what is the difference between Facebook and Google reporting?
Many professionals in the digital marketing world, including us, sometimes feel uncertain about why Facebook and Google reports differ, often quite substantially. As a result of this, we decided to look at the difference between Facebook pixels and Google cookies and discuss how these different platforms track user behaviour and how this results in differences in reporting.
It is important to understand these differences in measurement methods to ensure accurate performance reporting of your future campaigns.
- One of the largest differences between cookies and pixels is the way they measure performance.
- A pixel is a tiny piece of code which is placed on your website at various points of interaction and will fire when activated.
- Typically, Facebook uses a 28-day attribution window to report on achieving your objective.
- Website cookies are a type of message file that a website will pass to your web browser which records your browsing data and sends it back to the website.
- In terms of attribution, Google defaults to the last interaction a user had online, which is generally a click.
- The only way to tackle the discrepancies in metrics is to gain a more in-depth understanding of why these variations occur and how each platform determines success.
the difference between pixels and cookies
There are two principal ways in which marketers track online user behaviour: via cookies, used by Google or via pixels, used across several platforms but mainly associated with Facebook. Both of these measurement tools enable a marketer to collect data pertaining to users’ online behaviour in order to analyse it and discover what their audience is doing and where they can improve their online marketing efforts. One of the largest differences between cookies and pixels is the way they measure performance. To clarify this, let’s dive a little deeper into what each method is and how it works.
A pixel is a tiny piece of code which is placed on your website at various points of interaction, either when a user visits a page or clicks a button etc. These pixels will fire when activated. Facebook uses pixels to track and report on users’ behaviour from within the Facebook platform through to your website, right up until a purchase is made.
Typically, Facebook uses a 28-day attribution window to report on achieving your objective. This means that Facebook affords credit to a Facebook advert where a user has taken a desired action (clicking through to your website, purchasing a product online or offline etc.) after viewing your advert in their newsfeed within a 28-day period. This means that if a user saw your advert and converted within the 28-day period, Facebook would attribute that conversion to the user viewing your advert on their platform, whether the viewer clicked on your ad or not.
This is done as Facebook knows that the advert appeared in a user’s newsfeed recently, and is top of mind during their consideration phase before purchasing. Hence the credit of the final action within that time frame is given to the specific advert. Adjusting the Attribution Window based on your specific needs to ensure maximum ROI, is just one of the many ways we offer value to our clients.
Website cookies are a type of message that a website will pass to your web browser (like Chrome, Firefox, Explorer etc.) when you visit certain internet sites. Your browser then stores each message in a small file. When you continue browsing the same website your browser then sends the cookie file back to the website. These cookie files generally contain information about your behaviour while on the site and possibly some information that you’ve volunteered to give, like your name and/or your interests. Google tracks cookies and reports on user behaviour via this data. Unlike Pixels, which track individual user behaviour, Cookies track behaviour by device.
In terms of attribution, Google defaults to the last interaction a user had online, which is generally a click. Considering the previous Facebook example, Google would only count the conversion for Facebook if the user clicked on a Facebook ad, went directly to the website and made a conversion during the same session. Whereas, if the user clicked on the ad, did not convert in the same session but rather came back to the webpage later, either through Search or by directly typing in the URL, Google would attribute the conversion to the last action the user took (in this case either Search or Direct).
In addition, Google tracking only works when the user has their cookies enabled and can only be used as part of a remarketing strategy if a user is logged into their Google account. However, Google automatically deploys cookies across your website but pixels need to be implemented into a website manually. It is paramount to be aware of GDPR restrictions when implementing any form of online tracking and tailor what data you record and what data you request your visitors to volunteer.
the bottom line
Overall, the variation in reporting is nothing to be overly concerned about; many digital marketers face the same situation, ourselves included. The only way to tackle these discrepancies is to gain a more in-depth understanding of why these variations occur and how each platform determines success and what they measure. Both analytics systems have their strengths and weaknesses, understanding how each one works allows marketers to make informed decisions about the metrics they report on. Neither platform is flawless in its offerings and therefore the most optimal reporting would result from a combination of the two.