Rip Off The Band-Aid: Use AdWords Conversion Tracking For (All) Your True Business Goals


Over the last year, Google AdWords has massively improved conversion tracking capabilities, reporting on conversion metrics and the automated bidding functionality that they drive.

Yet, over the last few months, one of the most common problems I see in faltering AdWords accounts I audit is companies that have a clear business goal  (or goals) for their paid search spend, yet are tracking other goals as conversions in their AdWords account.

Sometimes, this is because there is a lack of knowledge on the improvements that have been made; other times, it’s more about institutional complacency – people get used to the “issues” that existed years ago when initially setting up their conversion tracking and they fail to see that there are now tools to resolve them.

Changing your conversion tracking does have some costs associated with it. There is the development time, the loss of apples to apples year-over-year comparisons, re-development of reporting systems to work with new data points, and usually some time invested in “re-teaching” other parts of the organization what a “paid search conversion” means.

However, I’ve yet to see a case where ripping off the band-aid isn’t the right thing to do. Tracking your actual business goals as conversions within AdWords gives you immediate, quantifiable advantages that far (and quickly) exceed the costs and pain points. Your spend will become more efficient almost immediately, and a world of new, important data and features opens up.

Conversion Types

First, let’s quickly review the types of conversion tracking that are now available in the AdWords interface.


  • Web Page Conversions. These are the “traditional” conversions that the majority of accounts use. A pixel is fired when a certain page (usually a “thank you” page) is loaded. Tweaks to the code can also be made to fire this pixel when certain site areas are clicked or certain other events occur. (Tip: look into Google Tag Manager for a free solution to help with tracking atypical “conversion” scenarios.)
  • Mobile & Tablet App Downloads And In-App Actions. Your Google Play Store app downloads and in-app actions such as upgrades and in-app purchases are simple to track as AdWords conversions. iOS app tracking takes a bit more heavy lifting, but can be done.
  • Phone Calls. You can track raw phone call numbers from your call extensions, mobile landing pages and desktop landing pages. Each is set up as their own conversion type and can be given a duration (default 60 seconds) that is reported as a conversion in your reporting.
  • Google Analytics Goals. Any goal that you have in your Google Analytics can be brought into your AdWords conversion reporting if your accounts are properly linked. If things like session duration or multiple page views are important to your business, which are not associated with a specific page loading, you can still measure these business goals against your AdWords spend.
  • Imported Conversions. Any conversions that are internally tracked in your database can be imported and integrated into your AdWords reporting as long as you capture the gclid in your database rows. (Tip: It’s often hidden in a landing page URL row and can be extracted with a bit of Excel manipulation.)

Those cover the major goals of most businesses. These newer conversion types are important, but more notable over the last year is that there are a host of new conversion tracking features and choices.

Refining Your Conversions

Conversions for most businesses are typically more complex than just recording a “1.” Until more recently, though, Google did not allow marketers to customize many of those nuances.

AdWords has reached a level of maturity with the available conversion tracking features. There are tools that make tracking multiple goals possible and allow parity between how your conversions are recorded in AdWords and how your business as a whole measures the value and importance of each goal.

  • Assigning Revenue: Not new, but underutilized, is the ability to capture actual transaction values for any web-based or imported conversion types. If you are able to associate revenue to the conversion action that generated it, you should be bringing this metric into your AdWords account.

    For “conversions” that do not have literal revenue attached to them, such as a social media follow, you can assign a static value. If your business as a whole values a “Facebook Like” (for instance) at $1, you can track this goal (alongside others) within your account and show in more granularity how your AdWords spend is contributing to growing the business.

    More recent updates have rolled out a “value” assignment for all conversion types, including phone calls.


  • Conversion Cookie Length Control:  There was a (very long) time when AdWords conversions all operated on a 30-day cookie. Functionality to control the conversion pixel window started rolling out in late 2013. The earliest iteration had limitations on the types of conversions where you could control this tracking and only a few set length choices.

    With more recent updates, advertisers can choose the conversion window (in days) without limitations and for every conversion type. This allows advertisers to control the attribution of their AdWords spend to window that makes sense for their products or for each conversion type.

    For instance, if you track a “shallow” conversion such as a newsletter sign-up, you might only want to give AdWords credit for a day for that. However, if you also sell enterprise B2B software that costs 4 or 5 figures, typically a product that would have a long consideration period, a 60 or 90 day window might make sense for that transaction’s conversion.


  • All Or Unique Conversions: This rollout began in February 2014 with the release of the (somewhat awkward sounding) converted clicks vs. conversions reporting. After the roll-out of a couple updates, you can now choose whether each conversion type counts “all conversions” or “unique conversions.”

    For instance, for any conversion type that is more of a “lead” or “user acquisition,” you probably want to count only unique conversions; multiple conversions are usually duplicates of some sort. On the other hand, for transaction or purchase based conversions, you may want to count all conversions, the user who keeps coming back and purchasing several times, is highly valued and your reporting can account for that full value.

  • Bid Optimization: Open up the “advanced” section in your conversion creation process and you get the choice, for each conversion, to determine whether it is included in Google’s automated bidding calculations. Those bidding types currently include ROAS bidding, CPA bidding (target and max) and enhanced CPC bidding.

    For instance, say you are a SaaS freemium model software product, you can count your “free trials” as conversions, with no revenue associated, and not factored into your bidding. As another conversion, you can count your paid subscriptions, track that revenue and use ROAS bidding or CPA bidding (CPA meaning a cost per paid subscription, in this case) only on the conversion type that is truly driving revenue.

Conversion Reporting

The most recent and final piece of the puzzle that makes these new features truly usable is the associated reporting. Google has new columns that allow you to segment these conversion types, and all their associated metrics with true granularity.

  • Phone Call Reporting: The “call details “ set of columns within AdWords allows you to see how many users saw your call extension, how many raw phone calls your call conversion types have generated and how many on-page call conversions you’ve generated unique conversions and all conversions.
  • Unique Vs. Total Conversions: The “conversion” set of columns has been updated to include “conversions per click” vs. “total conversions” metrics that split out your unique conversions from all tracked conversions.
  • Conversions (Optimized): The “conversion” set of columns has also been updated to include the “conv (opt)” columns that report only on the conversions and associate metrics that you have set-up for inclusion in automated bidding strategies.
  • Custom Columns: The new custom columns set of columns, release in Dec 2014 (I fall into the this is a BIG deal camp for this very reason), allow you to show each different conversion name and all associated metrics in its own set of columns. You can break out your call extension calls, your calls from your website, your web leads etc, each in their own set of columns and truly see the full picture of the activity your spend is generating.


Making Your Spend Work For You

I frequently hear advertisers say things like, “Our AdWords account is measuring leads as conversions, but we would like to bid to a profitable cost per sale,” or, “We round up our conversions by 10% to account for the phone calls from the number on the website.”

These kind of proxies and assumptions can be useful when tools are not available to show the true numbers (the case for most of the last decade). Many advertisers also have the real numbers in other systems and periodically match them back to AdWords data as best they can.  However, a world of very granular reporting and optimization opportunities open up when the true measure of success are in-line with spend data and reporting segments that you cannot get outside of AdWords.

For the “we track leads but care about sales” advertiser, think about if you had the sales and revenue data matched up to a query report. You may discover that you can negate a query that drove half your leads on a certain query without a sale. Once that query is negated, you can double your bid on the keyword that is now twice as efficient.

For the “we round up for phone calls” advertiser, tracking real calls can mean discovering that 90% of the phone calls, previously spread to all campaigns at a 10% round-up, are actually being driven by your brand campaigns, on mobile devices during the times you are running TV commercials. Then, set up rules and structure to optimally capitalize on that finding.

Give It Some Deep Thought

It’s the ideal time to consider whether your conversion tracking is really working for you optimally. Invest the time and make the needed adjustments to maximize your ability to grow your account, quantify your spend and align with broader business goals.

The constraints of the past have been largely removed and the benefits are immediately quantifiable in terms of better account efficiencies. The danger of complacency is your competitors utilizing these new features first and gaining market share on the metrics that matter – and would you even notice it happening if you aren’t tracking the metrics that matter?

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