Tracking is hard. Attribution is hard. It’s only gotten harder recently with browser changes like ITP that limit or eliminate tracking cookies. At the same time, digital marketing is still more trackable now then most traditional types of marketing like print and TV have ever been. Analytics software like Google Analytics and Adobe Analytics attempt to assign credit where credit is due. While having one true source of truth to guide your decision making is important, using only one source also paint an incomplete picture. 

The Discrepancies 

Here at eAccountable, one of the questions we hear most often from our clients is “Why is the affiliate network tracking showing something different than what my Google Analytics is saying?” or “Why should we pay based on affiliate tracking when our analytics software shows a smaller amount?” The fact is that regardless of the source, be it your affiliate program, email platforms, own tracking or any other marketing service, the numbers aren’t going to line up perfectly because most of these sources have their own tracking that assigns credit differently than each analytics software.

How Google Analytics Works

Google Analytics or any other analytics platform for that matter  is here to help you assign credit to your marketing campaigns, but they’re also incomplete. Google analytics assigns credit based on the last non-direct click by default. That means whatever channel the user came to your site from last, apart from the user typing in the URL, will be the channel that gets credit for the click. 

While analytics platforms can track the customer at each stage, they assign credit based on the last non-direct click, by default. That means whatever channel the user came to your site from last will get credit, aside from the user typing in the URL.

Let’s imagine someone follows this flow while shopping on your site:

Google Paid Search > Direct > Affiliate > Bing Paid Search

In this example the user came to the site from Google search initially, typed your URL in for their second visit, clicked an affiliate ad for their third and then finally clicked a Bing search ad. The Bing ad will be the only channel to get credit. Many would argue this isn’t a fair look, the Google Paid Search click was more influential in getting the user to the site first. 

The truth is that there isn’t a fair way to evaluate how much credit you should give to one channel over another. You should be looking at various attribution methods to try and determine what matters most to your business and how each channel plays a role in driving conversions/sales.

Affiliate Program Tracking

When it comes to an affiliate tracking platform, credit is assigned if there was an affiliate click, regardless of when the click happens or the other channels involved. So if 100 people click an affiliate link and convert, the network will give affiliates credit for all 100 of those orders. Meanwhile, Google Analytics will only give credit to the orders where affiliate was the last touch so it might only be a fraction of the sales.

Here at eAccountable, we use this information in determining what to pay our affiliate partners. We try and pay them based on their value in the path to purchase and pay an appropriate commission once we consider costs from other marketing channels that influenced the same sale. 

Comparing affiliate tracking to Google Analytics helps us to know if there’s a tracking issue on either the client’s side with their analytics or within the affiliate program if performance is out of the norm. 

A Real World Comparison of Google Analytics and Affiliate Tracking

While looking at about 70 clients who had “clean” data with a combined $4 million in affiliate revenue over a given time period, we found the following while comparing the data between Google Analytics to an affiliate network platform: 

  • The average variance between the affiliate network and Google Analytics was 10% less sales in Google Analytics compared to the affiliate network. 
  • It’s safe to assume a range of plus or minus 20% between your analytics and your networks tracking. 
  • ⅔ of the brands sampled saw more sales in the network then in Google Analytics
  • Smaller clients saw larger gaps between the two different tracking methods. The largest gap in favor of the affiliate network was 100% more sales in the network.. 

What to Do With the Data

What can you do with this data?

First, you should review how your affiliate program revenue compares to your analytics tracking. If the data seems outside of our norms make sure your UTM appends (if you’re using Google Analytics) are set up correctly. 

Second, you can take this a step further and review if there are specific affiliates who falling more outside the normal range and work with them to learn how and where they are promoting your brand. Do this for other channels that have their own tracking to get an idea of how all your programs compare to your analytics. 

Final Thoughts

In order to keep an accurate pulse on your partner marketing programs, don’t limit yourself to just one tool. Comparing data from Google Analytics to your affiliate marketing platform helps you to know if you’re accurately tracking purchase behavior. 

Maybe a partner or ad isn’t getting that last touch credit, but they’re driving new users to the site who buy. So, your Analytics might not give them credit, but it is important to still have them as a partner and to pay them fairly which is where affiliate tracking comes in. 

What is your method when it comes to tracking your affiliate program? We’d love to hear from you on Twitter @eAccountable as we’re a friendly bunch!