Conversion tracking made simple

Written by Aaron Weiner, SoftwarePromotions Ltd.

Whether you’re a novice or veteran Google AdWords user, the most important AdWords issue is your return on investment. Tracking the success of your AdWords traffic is critical, and this article will show you how to use Google’s conversion tracking and make it work for you.

For the majority of AdWords users, your ads are attempting to drive visitors to your website, in order for them to perform some kind of action, such as signing up for a newsletter, purchasing a product or downloading your software. By default, Google provide you with a very limited amount of data, covering only the basics such as how many people clicked on your ads and how many people searched for your keywords. The problem with this information is that it only tells you one side of the story. What happens once those people arrive on your website? Do they return to Google within a few seconds, or do they continue through your website, ultimately performing the action that you want them to take?

A few years ago, Google introduced a means of tracking how well your ads, keywords, ad groups and campaigns are performing from the perspective of their advertisers. The tool can be found within the AdWords account under the Campaign Management tab labeled “Conversion Tracking”.

Implementing basic conversion tracking is fairly simple, but setting it up correctly is vital to accurately track an AdWords campaign. However the system itself is far from comprehensive, and it’s important to understand its limitations.

Consider the following example. A company sells software through their website, offering a downloadable trial version that works for 30 days, after which the user must either purchase or remove the software from their system. The company wishes to know whether their AdWords budget is being well spent, and how much each sale actually costs them.

Google’s conversion tracking works by placing a piece of code on a particular page of the website. Visitors clicking on AdWords ads are considered conversions if they land on this page, so the placement of this code is vital. If the code were placed on the landing page of the AdWords ads, every click would be considered a conversion.

If you look at the user’s progress as a journey, the starting point is the AdWords ad, and the ultimate goal is the “thank you for purchasing” page. If the visitor clicks on the ad and eventually lands on the final page, whether a “thank-you” or order confirmation page, that would be considered a conversion.

Google’s conversion tracking uses a cookie that only lasts for 30 days. There are a number of issues that need to be considered with this form of tracking.

Are your visitors likely to accept cookies or keep them? There are many tools that limit or even erase cookies, and if the cookies is removed, tracking cannot occur.

The expiration of Google’s cookie must be considered. If the software is purchased more than 30 days after the ad is clicked, the conversion would not be tracked.

The person who clicked on the AdWords ad might not be responsible for purchasing. This can often occur with business purchases. If so, the conversion would not be tracked.

If one PC is used to click on the ad, and another to purchase, the conversion would not be tracked.

Taking these limitations into consideration, Google’s conversion tracking offers a less-than-perfect solution, but if setup correctly, can still be used to your advantage. Our own experience has been that tracking immediate actions, events that occur while the visitor is on your website, work best with Google’s conversion tracking. It is far more difficult to track a conversion once the visitor leaves your website. Will they come back within 30 days? Are they using the same computer if they arrived back on your website? Did they close their web browser and clear their cookies?

Going back to our example of the software company, most advertisers will want to know how many people clicked on their AdWords ads and ultimately purchased their software. Those advertisers will most likely setup conversion tracking for purchases, placing the Google conversion tracking code on the final page of the shopping cart.

The problem is that they might not see as many recorded conversions because of the issues outlined. This is why it is a good idea to also track the number of downloads as well. It is more likely that a person who has clicked on the AdWords ad will download the software, as opposed to purchasing it without trying it. Also, downloading is a more immediate action, often without leaving and coming back to the website.

In the past, Google’s conversion tracking was limited to one type of conversion. However, this has been improved, and you can now track up to thirty different types of actions and goals. So there is no longer any reason to limit yourself to only sales conversion tracking. If you have a newsletter, you can track subscriptions. If you offer different types of downloads, you can track each one separately. The more data you have to work with, the better chance you have at running a successful AdWords account.

However there still may be issues with tracking the number of downloads. As already mentioned, Google’s conversion tracking works by placing a piece of code on a goal web page. However, downloads are actual files, not web pages. As SoftwarePromotions works with a lot of software companies, we have found two methods of tracking downloads.

The Google conversion tracking code is place on the page where the download is offered.

If someone clicks on a download link, the download is delivered, and the visitor is sent to a page where the Google conversion tracking code has been placed. Similar to the first method, however the visitor must click on the download link in order to be tracked.

Each of the above methods have advantages and disadvantages.

For the first method, placing the tracking code on the download page might not be accurate, as you cannot be sure whether the visitor simply visits the page or actually downloads the software.

The second method makes use of a JavaScript “onclick” event which would trigger the following code. This code would be placed in the <head> of the web page:

<script language="JavaScript" type="text/javascript">
function handleClick() {
setTimeout('window.location.href = ""', 4000);

The links to the downloadable demos would be set up as follows to activate the above code:

<a href="" onclick="handleClick();">My Downloadable Demo</a>

You would then place the conversion tracking code on the “thank-you-for-downloading.html” page. There is a good example of this technique in action at

This method, however, also has limitations. If the visitor has Javascript disabled, they would be able to download your software, yet the page with the tracking code would never be hit.

When setup correctly, Google’s conversion tracking can provide you with extremely useful data, and each AdWords click will have far more meaning when matched up with the conversion data. You might even find that some (or even all) of your keywords or ads that you once thought of as top performing, actually amount to worthless, costly traffic.

Be seen, be measured, be sold.