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.

WEB ANALYTICS EXPERTS on TWITTER:

See also a Twitter Channel for Web Analytics Professionals

UPCOMING WEB ANALYTICS EVENTS:

WEB ANALYTICS BLOGS:

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.

WEB ANALYTICS ARTICLES:

AFFILIATE PROGRAM RECOMMENDATIONS:

AFFILIATE MARKETING for AFFILIATES:

AFFILIATE MARKETING FOR MERCHANTS:

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Gail Gardner

Small Business Marketing 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.

Comments

  1. Thanks for sharing these tips and information. Stats are very important to us especially when we are doing internet or affiliate marketing. Good job on this post! I would love you to visit and Compare best mobile phone deals

  2. Plumber Milton Keynes says:

    So fantastic analysis.

  3. I’ve had the same experience on a number of the campaigns I’ve ran in the past. Glad to see that I’m not the only one dealing with this.
    Aaron would love you to read ..WhyPark Domain Parking Service ReviewMy Profile

  4. Hello,I will be noting that tips.I am not expert in affiliate marketing but i still believe through your content,i start building my own.

  5. Wow! Well spot out the truth of Affiliate sites and Google Analytics. The one I’d prefer ShareAsale. The best affiliate system that got AWARD of the year 2010.
    MakeItYourRing Diamond Engagement Rings would love you to read ..Buy Black Diamonds OnlineMy Profile

  6. samrat kafle says:

    Hey your post is very informative.This is one more thing to keep in mind,:O cheers
    samrat kafle would love you to read ..Are you frustrated and tired of blogging?My Profile

  7. Thanks for sharing these tips and information. Stats are very important to us especially when we are doing internet or affiliate marketing. Good job on this post!
    Anne would love you to read ..Custom Simpson Wood DoorsMy Profile

  8. Appliance Reviews says:

    I’ve noticed a few times lately when my analytics and conversions haven’t matched up. I really didn’t know what to do about it. Thanks for sharing the tips.
    Appliance Reviews would love you to read ..Cuisinart PerfecTemp Cordless Electric Kettle ReviewMy Profile

  9. My Google analytics haven’t been matching up. Thanks for the explanation.
    ship car across country would love you to read ..Shipping Cars OverseasMy Profile

  10. Good post.

    If advertisers have the resource then i would suggest using something like Intellitracker. Or for a lower budget but just as good there is a new product called Insitetag. Both of these will show you the full customer journey so you can see how customers engage with your various marketing channels.

  11. trade show exhibits says:

    Great blog!! You should start many more. I love all the info provided. I will stay tuned.

  12. Urvisha Patel says:

    That’s why I don’t use Google Analytics to track my sales. Actually, I don’t use it anymore to track my visits, I don’t trust them anymore. Probably the JS code doesn’t load on many occasions, I don’t know, but the Awstats stats are way too different from what Analytics shows me.
    Patel
    Urvisha Patel would love you to read ..Treatment for Diabetes In DogsMy Profile

  13. Selling Gold Jewelry says:

    This is just what I needed, thanks a lot! Keep up the good work!

  14. Ahmed Ali says:

    i have viewed your site.it is very useful for everyone, i shall be grateful if you help me in the promotion of my site named nzforus.com

    http://nzforus.com/category/affiliate-tracking/

  15. i just emailed this article to my friends! thanks!

  16. Web analytics is a large part of Search Engine Marketing. Knowing the difference between Google and Yahoo analytics continues to grow in importance.
    .-= Rachel@ web design Chicago´s featured blog ..How to Use Google Analytics – Part 2 =-.

  17. Good post I agree, google analytics is the best tracking program out there.
    .-= My School Grants´s featured undefined ..Response cached until Sun 1 @ 13:12 GMT (Refreshes in 23.95 Hours) =-.

  18. affiliate tracking says:

    Great post! I?m looking for an easy but lucrative affiliate program to get the hang of since I?m new to affiliate marketing. Is this a good choice to begin my affiliate marketing endeavors with?

  19. Good post – and good discussion on all these metrics. They can definitely be confusing at time and we answer a lot of questions on this issue…

    There are 3 important things to remember when discussing attribution in the Affiliate channel vs. PPC.

    1. As you pointed out – the Affiliate ad may have been visited some time ago (an account setting) and could be 15 or more days prior for example. Affiliate programs are told to track this to an affiliate…so they do. Affiliate programs typically are charged with looking at the last “Affiliate” click, not the last “overall” click. So the last referrer, while it may show a Google search, may not be the last Affiliate referrer. Both can be correct.

    2. Affiliates are not paid anything on a per-click basis. So, while all of those other campaigns (PPC etc…) cost a Merchant money on the front end…. the Affiliate relys on the conversion for commission. That is one of the reasons that the 15-30 or even 60 day delay is used. While the issue of attribution is important, it is also critical to remember that those Affiliates that are out there promoting Merchant’s products are doing so essentially for free until a conversion takes place. That makes the interpretation of the metric entirely different from a PPC ad. While one may see a single commission and look at it as a greater cost – failure to remember that the previous 100 clicks were free is an important error.

    3. Affiliate commissions can be voided, adjusted, or in extreme cases the affiliate can be removed from the program if continual evidence of channel conflict seems to point to the affiliate.

    Imagine what would happen if you requested money back from a PPC search engine because you felt like there was overlap in the channel… Affiliate Marketing allows greater flexibility and allows for these kinds of things to be researched and properly corrected.

  20. Thanks for sharing such important information. I have bookmarked this page and looking forward to read more of your articles.

  21. Excellent explanation! It can be very irritating to see different stats, if you aren’t aware of the different techniques each uses for tracking.
    .-= Eric@Wealthy Affiliate´s last blog ..Wealthy Affiliate Price Increase Coming In June =-.

  22. good post. Its so important to track affiliates marketing so intensively to find out what works and what doesn’t.
    .-= Peter @ CNA Training and Classes´s last undefined ..Response cached until Thu 22 @ 12:37 GMT (Refreshes in 23.84 Hours) =-.

  23. If you want to trace your sales you can create script or trace it manually. 3rd party software like google analytics is not perfect.
    .-= Kaiser @ Webthesurfi Rugs Webdesign´s last blog ..FastCraft Ferry now Available in Lupon – Davao City =-.

  24. Google analytics is not perfect and affiliate site is created in many ways. Tracking traffic and sales cannot be the same. I hope Google analytics can take this difference
    .-= Kaiser @ Webthesurfi Rugs Webdesign´s last blog ..FastCraft Ferry now Available in Lupon – Davao City =-.

  25. Affiliates are great for business web hosting to make tons of money.

  26. Thanks for the insight on analytics.

    What do you think is the case with last click gets the credit. I find that most affiliate links are on a basis that the last click gets the sale. Do you think this is fair as if their was a previous affiliate they must have had some impact…

    • Hi Matt,

      Even if the analytics programs started tracking every click there is no real way to know which affiliate had the most impact. It is likely that the last affiliate closed the deal so last click is probably better for affiliates than first click cookies that have really long durations.

      Either way, that should average out over the long run for affiliates. Affiliates have to know that they simply are not going to be paid for every sale. Perhaps educating the public on the value affiliates provide would improve the number of sales affiliates earn commissions on.
      .-= Internet Strategist @GrowMap´s last blog ..Success IS a Numbers Game =-.

  27. Nicely explained between google and yahoo analytics concerning affiliate sales. All this while, I thougt google don’t sell any affiliate links. Now, I know the trick behind those googles.

  28. Johnyboy says:

    I don’t know how accurate Google Analytics is, but I can say that on my hub at Maverick Moeny Makers Club I get some erroneous results when I check the Analytics. I guess their script isn’t one of the best out there, and I would recommend a paid service to track your conversions.

  29. Affiliate marketing blog says:

    I don’t know why Google does simply not love affiliates, because affiliate marketers are people too. And they make quite of a business for Google Adwords. (I believe is more than 60% for Google commissions).

    Strange world we live online. But the facts are showing that everything Google does is to try to diminish affiliate commissions and help product owners. That being said, and looking at the actual possibilities, we will all suffer, no matter if we are product owners or affiliates. Because we will stick together on this one.

    Affiliate marketing cannot be destroyed by Google as well as it didn’t got birth by mother Google neither.
    .-= Affiliate marketing blog´s last blog ..How does affiliate marketing work? =-.

  30. Interesting post and interesting discussion. Thanks for the explanation, this will make me go tweak my affiliate sales trackings a bit and test some more

    Zemalf’s last blog post..Affiliate Marketing Explained

  31. I have been on both sides of this problem and it’s safe to say it isn’t a pleasant feeling looking at the numbers no aligning, thanks for sharing this with us!

  32. Blimey! That really makes you think. Back to the stats me thinks.

    Roy
    http://realworldsalesstrategy.blogspot.com/

    Roy Gough’s last blog post..Tips for using video to gain customers

  33. I have been curious about one thing when it comes to affiliate tracking, on a few urls that I use, I use redirects to my affiliate urls rather than creating a splash page or squeeze page. Do you maintain the affiliate link on redirects, or do you lose it? I used adwords a while back, for a clickbank campaign, recieved close to 3000 hits and not one sale. Should you use cpanel redirects or php redirects?

    Eden’s last blog post..What are the Types of Affiliate Programs and Different Marketing Opportunities?

    • Redirects could indeed lose the tracking. The only way to know for sure is to test them which is no simple feat. You would expect at least some sales from 3000 hits so it is very likely you lost the tracking using the type of redirect you used.

      Have you considered using some kind of trackable URL shortener instead? Whatever you use what I would do is test it by actually completing a sale.

      You could work with a merchant to provide you a test account or credit card number or have them add a product with a minimal price and then PayPal you back the money, issue you a credit, or cancel the transaction (which is probably the best option).

      I used to test client’s shopping carts by buying something I wanted anyway so that is another option.

      You could also create a product page with a PayPal purchase button and buy something from yourself for a minimal amount. I believe you could do as little as a few cents.

      I know these all add more time and effort to making money online; however, making sure your links work prior to spending money on advertising or time on driving traffic and creating content is time and effort well invested.

      Internet Strategist’s last blog post..We Miss The Golden Days of the Internet – Pay Per Click Advertising Circa 2003

  34. Affiliates have to stick together – promoting various (at times very similar) products to all kinds of people, hopefully ensuring happiness all round!

    • Collaborating with others is a faster way to generate an income. If more people would patronize independent small businesses the world would indeed be a much better place.

      Internet Strategist’s last blog post..Promote Your Business Without Cash

  35. @Rob Analytics is always either interesting or confusing. :-) There is an easy way for anyone to fully understand the famous line “lies, damn lies, and statistics”.

    Simply view the same data for different time periods and notice that the conclusions you draw for each different date range can be totally different. Hence, they can be used to argue any side of any point – and to jump to the wrong conclusions.

    InternetStrategist’s last blog post..Blog Traffic Up 54.87% in the Last 30 Days: Our Proven Traffic Improvement Strategy

  36. Interesting post.

    I only use analytics as a backup tracking system.

    I Dont totally trust it … yet

    Rob

    Rob’s last blog post..CopyNProfit Review

  37. @growmap: Thanks for the explanation. I’m always wondering about the difference in these analytics figures.

    @Emer: nice info about yahoo traffic attribution. I’ve started doing yahoo ppc last month. I think I’ld better read about this “traffic attribution” thing.

  38. ps You can learn a bit more about the User Defined variable here: http://services.google.com/analytics/breeze/en/customvisitorsegmentation/index.html

    MikeTek’s last blog post..Introducing the Local SEO Resource Guide

  39. This is a great post and brings up important points about the differences between affiliate cookie tracking and Google Analytics (and Yahoo!) tracking.

    I believe what roots was mentioning is the setVar() function in Google Analytics tracking code. This allows you to set a custom user attribute – such as “member” or, in this case, the referring affiliate. This data isn’t overwritten automatically the way standard referral data is.

    You could pass the pass the referring affiliate’s code – which is usually set in a variable passed in the URL – to the setVar() function on your affiliate-only landing page. From then on you can review this data in the User Defined section of your GA profile, under Visitors.

    If you’re running a large affiliate program you’ll end up with a lot to sort through with this method.

    A downside to this approach is that the user defined variable is set in the _utmv cookie, which takes two years to expire. So if your affiliate cookie lasts 60 days you can’t match that duration. You can reset the duration of the _utmv cookie, but that’ll just end up screwing up your other traffic data.

    Still, this is probably the best way if you’re using GA to track your traffic to get at least reasonably close to your affiliate program numbers.

    MikeTek’s last blog post..Introducing the Local SEO Resource Guide

  40. @Mike Tek Thank you for answering that question and providing us with a link to more information on the subject. Your tip might be very valuable for tracking at least the best affiliates. Your answer will help others realize how very complicated analytics truly is.

    Any business that can afford to hire specialists could greatly benefit from having one at least custom configure their analytics program – and ideally someone to REGULARLY provide analysis and ACTIONABLE tasks based on what they find.

    I was very surprised to find out that Yahoo! Analytics tracks ALL visits so it would definitely be more useful for determining the true source of conversions.

    I’ll be posting more on both Google and Yahoo! Analytics offerings in the near future. I encourage everyone with a site to get at least a basic understanding of analytics so they don’t end up being led down the garden path or missing obvious issues.

    I highly recommend that those new to analytics start with the free ecourse I reviewed in the post mentioned by CommentLuv below. It is in plain English and useful to get a basic understanding of commonly used terminology and functions.

    (Obviously Mike doesn’t need it; it sounds like he could be teaching analytics or at least blogging about them!)

    InternetStrategist’s last blog post..REVIEW: Mastering Google Analytics – Easy to Understand FREE eCourse

  41. @roots Could you elaborate on your comment in plain English so that non-geeks and quasi-geeks can understand what you mean. Write what in the custom variable where?

  42. IMO its the best to focus at the original referrer and write it in the custom variable. after that you are able to segment it and gain more insights.

  43. I look forward to that review as well, thanks for the info.

    Dennis Edell’s last blog post..798 Views & 5 Comments – Are You Doing All You Can To Engage Them?

  44. Well here’s another of your posts I may have to print and binder to reread a few times. lol

    All great info for sure, that’s just me being somewhat of an affiliate noob. ;)

    Dennis Edell’s last blog post..798 Views & 5 Comments – Are You Doing All You Can To Engage Them?

  45. @Steve No problem. I usually remember what other posts I’ve done and link them into new posts whenever I do. How’s this for a plan: generate so many affiliate sales we won’t worry about the cookies that get dropped.

    @Dennis Anything about analytics can be confusing – noob or old. Figuring out why GA showed NO sales, YA showed 2 and the affiliate management company wanted paid for 11 took me a while to figure out.

    That is why I post about the big picture first and offered the link to the free ecourse. We have to start with the basics and then build from there.

    I can’t wait to start reviewing the Mastering Google Analytics book. It is the best I’ve seen at speaking in plain English.

    If you think my posts require rereading hop over to the most famous analytics blog (Occam’s Razor) and try reading one of his. Then you’ll know why I add comments to the links about difficulty levels.

    InternetStrategist’s last blog post..REVIEW: Mastering Google Analytics – Comments and Contents of a FREE eCourse

  46. Thanks for the link to your post and the answer. I should have searched your site first. :) It sounds like there isn’t a good answer for cookies being dropped (whatever the reason)… one should just be aware that it can and does happen, and plan accordingly. ~ Steve, the trade show guru

    Steve’s last blog post..Green Trade Show Displays

  47. @Emer Great to have you commenting here. You are the first person I’ve come across that knows anything about Yahoo! Web Analytics and I see that you have linked to the official Yahoo! Web Analytics site. We would love to hear MUCH MORE from you.

    I did not realize Yahoo had acquired IndexTools. I have extensive experience using their analytics from back before Google Analytics was launched until 12-18 months ago. I’m sure there have been changes made since then.

    I’d like to provide far more information on the specifics about Yahoo! Analytics. Could you provide a contact who could answer the questions I have so I can share them with my readers? My apologies on not having a contact form here. We’re planning a major Theme upgrade so we are more focused on that than upgrading the current Theme. I can be reached at Twitter @GrowMap if you use Twitter.

    I will try sending an email to the account associated with this comment and hope it gets to you.

    @Steve You are correct that if the cookie is lost for any reason – and there are many – the affiliate is probably NOT going to get paid. I posted about that at http://www.growmap.com/evaluating-affiliate-programs/

    That is probably why there is so much disparity in the reports about how many disable cookies, delete them manually, or have programs that delete them. Yes, all those affiliate sales will not be credited to the affiliates and I have no doubt that the affiliates are quite unhappy about that.

    Some programs allow the buyer to name a referrer and may pay based on that which generates another question: what happens if the referrer they name doesn’t match the cookie? Who does the affiliate program pay then? Affiliate sales come down to volume. Better to keep generating more than to dwell on all the sales we may be losing.

    I’ll be doing much more research on how various affilate management programs track sales. If I find any that are superior my readers will be the first to know.

    Internet Strategist’s last blog post..Making Money with Your Blog – Part 2 – Evaluating Affiliate Programs

  48. hey growmap,
    This and your other post have my head spinning… :)
    But I have a different question for you, if you have an opinion. Affiliate sales that happen when a person clicks through to a site, doesn’t buy immediately, but then comes back later and buys, are dependent on a COOKIE to give credit to the affiliate for the sale. I think about half of people have cookies DISABLED… so are all these sales lost? Do affiliates complain about this? I’ve never seen anyone address this. ~ Steve, the trade show guru

    Steve’s last blog post..Green Trade Show Displays

  49. Yahoo! Web Analytics uses “Intelligent Traffic Attribution” as a default on the Campaign Summary Report.

    Example:
    Visit 1 – Campaign A
    Visit 2 – Campaign B
    Visit 3 – Bookmark
    Visit 4 – Campaign C
    Visit 5 – Organic Search

    Attribution:
    Visit 1 – Campaign A
    Visit 2 – Campaign B
    Visit 3 – Campaign A
    Visit 4 – Campaign C
    Visit 5 – Campaign A

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