If you’re a marketing professional, I’m sure you’re starting to hear more and more about Facebook Analytics.  Perhaps, you’re also already using it to track the performance of some of your digital marketing campaigns.

What is Facebook Analytics?

It is important to understand that Facebook Analytics is not the same as Facebook Insights.  Facebook Insights provides information about your business page, engagement, likes, shares and a number of other pieces of information.  In other words, it is limited to Facebook App data.

FB Analytics Screen

With the creation of Facebook Analytics, advertisers can now gather data about users that are not just accessing their Facebook pages, but also any website they own or manage across multiple devices.  In fact, Facebook Analytics also offers information on users of its Messenger App and other chat bots integrated with Facebook Messenger.

While Facebook Analytics is still a relatively new tool, it has already started to raise a few questions as it compares to Google Analytics.  The truth is that even though both tools can track similar data, Facebook and Google track data in different ways, and that’s where the similarities end.  So let’s take a look at some of the most notable differences.

1. Clicks vs. Sessions

Clicks are not sessions and sessions are not clicks.  This is an important distinction because it’s one of the main reasons why when you compare Google Analytics with Facebook Analytics data, your numbers don’t match. And here’s why:

  • When a user clicks your Facebook post more than once in a 30-minute window, Google Analytics only tracks this as one session. Facebook, however, will consider this as more than one click. (i.e., one Google Analytics session and two Facebook clicks).
  • If a user clicks your Facebook post and visits your website, becomes inactive for more than 30 minutes, and then re-engages with your site after 30 minutes, Google will record two separate sessions. Facebook reports only the single click. In this case, one Facebook click equals two separate sessions for Google Analytics.
  • Finally, If a user accidentally clicks your Facebook ad but jumps off quickly, Google Analytics will most likely not have had the chance to record this click, since the page (and/or the Google Analytics code) hadn’t loaded fully before the user left the page.  Facebook on the other side, will still count the click as legitimate click.

2. Impressions and Clicks

As Facebook likes to brag about, Facebook follows people and not cookies. For Google Analytics code to track users, the user must have Javascript, images and cookies enabled. As users become smarter about online tracking, this has become more of an issue because they are more conscious of turning off these things and using browser extensions to prevent this tracking. Facebook on the other hand does not require these things to be enabled in order to track clicks on the ad, and so this is one way that makes Facebook report more clicks than Google Analytics sessions.

Google Analytics counts a conversion only when a user clicks the intended link within the ad, whereas with Facebook, a user can click any portion of the ad, convert, and still be tracked as a conversion.

This also applies to the way each analytics tool stores its data.  If a user clears their cookies, all of that data will still remain in Google Analytics. In Facebook, however, this data is cleared from your custom audiences. It’s also important to know that Google Analytics back-dates users’ historical data, while Facebook collects the data from the day your audiences are set up.

3. Cross Device Conversions

This is probably one of the most important factors that separates Google and Facebook Analytics.  We all use a variety of devices to connect us to the Internet at different times.  From our ever-present cell phone, to a more portable tablet or a traditional desktop computer or laptop while we’re at work.  In other words, we interact with a product or service several times through different devices before we decide to make a purchase.

For example, I have this great idea for a new garage project and I start browsing on my iPhone looking for parts and tools online.  I see a variety of ads and I click on them but I don’t “buy” or convert yet because I want to take more time to think about it.

Later in the evening, I’m again browsing on my iPad and doing more research but I still don’t buy anything at that point.  The morning after, I’m working with my laptop and I go straight to the company for one of the products that I want to buy and complete the purchase.  That seems like a typical purchasing or conversion path for most of us.

Let’s see now how each platform would interpret our path.  Google Analytics would fail to attribute that conversion back to the initial click on my iPhone, or even the later interaction on my iPad, and would therefore, under report your results.

Facebook, on the other hand, has the unique ability to track conversions back to users instead of cookies. This means Facebook can track the same user (me in this case) across all devices as long as I am logged into my Facebook or Instagram account. By comparison, because Google Analytics relies on cookies, meaning that all the tracking happens exactly on the browser where the cookie was initially dropped.  In this particular case, Facebook Analytics will always provide more accurate information.

4. Multiple Conversions

Another important distinction.  For attribution purposes, Google Analytics only allows a one-per-click attribution, meaning only one conversion is counted regardless of the number of conversions that actually happened. In the case of Facebook Analytics, if a user saw or clicked an ad and converted multiple times, Facebook attributes multiple conversions to the ad last clicked or viewed.

5. Attribution Window

And speaking of Attribution, Facebook default attribution windows are based on 1 day View and 28-day click-through windows.  What this means is that any comparison you do against other tracking data must compare exactly the same attribution window, which by the way, is not always possible.

By default, Google Analytics attributes a conversion to the very last traffic source that the user visited the site via before making the conversion. For example, if the user visited your page via organic search, then Facebook ads, then a PPC ad, Google Analytics would attribute the conversion to PPC.

The default attribution model for Facebook’s conversion tracking on the other hand is for any conversion that involved the user interacting or viewing a Facebook ad and then converting, to be attributed to Facebook ads. In the above example of a user who first visited the site via organic search, then via Facebook ads, and then lastly via PPC, Facebook Analytics would attribute that conversion to the Facebook ad. It is for this reason that Facebook will usually report more conversions than Google Analytics.

As mentioned above, Facebook’s default attribution settings also include a 24 hour view-though conversion window, which means that if the user didn’t even click the ad but viewed it and then converted within the next 24 hours, Facebook would attribute the conversion to Facebook ads. A view through conversion would have never been tracked in Google Analytics at all.

6. Ad Blocker Software

With the popularity of Ad Blocker Software, it is possible that your conversion pixel may not fire for those users that have an ad blocker installed in the browser. This will cause under-reporting conversions, so the number may be lower than your internal data.  This particular situation will affect both Google Analytics and Facebook Analytics, however, when it comes to mobile browsing, Facebook’s ability to track users cross device, may be able to overcome this barrier.

So which analytics platform should you use?  The answer is both.  Of course if you have no social media marketing campaigns in place (aside from committing marketing suicide) you can just use Google Analytics and get all the data you want.  However, if you are combining a number of different channels for your paid campaigns (i.e. AdWords, Display Networks, Paid Social, etc.) using both Analytics platforms is the preferred way to analyze your data and take the best features from each option.

Thank you for reading.  Until next time, this is Manuel Gil del Real (MGR).