What can you do when Google are wrong?

Posted by Dave CollinsAnalytics, Google Ads

We just discovered a bug in Google Analytics. In itself that’s worrying enough, but Google appear quite adamant that this isn’t an issue. I strongly disagree. Here’s what happened.

While recently reviewing organic search traffic in Google Analytics, we noticed that some of what Google was identifying as organic was actually coming from AdWords. When we looked further, Analytics identified this traffic as being from Google, and that it wasn’t from AdWords at all, but Google organic. There were two problems with this – it was incorrect and also impossible.

The fact is that you can’t manipulate this data. Let me rephrase that. You shouldn’t be able to manipulate this data. Google should be able to determine with 100% accuracy what is AdWords traffic and what is organic traffic. Even if you were to tag your URLs saying that it was from Google organic, for example https://www.softwarepromotions.com/?utm_source=google&utm_medium=organic, Google Analytics should ignore that.

Let me make this clear though. We were not doing that.

We manually tag destination URLs within AdWords as well as using the AdWords auto tagging system. It’s true that using manual tagging as well as auto tagging can cause conflicts, however we are not using the UTM manual tagging system. We use our own tagging system in the following format; ?source=adwords&campaign=my-search-campaign&adgroup=my-adgroup&adnum=001

This is what the issue looks like within Google Analytics:

Google Analytics - landing pages for non-paid search traffic

Note that this is for landing pages. This simply shouldn’t be possible.

If this were correct information, it would mean that Google had indexed those URLs. They would never have done so, because Google don’t want to index URLs with identical content. And as you can see, all the URLs in the screenshot are of the identical home page.

We have contacted Google about this issue and have received conflicting comments, so far with no real solutions. One Google rep said the following:

“After checking with our specialist, they confirmed that due to source and medium not being specified as google and cpc respectively, this could be the reason for Analytics not being able to attribute the visit to Google paid traffic. Additionally, we’re unable to troubleshoot further into this due to the use of auto-tagging and query string tag on your ads destination URLs. We recommend using either one and not both.”

This particular rep is implying that any form of tagging will conflict with AdWords auto tagging. As you can see, we are not using UTM tagging, so Google Analytics would ignore our tags as they do across numerous other accounts that we deal with.

Another rep we spoke with over the phone agreed with our assessment. Our unique form of tagging shouldn’t and wouldn’t cause this problem, as we are not using the Google Analytics UTM tags. 

We have never seen anything like this in any other account that we have come across. Have you?

If you have seen this issue, or something like it, I’d really appreciate if you would let me know. Either contact me through email or give me a shout on Twitter.

Update: Another reply from Google. They now seem to partly understand the issue, but their explanation is bordering on insane:

Thanks for your response.

Sincere apologies for the confusion caused.

I checked this with our specialist once again and you were right, your pages such as this: /?source=adwords&campaign=XXX&adgroup=YYY&adnum=ZZZ isn’t using the manual UTM tagging, hence, it is fine to use these pages together with AdWords auto-tagging. Once again, I do apologize for the confusion caused due to this.

As for this pages such as /?source=adwords&campaign=XXX-search&adgroup=YYY&adnum=ZZZ getting reported as coming from non paid search. If you’re using these pages only as AdWords ads landing pages and not on any other online sources or advertising mediums, it’s possible that users who previously visited these pages through an ad click had bookmarked this page or send the link to another friend, so those visits will not necessarily get attributed to Google cpc (if the cpc cookie has expired or user cleared cookies) and will instead get reported to the actual traffic that brought in the visit.

Hope this helps. Do let me know if there is anything else I can assist you with.

Good grief.