Why Affiliate Site Sales Do NOT Match Google Analytics Conversions

Here is a real life example of the differences in how various Web Analytics programs track conversions and why affiliate marketing programs claim so many more sales than ecommerce stores will ever see in Google Analytics or other Web Analytics programs.
If you are a merchant considering dropping your affiliate programs because you feel you are being unfairly charged – or an affiliate who wonders why a merchant doesn’t appreciate their affiliates – this could be why!
My favorite gift store shared this concern:
The problem showing ShareaSale sales is the same one we have been seeing.  A sale would come in and the referrer would be a google search for flasks.  Now we’re # 1 in google for flasks so I’m reasonably certain they found us there.  However, Share A Sale (or one of the other affiliate sites) would claim credit for it.”

With Google Analytics attributing those referrals and sales to a different source is it any wonder many would wonder why affiliate programs were claiming credit for them? It makes perfect sense because of the way analytics and affiliate sites track conversions.

When I checked into the disparity in conversions between various statistics sources I pulled data for a one week period and discovered:

  • ShareASale claimed credit for 11 sales generating $569.92 in revenue and for which they charged $71.86 in commissions
  • Yahoo Analytics for those dates shows 135 visits, 2 sales, and revenue of $54.66 from ShareASale
  • Google Analytics for the same dates showed only 159 visits from any ShareASale affiliate and no sales.

You can imagine how both online stores using affiliate programs and those promoting affiliate products would feel seeing such an enormous difference in visits, revenue and sales. You can also imagine that an online retailer could believe they were paying affiliate programs far more than they deserved IF you didn’t know the difference between how Web Analytics programs and affiliate programs track sales.

Once you analyze how each of these track visits and conversions it makes more sense:

  1. An affiliate program claims credit for a sale if the person making a purchase has a cookie from one of their affiliates any time within the time your account uses. Most are 60 days. If a buyer clicked on an affiliate link a month ago, decided to buy today and does a Google search for that item the affiliate program counts that as an affiliate sale.
  2. If your buyer searches at Google and arrives at your site from a ppc ad or an organic search analytics gives credit to that source. Google Analytics gives credit for the conversion to the source of the last visit.
  3. Yahoo Analytics apparently does not track exactly the same way Google Analytics does. Yahoo Analytics credited a couple of the sales I tracked to the affiliate instead of the last visit source. I’d have to know more about how Yahoo Analytics works to determine what the difference is. If anyone reading this knows more about this please leave a comment. Feel free to add a link to any related resources that might clarify how YA tracks conversions.
  4. This is the cause of the difference each analytics package gives as the conversion source generated for the same sale.

Let us think this through thoroughly. We now know that Yahoo Analytics and Google Analytics do NOT track conversions the same way and it is obvious why affiliate programs claim credit for far more sales than other analytics programs will ever attribute to them.

The big question is this: Did the customer buy BECAUSE:

  1. An affiliate recommended you previously and the buyer recognized your business name?
  2. They only knew about your product because of the affiliate?
  3. They were just searching for flasks today and it had absolutely nothing to do with the affiliate?

If there is any way to truly know which of the above REALLY generated the sale – and more importantly – whether you would lose that sale without either your ppc ads or your affiliates – I don’t know what it is. What do YOU think?

We recommend the free ten part Mastering Google Analytics ecourse because it explains in plain English what Web analytics and particularly Google Analytics can do for you. Even those already using it will learn about new features they’ve never noticed.


See also a Twitter Channel for Web Analytics Professionals



The following list starts with those who write for the general public and gets progressively more challenging to understand. The first three are the easiest to follow. Those at the end are more relevant for very large companies (Fortune 500 and major corporations). The comments below may save you some unnecessary clicks.





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Gail Gardner

Small Businsss Strategist at GrowMap
Creator and owner of GrowMap.com, Gail is primarily known for mentoring small businesses and encouraging bloggers to join collaborations to share skills and support small business.