How Conversion Tracking Works

How Conversion Tracking Works

You’ve invested a lot of time and money into your website so that it can attract new customers and generate leads and sales for your business. But do you know if it’s paying off? How much revenue has your website generated for you in the past week, month, or even year? If you are able to answer this, congratulations, you likely have conversion tracking set up. If not, this post is for you.

Conversion tracking is crucial to understanding how well your website is working for you. Below, I will explain what it is, how it works, and why it’s so important. Subsequent posts provide instructions to set up GA4 conversion tracking.

What is a Conversion

Let’s start with what a conversion actually is. Simply put, a conversion is Google’s way of saying “people doing what you want them to do on your website.”

For example, on an e-commerce website, a conversion would be when a customer places an order. On a lead generation website, a conversion can be completing a contact form, clicking on a phone number to call you, opening an online chat session, or clicking an email button to send you a message.

Each of these actions are conversions for your business through your website.

Why is Conversion Tracking so Important?

There’s a famous marketing expression you may have heard: “I know half my marketing is working; I just don’t know which half.” (John Wannamaker, July 11, 1838 – December 12, 1922)

John Wanamaker famous quote

You don’t have to guess with conversion tracking

Thankfully, the website tracking software we have today takes that guesswork away and gives you a clear picture of your website data, so you can see exactly which advertising and traffic sources are generating sales.

That information is captured by two free products working together on your website: Google Analytics and Google Tag Manager.

Google Analytics

Google Analytics is free website tracking software that can tell you where your website traffic comes from, which devices people are using when they visit your website, what buttons they click, which pages they view, and a lot more.

Using the data from Google Analytics will allow you to make informed decisions about your online marketing programs, because you’ll be able to see what’s working and what isn’t.

Although Google Analytics is a very useful and powerful tool, it’s not perfect on its own. It’s built to record clicks, page views, and many other actions visitors take on your website, but it isn’t good at providing specific information about what the actions actually mean. For example, if a phone number is clicked, Google Analytics will tell you there was a click, but not that it was on the phone number. For this information, you need to also set up tags.

Google Analytics Plays Tag with Website Assets

Simply put, tags are pieces of code with filing instructions for Google Analytics. When any action, or asset, you want to track on your website is given a tag, you’re telling Google Analytics exactly what the action is, and in turn, Google Analytics can give you concrete data on how often those actions were taken on your site.

Tagging Website Assets Drives Conversion Tracking

Tags provide instructions to Google Analytics on how you want the click data stored. But it hasn’t always been easy.

It used to be a lot more technical to configure tags, because it involved inserting code directly into the website’s html code. As a result, tagging consumed a lot of web developers’ time because each individual asset required a tag. For example, if your website displayed your phone number in 10 different places, you would need to configure 10 tags. This also applied to each appearance of videos, forms, and any other valuable asset on your site.

Too many tags can make the website run much slower. It’s a little like running a 100-meter dash with a sack of potatoes tied to your ankles.

Google Tag Manager – the Conversion Tracker’s Best Friend

Google Tag Manager is a powerful and versatile free product that allows you to track just about anything on your site without the added bloat of injected code. It’s also a lot easier to set up and use.

Once it’s installed on each of your website pages, Google Tag Manager lets you create tags that capture click data from every asset you configure. This data is sent to your Google Analytics, so it can be read in a way that makes sense. For example, you will know a specific phone number was clicked or a form completed.

Instructions on how to configure Google Tag Manager to capture specific data about clicks on individual assets is covered in another post.

How to Get Your Advertising Results Without Guessing

How to Get Your Advertising Results Without Guessing

Understand your Advertising ResultsAdvertising across multiple platforms is a great way to increase sales. But how do you know which advertising works, which advertising results are best? Which advertising source brings you the most sales?

Checking the data on each platform individually is time-consuming and inefficient and that usually pushes most of us to guess.

John Wanamaker had to guess advertising results

Source; Wikipedia

We’re in the digital age and tracking advertising results is really not that hard.

Keep All Your Advertising Results In One Place

It’s best to track all your advertising data in one place such as Google Analytics website tracking application. With just a quick tweak to the link in your ad you can have all your results in Google Analytics.

This way, when you advertise on Google and through social media platforms like Facebook, you can get an at-a-glance comparison of your sales leads from each source.

Three Basics of Advertising Results Tracking

In fact, there are three things that must be in place before I begin any advertising with my customers:

  1. Goals are set in Google Analytics.
  2. Google Ads Auto Tagging and Goal Import is set up.
  3. Facebook and all other online ads are tagged with a UTM code.

Let’s take a closer look at each of these steps.

Google Analytics Goals

Google Analytics’ free website tracking application is the core of your data tracking. This is where you’ll go to view and compare your data.

Here’s how to set this up:

  1. Set up Google Tag Manager: This free product tracks clicks on your forms. On e-commerce sites, you can enable e-commerce tracking. For Shopify sites, the setting for e-commerce tracking is under ‘Online Store’ under ‘Preferences’. Ensure the ‘E-commerce’ box is enabled.
  2. Set your goals in Google Analytics: You will find those in the Admin section under the ‘View’ panel.

Google Ads Auto Tagging and Goal Import

Auto Tagging is what enables your Google Ads click and conversion data to be transferred between Analytics and Google Ads.

Here’s how to do it:

  1. Link your Google Analytics to your Google Ads account: In Google Analytics, go into Admin, and in the ‘Property’ panel, click ‘Linked Products.’ Select Google Ads and input your account number.
  2. Set up Auto Tagging: Go into your Google Ads account, and under ‘Account Settings’ on the side menu, ensure ‘Auto Tagging’ is set to ‘’
  3. Import your Goals from Google Analytics to your Google Ads account: Click the wrench icon in the upper right navigation menu, then click ‘Conversions.’ Select ‘Import,’ and your Google Analytics goals should appear. Check off the goals you want to import.

Facebook and other Advertising Tracking

When you compare all your traffic sources against each other in Google Analytics, you can actually see what sources are converting, bouncing, full of new users, and much more advertising results. The Google Analytics screenshot below shows the traffic volume from each source and the number of times a sales lead was generated from that source. What a wonderful instant comparison!

Source Medium shows Advertising Results

Notice numbers five, seven and ten: PaidSocial / Facebook, Kitchissippi Times (a local newspaper), and GMB (Google My Business) / Organic. None of these are included in Google Analytics by default; they are all third party advertising vehicles.

I track the performance of these advertisements by ‘tagging’ the link to back to your website.

Let’s play tag

A tag is a set of instructions that tells Google Analytics how to classify a link. It’s actually an HTML code called an UTM code that surrounds your link.

Here’s an example of what a tagged link (with HTML code embedded) might look like:


Don’t worry… it’s not as scary as it looks.

Wait it’s much easier…. There’s a free tool to do it for you.

First, here are a couple of useless facts:

  1. UTM stands for Urchin Tracking Module.
  2. Urchin was a company that Google purchased many years ago.

Google has built an easy-to-use tool that does all the coding for you. It’s called Google URL Builder, and yes, it’s free!

When you open the Google URL Builder tool, the first thing you will need to do is input your landing page. This is the page you are sending the user to when they click your ad.

Next, there are three more fields to navigate:

Source: The site where the traffic is coming from. For example, Facebook, Google My Business, New York Times, etc.

Medium: This is a broad channel grouping. For example, Social, Organic, Paid, Email, Affiliates, PaidSocial.

Each medium may have many sources. For example Paid Social (representing social media advertising you are paying for) might include sources such as Facebook, Instagram, Linked In, and other social media sites.

Campaign (optional): This is the promotion or product that is being promoted.

Google URL Builder creates your tag as you complete the fields

As you complete the fields, you’ll notice a URL full of %, ? symbols at the bottom of the page. Don’t worry, it all means something. Once you’re done filling in the fields, just copy the URL and past it into your ads.

Some of these URLs might be overly long. I suggest using a URL shortener like Bitly to cut them down to size.

Make sure the link works

When you add your URL to your ads, test it to ensure it links to the correct landing page. Then, check your Google Analytics Realtime traffic sources to test that it is picking up the correct source and medium.

By following these simple steps, you can keep all your advertising data in one place, and quickly and easily see your advertising results.

6 Reasons You Are Missing Marketing Opportunities

6 Reasons You Are Missing Marketing Opportunities

You would know more about your business if you listened to your website

Have you ever felt like you know if you are missing marketing opportunities? It’s kind of like, ’I don’t know what I don’t know.’

Marketing gives many of us that feeling, because we often cannot see direct outcomes of our investments and effort.

When done correctly, marketing gets customers through your door or to your website. Whether it’s through social media, speaking, networking, or paid advertising, businesses need marketing to grow.

But how do you know if your marketing strategy is working? This is a question business people have been asking since marketing and advertising were invented. Back in the 1920s, department store magnate John Wanamaker famously said, “Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted; the trouble is, I don’t know which half.”

John Wanamaker famous quote

Thankfully, we live in a digital age where everything can be tracked, so you can easily see which half of your marketing is working. This means you can spot marketing opportunities and do more of what works, and less of what doesn’t.

Unfortunately, I see too many businesses that are missing key marketing opportunities because the owners have misconceptions about online tracking. Not taking the time to fully understand how to track your online marketing puts you in the same boat as John Wanamaker.

Here are the top six misconceptions about tracking online marketing—and why they may be holding you back:

1.  Believing Tracking Marketing Results is Difficult

Web tracking is different, but not difficult. There’s a lot of data packed into charts and graphs, with terminology like users, sessions, and conversions. Google Analytics (free web tracking software) gives the definitions in the charts and graphs, so you always know what you are looking at.

2.  Believing They Don’t Have Marketing Tracking Technology

Google Analytics is a free web tracking software that tells you where website visitors came from (including which marketing program), what pages they visited, which buttons they clicked, and a lot more. Google Analytics is free, and when your website was created, your developer probably loaded it onto your site.  You would be amazed how many times I tell customers they already have in installed.

3.  Not Using the Full Power of Google Analytics

Many businesses that know Google Analytics is installed on their website have not done any setup or configuration. In just a few minutes, Google Analytics can be configured so it presents data that is useful to you.

For example, how nice would it be to know at a glance:

  • How many lead forms were completed on each of your marketing programs?
  • How many sales were made in each of your marketing programs?
  • How many people signed up for your email list through your various marketing programs?
  • And so much more.

By configuring Google Analytics, your data is organized to answer just about any important marketing questions you have.

4.  Believing Marketing Tracking is Too Expensive

A basic web tracking set up for most businesses is generally done in a few hours, for under $500. Almost all the work is done at the beginning, with setting up goals, filters, etc. This is the ‘set and forget’ stuff—once it’s done, you don’t have to go back to it for a long time.

Web tracking is not expensive…. It just needs a little TLC to get started.

5.  Not using tracking codes for email newsletters, Social Media, and other Campaigns

Tracking codes are added to the links that go back to your website from your email blast, social media, advertisements, etc. You need a unique tracking code for each marketing campaign you run.

For example, suppose you have a ‘Spring blowout sale’ that you promote on Facebook, email blasts and an advertisement on another website. All have links back to the ‘spring blowout sale’ landing page on your website. Each of those links should contain a different:

  • Facebook (you can see how many sales came from Facebook); and
  • Email blast

6.  Not Looking at Marketing Tracking Frequently Enough

It’s easy to forget. We’re all busy and have tons of things to do, and besides, it’s not always fun looking at charts and graphs.

Use automated reports

Being busy is business reality. Automated reports send a snapshot of your marketing performance to your inbox once a week, once a month, or once a day—whatever frequency you choose. If you see an issue, click on the report and investigate. Really, it’s that easy!

How to set up Google Ads Conversion Tracking

How to set up Google Ads Conversion Tracking

Paper airplane arcing and swerving to target

Tracking advertising results can be a bit like following a paper airplane arc and swerve toward a target. Google Ads conversion tracking removes the swooping and swerving enabling you see what users do after they click on your ad; the pages they visit, the buttons they click, which business goals are achieved and much more.


With conversion tracking properly implemented you can quickly and unequivocally answer your most important questions:

  • How many lead forms did we get (from Google Ads, Social Media, SEO, etc.)?
  • How many sales were made?
  • How many people signed up for your email list?
  • And too many more things about your business marketing to list here.

This is the information you use to optimize your campaigns, ad groups, keywords, extensions and ads. You know exactly what is working and what isn’t.

In this article you will learn your Google Ads conversion tracking choices, the value of linking with Google Analytics and then how to import goals from Analytics to Google Ads.

Google Ads Conversion Tracking Choices

You actually have three choices when setting up Google Ads conversion tracking:

  1. Website: Tracks sales and other meaningful actions on your website
  2. Import: Conversions are imported from other systems, like Google Analytics
  3. Phone Calls: Tracks the use of calls from your ads.

Google Ads Conversion Options

Let’s take a closer look at each.

Website: Tracks sales and other meaningful actions on your website

This is my least favourite option because it only tracks Google Ads conversions, ignoring all other traffic sources, such as SEO, social media, etc. For that reason, I have never implemented this method of conversion tracking.

When to use Website Conversion Tracking

In my opinion… never.

Phone Calls: Tracks the use of calls from your ads

Google Ads phone call conversion tracking only tracks phone calls when people click on the phone number in your ad. It is common for mobile users to click the phone number in a Google Ad to contact the business. That’s a conversion! But remember, this method doesn’t bring them to your website.

Phone call conversion tracking should be used simultaneously with either the ‘Website’ method or the ‘Import’ method, which we’ll get into in a moment.

When to use phone call conversion tracking

In my opinion… always. Set this up when you use call extensions in Google Ads. Once you set call extensions or call-only ads, Google Ads automatically tracks calls.

Important: Phone call tracking can (and should) be set up with any other conversion tracking method, either Website or Import.

Import: Conversions are imported from Google Analytics

In my opinion, this is by far the best choice. It leaves little room for error (unlike the ‘Website’ option) and is relatively easy to implement.

‘Website’ (pasting conversion code into your website’s HTML code) appears deceptively simple but is fraught with technical potholes capable of ruining conversion tracking.

Here is a more in depth comparison of Importing from Google Analytics and the Website Tracking code option.

Import is a little more work to set up, but the rich data returned to you makes this option incredibly valuable. Here’s how to implement it:

Setting up Import Goals from Google Analytics

Google Ads conversion tracking actually begins with Google Analytics and Google Tag Manager, both of which are free products. These two tracking applications provide vital performance information for all your website traffic sources.

Presumably, you are using Google Ads to get more business. But you only know if Google Ads is producing that additional business if proper tracking is implemented. Any good tracking system also makes traffic source comparison easy; Google Ads’ performance should be compared to other sales channels, like social media, other advertising, SEO, and more.

Broadly speaking, with a little effort and time you can set up your tracking in three steps:

  1. Identify what you want people to do on your website.
  2. Tag website assets and set goals in Google Analytics.
  3. Set up your Google Ads conversion tracking.

Let’s take a closer look at each step.

Identify the actions you want people to take on your website

It sounds obvious. Your list probably includes having people to buy something, collecting sales leads, engaging with your business. This is where details matter—what website assets enable people to accomplish these goals? You probably have a form, email address, phone number, maybe even chat boxes. E-commerce sites have shopping cart buttons and payment processor sites people need to get to.

Take a moment to think about what you want people to do on your website and how that is handled.  For example:

  • Contact your business (by completing a form or clicking your phone number or email)
  • Make a purchase (by clicking they buy button and going to the payment processor)
  • Engage with your website (by spending five minutes on the site)
  • Engage with your business (by subscribing to your email list)
  • The list goes on. Your list may have different actions, but what’s important is that you make your list.

Set Goals in Google Analytics

Ready Set Goal - Google Analytics goal set up

Google Analytics is free website tracking software and the workhorse of your data’s organization. It may already be loaded on your website—many developers just add it as a good practice. However, most businesses have not done any setup, like setting goals, so they can retrieve interesting but useless information, such as numbers of page views, users, etc.


There’s nothing like data organized by specific, targeted actions to sharpen your decision-making focus. In a few clicks, you can quickly answer questions like:

  • How many lead forms did we get (from Google Ads, Social Media, SEO, etc.)
  • How many sales were made?
  • How many people signed up for your email list?
  • And too many more things about your business marketing to list here.

Literally, by clicking a few buttons those questions are answered!

The Role of Google Tag Manager

Google Tag Manager helps Google Analytics track actions taken on your website. By default, Google Analytics is built to count only when a website page changes. For example, when a user goes from your home page to your products / services page, and then to your Contact us page, it would track all three pages.

However, many important actions, like form completions, playing a video, clicking email links, etc. happen without a website page changing. If the web page does not change, the action is not tracked unless you use Google Tag Manger—it too is free.

Among the many things that Google Tag Manager tracks are the clicks on website assets that you have ‘tagged.’ Each ‘tag’ offers Google Analytics a set of instructions on how to store this data.

I highly recommend installing Google Tag Manager. It’s an awesome product that does so much more, but that’s another story.

With Google Tag Manger, you ‘tag’ your forms, email and phone links, videos, PDFs, and anything else you consider an important action. Tagging some website assets may require a developer to deal with web language and some scripting, but it’s usually pretty routine.

Google Tag Manager and Google Analytics working together

Set Goals in Google Analytics

With Google Tag Manger and Google Analytics working together, we must get into your Analytics and start ‘telling’ it about that list of actions you want people to take on your website. These are called ‘goals’ in Google Analytics. Setting them takes only a few minutes, and usually does not require a developer or any programming.

With your goals set in in Analytics, you’re ready to start tracking Google Ads’ performance, and the performance of any other digital sales and advertising channel you choose to use. We have two more steps in your performance set up; and they’re both easy.

Link your Google Analytics and Google Ads Accounts

Importing your Analytics Goals to your Google Ads conversions requires linking your Google Analytics and Google Ads accounts. Linking allows goals to be imported to your Ads’ account, which become your ‘conversions.’

Added benefits of linking

Linking the two applications saves the hassle of manually toggling between the two. Here’s how it works:

  • Google Analytics sends valuable engagement information to Google Ads—Bounce rate, pages/session, time on site, and percentage of new sessions.
  • Google Ads sends Google Analytics valuable click information—Clicks, CPC (cost per click) and total cost.

With Google Ads and Analytics linked, all you have to do is import the desired goals from Google Analytics into Ads.

It sounds like a lot, but it won’t take long. Besides, when you get the insights about your marketing investments, you will be glad you invested an hour or so setting up performance tracking.

Google Ads Conversion Showdown

Google Ads Conversion Showdown

When it comes to tracking Google Ads conversions from your website there are two options:

  1. Website: Insert code on a conversion page on your website, or
  2. Import: Set and import your goal from Google Analytics.

Let’s take a close look at the advantages and disadvantages of each.

Insert Code on Website Conversion Page

Google most likely names this conversion tracking option ‘Website’ because it requires you to post code on one of your website pages.

Copy and Paste Your Website Code

This conversion tracking methods requires you to place Google Ads code on your website conversion page. The ‘conversion page’ is the page where your conversion action is confirmed. On an e-commerce website for example, the conversion page would be the order confirmation page; on a lead generation website, the conversion page would be the thank you page.

This option of website tracking is very simple if you know and understand HTML. Without that HTML knowledge, this tracking method has several trap doors:

  • Code does not work because it’s in the wrong place on the page
  • The code is placed on too pages, so conversions are irrelevant
  • Limited to only tracking Google Ads conversions – no social media, SEO, or other conversion sources.

Only tracks Google Ads

This is a nice choice if you are generating website traffic solely from Google Ads. But let’s face it, you have more traffic sources than Google Ads: SEO, email, social media, etc. Tracking information from these traffic sources comes from Google Analytics. That means your Google Ads tracking is an island, not tracked in Google Analytics.

When to use Website Conversion Tracking

In my opinion… never.

This conversion tracking is restricted only to Google Ads, making it difficult to compare with other website traffic sources like social media, SEO, email blasts, etc. Furthermore, unless a knowledgeable technical person is loading the code, there’s a risk of it being improperly implemented, which results in meaningless conversion information.

While this Conversion Tracking option looks easy, there is a minefield of possible mistakes if you do not know HTML and exactly where the code should be placed on the specific page.

Table 1 Summary Google Ads Website Conversion Tracking

Pros Cons
Looks easy Tracks only Google Ads
Need to know HTML so code inserted properly
Code must be inserted in correct place on page
Doesn’t track other conversions made on your website (ex: email clicks, phone number clicks)

Import Goal from Google Analytics

Google Analytics is free website tracking software that tells you about your website audience—the pages they visit, the buttons they clicked and a lot more. Most significantly, Google Analytics will tell you if people did what you wanted them to do on your website—made a purchase, became a sales lead, signed up for your newsletter, etc.

Anything you want people to do on your website is called a goal in Google Analytics. So, whatever you want people to do should be set up as a goal.

The biggest advantage of using ‘Import goal from Google Analytics’ is you can compare Google Ads’ performance to your other traffic sources: SEO, direct, email, social media, etc. Just look at the screenshot below taken directly from Google Analytics. You can see the number of sessions and the number of times website users became sales leads by requesting contact with the company.

This is an instant website traffic source comparison, valuable to any business.

Even better, notice the drop-down arrows on ‘Sessions’ and ‘Request contact Goal 3 Completions’. Those dropdown arrows enable comparison by any metric!

The ability to compare traffic sources against each other is invaluable. So is the ability to compare many different metrics. This is the kind of data that provides significant insights into marketing campaigns.

The biggest challenge of ‘Importing’ conversions to Google Ads is that you need to set up ‘Goals’ in Google Analytics, but that only takes a few minutes and generally is a non-technical procedure.

Table 2 Summary Google Ads ‘Import’ Conversion Tracking

Pros Cons
Tracks all traffic sources (social media, SEO, email, etc.) in a single place Must setup goals in Google Analytics (which you should do anyway)
Google Ads easily imports goals from Analytics
Do not have to know HTML
Enables multiple conversions to be grouped together (‘contact’ via form completion, phone or email can be grouped together)

When to use the ‘Import Goals from Google Analytics’ for Google Ads Conversions

In my opinion… always.

Hopefully the reasons for importing goals from Google Analytics makes this your choice for conversion tracking. It will make your life a lot easier! Setting it up can be done in three easy steps:

  1. Set your goals in Google Analytics.
  2. Link your Google Ads and Google Analytics accounts.
  3. Import your goal(s) to Google Ads.

This is a much more comprehensive way to track your Google Ads conversions. You will be glad you did it!

Marketing Tracking Rescues a Bad Website

Marketing Tracking Rescues a Bad Website

This customer had received some State funding for digital marketing, and they were anxious to strut their stuff on Google AdWords. But before they started spending their advertising grant money, I recommended multiple changes to their site. Their response was, “that’s what the other two guys (my competitors) said too.”
The business owner claimed the website was “good enough” and just wanted to get started before the State withdrew the grant money (which had no chance of expiring for six months).

The budget was $2,000 per month, so away we went with advertising on Google AdWords.

After the first month, there were no leads, and the dashboard showed these indicators:

Key Indicators from the Dashboard

  • 83% bounce rate (ideal bounce rate is between 40% and 60%)
  • 2 pages/session (ideal is 2–5 pages/session)
  • 48 seconds/session (ideal is 120–240 seconds/session, or 2–4 minutes)
  • 0 sales leads

I recommended we stop advertising and fix the site.  The “The site’s good enough” argument persisted.

Each week after the first month, the data was showing no indication of improvement. After four more weeks (2 full months and $4,000 spent) the owner agreed to stop.

We spent the next month rewriting many pages and restructuring some of the top navigation items. When we resumed the advertising after that month, the dashboard indicators changed dramatically:

  • 53% bounce rate (eventually the bounce rate came under 48%)
  • 7 pages/session
  • 189 seconds/session (3:15 minutes)


Getting traffic to your website is one thing, but your website has to be able to generate sales leads (or direct sales for ecommerce sites). If it’s not able to do that, fix the site before advertising.

This post is part of the Dashboard Discoveries Series where customers learn from the Bird’s Eye Marketing’s AdWords and Website reporting dashboard.