We think Google Ads (or Google Analytics) only knows there has been a conversion on your website if the Google Tag embedded in your source code pings Google Ads or Google Analytics (the destination server) when a conversion happens.

We think the only times the Google Tag doesn’t ping Google (when there is a conversion on your site) is if:

  • the user has blocked analytical and marketing cookies (either because they have declined the use of these cookies via a cookie banner or are using a cookie blocker). In this instance there won’t be a conversion recorded in Google Ads and no visit and conversion will be tracked in GA.
  • you use a ‘thank you’ page or similar to track conversions and the payment processing site does not return the person checking out to the thank you page.

We would also like to track a user’s customer journey (all the user’s visits to your site and interactions on your site) so we can understand how marketing initiatives lead to conversions.

Privacy and cookie restrictions mean that Google can’t observe all your users’ site visits or identify users across their devices and browsers.

We lay out below the scenarios where there might be gaps in your tracking and how you can mitigate data loss while still complying with privacy requirements. We also look at how Google tries to model the parts of the user journey it can’t observe.

Read more about what Tags and Cookies are and how they work.


Problem 1: How to recover conversions when the user has blocked marketing cookies

It is only worth recovering conversions if you have a cookie banner that allows users to block tracking/marketing cookies.

Google has launched consent mode. If you have consent mode implemented on your site then when a user chooses to not accept tracking cookies consent mode is activated.

Consent mode extracts limited information about a user’s visit in a privacy-safe way.

When a user in consent mode converts, the Google tag does ping destination servers but with limited information which includes:

  • Timestamp
  • Referrer (site user came from)
  • An indication of whether or not the current page or a prior page in the user’s navigation on the site included ad-click information in the URL (for example, GCLID or FCLID)
  • consent state true or false

So with consent mode activated, Google now knows there was a conversion (plus conversion value and products purchased) but has lost all data about the individual except the referring site and whether the click that led to the session with the conversion was from a paid source (or at least contained a paid tracking parameter such as GCLID).

Implementing consent mode requires adding a few lines of code above your global site tag or Tag Manager container.

Consent Management Platforms that have integrated consent mode into their cookie management product include Cookiebot, OneTrust, iubenda, osano and Sourcepoint.


What Options for Cookie Consent are there?

To be compliant with GDPR rules in Europe (and similar legislation in California) you need to inform visitors to your site about the cookies that you use and the options the user has to manage cookies.

We think there are broadly three options of increasing compliance:

1. We use cookies – if you don’t like it then don’t use our website

    • Banner that states clearly that the website uses cookies and includes a button that says something like ‘keep using site’ (not ‘Accept’ as there is no choice but ‘continue or leave’).
    • Banner doesn’t disappear until the button on the banner is clicked or the user navigates to a different page.
    • This option is the least likely of these three options to be considered GDPR compliant but at least informs the user that the site uses cookies.


2. We will activate cookies if you use this site but they’re blocked for now

    • More compliant than option 1.
    • Any click on the site activates cookies.


3. Force a decision to accept or manage cookies

    • Site frozen until either user accepts all cookies or manages cookie preference.
    • Allows for necessary cookies to be always on.
    • Will mean a sub-set of users turn off marketing cookies.
    • Make sure cookie buttons are accessible on all browser/device types otherwise users may not be progress to the site as they can’t click the ‘accept all’ or ‘manage cookies’ buttons.
    • Activate consent mode if a user turns off tracking cookies so that a conversion is triggered in a privacy-safe way with limited information about the user.

CookiePro lays out the pros and cons in more detail and provides additional options for cookie consent.


Problem 2: How to recover user-journey data when cookie(s) associated with a user’s prior visit(s) have expired before conversion

Some browsers limit the time that cookies are stored for. For example, Safari deletes cookies after 7 days which means you can only link that conversion to customer visits that occurred within the 7 days before conversion.

You can use enhanced conversions to parse to Google a hashed email address (encrypted, privacy-safe email address) of the purchaser. Google can then match this against its database of hashed email addresses of people with a Google account and map that conversion to any ad clicks/views within the specified attribution window.

Implementing enhanced conversions requires activating enhanced conversions for each specific conversion action in Google Ads plus some additional tasks depending on your set-up (see video if you are using Google tag, or video if you are using Google Tag Manager).

The conversion page must capture the email, phone number or name & address that you want to parse to Google.

To activate a specific conversion action go to Tools and settings > Conversions > then select a purchase conversion action to activate.

The enhanced conversions option is the last in the list:


For e-commerce businesses, enhanced conversions enables higher identification of customer journeys (note, it also increases the conversion value that Google will take credit for).

Enhanced conversions is really useful for businesses that acquire leads via a form and close a deal offline or at a stage further down the funnel. With enhanced conversions (or even better set-up offline conversion imports using gclid) enhanced conversions can be used to parse back the people who completed a form and went on to purchase plus the conversion value – enabling more accurate ROAS tracking, plus better targeting.


Problem 3: Parts of the user journey are not tracked

This could be for many reasons:

  • The user uses multiple devices or browsers on a customer journey (and a cookie is specific to a browser on a device).
  • The user uses an Apple App that either doesn’t track the user (such as YouTube or Google Maps) or the user has asked not to be tracked (read more about the impact of ATT).
  • The user’s browser has deleted the cookie (as in the Safari example above).
  • The user has declined cookies (but hopefully consent mode activated!).

If a user is signed into their Google account across multiple browsers/devices then Google can stitch together the customer visits for that user. This also includes being able to join data (such as a hashed email address) received as part of an enhanced conversion to a user logged in to their Google Account.

Google will model conversions where it can’t observe all the customer paths.

Note, the total number of conversions has been set by the number of conversion pings from the Google tag. This modelling is all about customer paths – what ads, emails, organic searches did the user click on to come to your site? This information can be used for attribution – giving credit to particular channels for driving the conversion.

Google models conversions by comparing the user journeys where it has full visibility with those journeys where it does not. It will use this methodology to imply cross-device conversions too (cross-device conversion being when a user clicks on an ad on their mobile phone say and then purchases later on their laptop).

Note that for Google owned apps (such as Google Maps and YouTube) on Apple devices, Google has agreed to not append gclid to URLs on clicks away from thos apps to ensure it is compliant with Apple’s App Tracking Transparency Framework (ATT) .

(Read more about gclids – these are tracking parameters appended to the URL of the landing page. The Google tag stores these as a Cookie and then pings them to a destination such as Google Analytics where information about the ad clicked etc. is unpacked).

For YouTube and Google Maps apps on Apple devices, Google will append a new privacy-safe parameter called wbraid (&wbraid={WBRAID}) that is not unique to the individual but will allow for some data insights that are compliant with the ATT framework. Google can use this data for more accurate conversion modelling.


Set up a Google tag on each page of your website to send data on page interactions to Google Ads and/or Google Analytics 4

If you are using Google Ads or Google Analytics 4 (GA4) you should put a Google tag in the code of every page of your website.

Google tag is a snippet of Javascript code that can store cookies (bits of information about the user and visit) and then send that information to Google whenever there is an event (such as a conversion, page visit etc.)

A lot of the most popular website builders / CMS (Content Management Systems) including WordPress and Shopify make it easy to install. See the list here.

You configure your Google tag through Google Ads or Google Analytics:

An alternative to Google tag is Google Tag Manager


How to record conversions

You have to define the conversion event by including an event snippet in your source code.

This event snippet instructs the Google tag to ping the destination server when there is a conversion event (such as the user clicking on the submit or buy button). You can also set additional parameters to be sent such as the value of a transaction.

It’s a good idea:

  • If your business has different transaction values then make sure the different transaction-specific conversion values are captured;
  • Parse the transactionID so that duplicates do not arise (If the thank you page is tracked as a conversion then include the transaction ID as part of the URL. Then you can match ‘check-out URLs’ to orderIDs. This can give you insight into say new versus repeat customers. View your check-out URLs at Tools & Settings > conversions > purchase conversion action > web pages (on the horizontal menu bar).

Read more about Tracking, Cookies and UTM Parameters or more detail on Google’s Tracking Code Overview.


Create a conversion action in Google Ads

For Google Ads to record a conversion on your site you need to create a conversion action in Google Ads.

In Google Ads go to Tools and settings > Measurement > Conversions

Then click on the ‘+New Conversion Action’ button.

You can add a conversion from your website or from a phone call.

If you select a website and enter your domain name then you can select conversion options from a list provided by Google.


Primary vs Secondary conversion Actions

If you want Google to optimise its bidding against that conversion action then you need to set it as a Primary action.

The ‘Conversions’ and ‘Conversion value’ metrics will only be populated with Primary conversion action values.

You can additionally set up Secondary conversion actions that will populate the All Conversions and All Conversion Value metrics (in addition to all primary action conversion values). These are for observation only, and will not affect bidding.

Using secondary conversion actions to get more insight

You can use the secondary conversions to:

  • Track other behaviours:
    • Add to Cart
    • Email sign-ups
  • Isolate conversion types:
    • For example, understand the impact of enhanced conversions by having Primary conversion action include enhanced conversions and a secondary conversion action exclude enhanced conversions. [tip: use the dimension ‘conversion action’ in reports to split the All conversions by the different conversion actions you have set-up].



Conversion Windows

Google will include in conversions any conversion it sees within the conversion window you set. A 30-day click conversion window means that if a user clicks on an ad and then converts within 30 days of clicking then that ad will receive some or all of the credit for that conversion. The default settings are:

  • 30 days click
  • 3 days engagement-view conversion window
  • 1-day view-through conversion window


Attribution model

‘Data-driven’ allows Google to distribute credit for a conversion to the campaign(s) that it has modelled as being the most significant drivers of that conversion.

‘Last click’ will give all the credit to the campaign with the most recent click before conversion.

We recommend data-driven.

Note: If a conversion path has any Google Ads click or video view within the set conversion windows then Google will claim the credit for that conversion (even if there are also visits from other channels such as email, direct, afiliate etc.)

The data-driven attribution option for Google Ads is purely about distributing the credit across Google Ads paid campaigns.

Google Analytics (GA4) will look at all channels in the conversion path. This is a principal reason why Google Analytics conversion numbers and conversions numbers via Google Ads can be very different. More information is available here.

Conversion counting options

You can decide whether to count every conversion per ad click or one conversion per ad click.

Typically ‘one conversion per ad click’ is for when you are capturing an email lead as you want to count an email address only once.

If a user could make more than one purchase per ad click then select every conversion.

Note that if the trigger for a conversion is say a thank you page, there may be circumstances where the page could be viewed twice or more by a user and this can cause two or more conversion actions even though there was only one purchase.

To reduce duplicate transactions you can include the transaction ID as part of the conversion action event snippet.

This also importantly means that Google Analytics can map a last-click source, medium, campaign etc. to a transaction ID which you can ultimately match up to your eCommerce data (mapflo is a great tool for doing this).


>>> Read the next article: Appendix 3: Campaign Types

>>> Back to main menu


The interactive video below highlights some of the analyses we cover:


Please be really careful making changes to your Google Ads account

  • Google doesn’t always respond how you (or we) think it will. The way we think about Google Ads may not be the best set-up for your account.
  • Only change one thing at a time.
  • If possible, always use an experiment to test a change – particularly for significant changes such as moving bidding strategy to Maximize conversion value (Target ROAS).
  • Protect your financial downside by testing with limited spend in the experiment/change. Note that moving to a smart bidding strategy requires a learning phase where Google may not be efficient.
  • Be careful if adding/removing primary conversion actions – changing what Google is converting to can radically change what and who Google targets and how much it’s willing to spend.
  • Remember, all changes to your account are at your own risk. Mapflo shall not be liable for any damages; losses; lost revenue or lost profit.


Glossary of Terms

AOV = Average Order Value

CM1 = Contribution Margin 1 = revenue minus COGS (cost of goods sold) in an order.

CM2 = Contribution Margin 2 = margin on an order after all costs directly attributable to that order such as COGS, shipping, payment fees, customer service etc. (except for marketing).

CM3 = Contribution Margin 3 = CM2 less marketing spend. An ‘Estimated CM3’ value uses an assumed CM2 %.

CPA = Cost Per Action. In this report taken to mean cost per conversion or cost per order.

Keywords = words or phrases (assigned to an ad group) that match a user’s search term and trigger Google to bid to show an ad.

Lifetime CM3 = CM3 from all orders (or subscription payments) for a customer.

Profit = CM3 less all fixed overheads (such as salaries and office rent). Hence Optimising CM3 also optimises profit at the same cost base

ROAS = ‘Return On Ad Spend’ = conversion value divided by cost. A ROAS of 400% means you get four pounds of revenue back for every pound of ad spend.

Search term = the word or phrase that a user searches for on Google.