockers and browser tracking prevention, you can still see a difference in number of campaign clicks and number of landing page views. With Server-Side Tagging your tagging pixel is loaded faster than the third-party pixels and scripts, therefore this will be less of a problem but still the misclicks on your ads will not all be measured.

Multiple clicks on the same ad

It happens more often than you think, that users click on your campaign more than once. For search campaigns of eCommerce webshops, this is mainly a problem because you are dealing with users who are already specifically searching for something and want to compare different sites and their offerings with each other. But also on marketing platforms where you show campaigns to users who are not necessarily looking for your product or service, such as Meta or TikTok, this is a problem. This is because when someone clicks twice on the same campaign within the half hour, Meta Ads or TikTok Ads see this as two campaign clicks and two landing page views while Google Analytics naturally counts this as one session. As a result, your reports may differ between your marketing platform and your analytics platform in terms of user acquisition.

Strategies to align Facebook and Google Analytics 4 data

Divergent data will always be a problem, but you can mitigate it as best you can. Not understanding these differences can cause you to make the wrong choices for investing time and money. There are ways to close the gap between your different platforms' data, though.

Use UTM parameters

Many marketers already use UTM parameters by default, but should you not yet be using them, we recommend that you immediately Easter this for you and all your clients. Customizing your destination URLs through the use of UTM parameters is an easy way to create the clearest possible overview of channels in Google Analytics. There are many different ways and tools to create and add these UTM parameters to your destination URLs. But we recommend creating this manually through a manual tool and adding it as a complete URL to the destination URL input field.

Let's say you want to use the following landing page URL in your next campaign: So when you are going to add UTM parameters to this you will use the campaign source Facebook, the campaign medium will be paid_social and the campaign name you can come up with. The final URL will then be By adding these UTM parameters to your URL you can use Google Analytics to get the clearest possible overview of where all your visitors are coming from. This way you can better monitor the effectiveness of your campaigns compared between different platforms and understand user behavior.

To easily generate UTM parameters yourself, you can use Google Analytics' Campaign URL builder tool. Here you enter your destination URL and further enter your source, medium and campaign name and your new destination URL with UTM parameters will be generated automatically so you can paste it directly into your campaign.

Exclude View-Through Conversions

To simplify conversion tracking, the option is there to exclude display conversions within the Meta Ads attribution settings. This results in Facebook only counting click-through conversions, which can help reduce discrepancies between measured conversions in GA4 and in Meta Ads. We just don't recommend implementing this since Meta Ads has a way of measuring your target audience's latent need via view-through conversions. This invisible need that is triggered by seeing ads but not clicking on them would then no longer be measured. Those purchases will then be attributed only to "direct" or to "organic search" in GA4 and your campaigns in Meta Ads will perform less than you are used to.

GA4 cannot track view-through conversions

Follow the steps below to exclude view-through conversions. By adjusting this, only click-through conversions will be visible in your Meta Ad Manager.

  1. Open the Advertisement Management
  2. Select the relevant ad set and click 'Edit'.
  3. Go to the attribution setting section.
  4. Under "View-Through," select "none.
click and view through conversion settings in Meta Ads

Set Server-Side Tagging as a tracking setup

To minimize the problems of attribution between your different channels and platforms, Server-Side Tagging is the ideal solution. It allows you to control the creation of events and thus the collection of customer journey data. It also allows you to bypass the tracking protection software of browsers such as Fiefox and Safari that can block third-party tracking and bypass your visitors' adblockers. As a result, the measured sessions and conversions will be as accurate as possible so you can once again trust your marketing efforts and make the right decisions.

Then request a tracking report now to find out where your site or your clients' sites are lacking in their current tracking setup. Or schedule an instant demo where one of our tracking experts can explain how Server-Side Tagging can improve your tracking or your clients' tracking.