Conversion tracking for Google Ads

How to set up a successful Google Ad Grants account – Part 4

Google Ad Grants offer nonprofit organisations the opportunity to communicate their message using free in-kind advertising. Recipients get $10.000 USD per month in Google Ads in order to raise awareness and attract donations and volunteers.  Setting up a successful Google Ad Grants account includes the following:

This post is about Conversion Tracking, a valuable tool – provided by Google for free – which helps nonprofits manage their advertising more efficiently.  

First, we define what a conversion is and analyse the rationale behind conversion tracking. Then we examine the options that are available to nonprofits for tracking conversions and optimising their campaigns.

Defining conversions

A conversion is defined as any valuable and meaningful activity completed by the visitor on the website of the organisation. Actions that can be considered valuable are:

  • Sign-ups for a newsletter or the organization’s blog
  • Sign-ups for volunteer work
  • Completion of membership form
  • Downloading a whitepaper
  • Time spent on website
  • Visiting an important webpage
  • Number of pages that are visited
  • Phone calls
  • Donations

Conversion is any user action that is considered valuable, but the question is: What IS considered valuable by each organization?

It is important to define right from the outset the actions that are considered valuable for the nonprofit. Visitors that are exploring the website can be of value, even if they are not signing up for something or donating. They are valuable for spreading the message. They are converting by expressing an interest to learn more about the initiatives of the nonprofit and they are a lead for future engagement.

The rationale for tracking conversions

Conversion tracking is an important element of the campaign as it provides information about how well both the ads and the website perform over time. With Google Ad Grants nonprofits are expected to track conversions and manage the accounts accordingly as part of their compliance obligations. This ensures that they reach their goals and it leads back to goal setting right at the beginning of setting up the campaign.

According to marketing professionals: PPC advertising without conversion tracking is like flying an aircraft without instruments.

Google provides the instruments to collect information about conversions and about the conversion rate. Systematic analysis of the data enables the nonprofit (or any advertiser) to constantly evaluate keywords, ads and landing pages and optimize accordingly.

The practicalities of tracking conversions

There are two main tools provided by Google for collecting and analyzing data:

  • Google Ads conversion tracking
  • Google Analytics – goals are created and then imported into the Ad Grants account

On the Google Ads platform, the first step for tracking conversions is choosing the conversion source, which means choosing where the conversion goals are coming from.

Available conversion sources in Google Ads are:

  1. The website of the organisation, e.g. sales and actions on website
  2. Application downloads e.g. app installs and in-app actions (if applicable)
  3. Phone calls e.g. track calls from ads or website (if applicable)
  4. Imported conversions from other sources, such as Google Analytics or even physical donations and sign-ups

Depending on the source, setting up conversion tracking incudes the following 3 main steps:

Step 1: Defining a valuable action as a conversion goal

  • Either with Google Analytics
  • Or with Google Ads

Step 1 is different when using the Google ad platform and when using Google Analytics. Both are presented in this post. Please note that for new accounts Google recommends the use of Google Analytics.

Step 1 with Google Analytics

Defining a valuable action as a goal with Google Analytics

The process begins by selecting an action that is valuable to the organization and defining the conversion goal.

Goal types in Google Analytics include:

  1. Destination. It is recommended to track a conversion when a meaningful action is completed and a ‘Thank you’ page appears. Google does not allow the use of a frequently used page as a Destination Goal since the results will not reflect the difference between clicks and valuable actions.
  2. Smart goals are to be used when a clear Destination page is not available. Smart goals only count as conversions the most valuable visits, e.g. visits in the top 5% quality traffic. That is determined with signals such as Session Duration and Pages per Session.
  3. Event. This is a goal type that is suitable to use when a button is clicked. This can be a ‘Contact us’ button linked to a popup widget and not a specific page.
  4. Duration is a recommended conversion goal when a Destination goal or a Smart goal are not applicable. A duration goal can be when a visitor spends 2 minutes on the website. This is an excellent goal for estimating the quality of the website.

Upon completion Google Analytics Goals are imported into the Google Ads account.

Step 1 with Google Ads

Defining a valuable action as a goal on Google Ads

As with Google Analytics for each valuable action a conversion goal is to be set in the system. It is important to give the conversion a fitting name that accurately describes the action, such as: Volunteer sign-up.

The options for conversion actions in Google Ads include:

  1. Website. As with Google Analytics it is recommended to track a ‘Thank you’ page which shows after a valuable action is completed.
  2. Application. When applications are offered by the organisation it is recommended to track app installs and in-app actions.
  3. Phone calls. When phone calls play an important role, it is possible to track calls from ads or website. (This is not available in all countries).

Once the Conversion Goals are set either through Google Analytics or on the Google Ads platform it is then time to move on to the next step.

Step 2: Selecting a category

Select a category that accurately describes the conversion as this will help organise similar conversions in reports. A Reference Table is provided by Google to help nonprofits select the right category for their conversion goals.

Step 3: Quantify how much a conversion activity is worth to the organisation

  • Some conversions might have a fixed value (like a volunteer sign-up).
  • There are visitors’ actions that have different values each time they occur (e.g. donations with different values). It is possible to provide transaction specific values for each conversion. This will also provide more accurate ROI information.
  • It is necessary to determine what counts as one conversion. For example, after the initial click it might be preferable to count three sign-ups as 3 conversions. But if a visitor downloads a brochure multiple times it is best to count as only one conversion.

Inserting tags

Now that the goals are set, categorized and qualified the website needs to collect that data and send it to Google. How does the site recognize that the conversions took place and pass that information?

After the parameters for conversion tracking are set and saved, tags or small pieces of code appear which are then inserted into the organization’s website. Tags can be inserted by advertisers themselves or sent to a web developer to do for them. The tags are triggered as soon as the visitor engages with the relevant page.

  1. First a Global Site tag is inserted to the website.
  2. Then event tags are inserted to the website for each conversion that is to be tracked. Each event tag needs to be added to the page where the conversion takes place.

Conversions will then appear in the Conversions column of the Campaign tab.

This process is made easier using the Google Tag Manager (GTM) which tracks what visitors do after they land on the website. It also provides valuable help by identifying the popular sections of the website. GTM notifies Google about the traffic and the conversions of the domain.

Conversion tracking issues

According to Google Ad Grants Policy, conversion tracking must be reporting valid conversions each month. There is a number of Troubleshooting Guides available to help with any issues, such as: Google Ads conversion tracking troubleshooting article and Analytics goal troubleshooting article.

Nonprofits need to monitor their data closely and take specific actions especially in case of unusually low or unusually high numbers of conversions.

No conversions or unusually low number of conversions

It is best practice to check that conversion tracking is working on a daily basis. In case no conversions are recorded it is likely that there is mistake in the setup of Google Analytics or a problem with the Google Ads tag. The first action would be to verify that the tag is working and that it is added in the right place.

Unusually high number of conversions or high conversion rate

In case the conversion rate is higher than 15%, nonprofits need to examine whether this goal is meaningful. In order to avoid conversions that are not meaningful Google is recommending

  • Adjustments in the count setting
  • Removal of duplicate tags
  • Removal of conversion tracking from frequently visited pages (see Step 1 of the process)

Informing Smart Bidding

Last but not least, it is important to note that conversion data can be used to inform Smart Bidding. Precise conversion tracking enables Smart Bidding strategies to bid higher and deliver valuable clicks for the benefit of the organisation. Ad Grants recipients who use automated Smart Bidding strategies such as Maximise Conversions or Target CPA can bid higher than the $2.00 USD limit.

Closing note

In this post we examined all elements of Conversion Tracking and provided details about all the available options and all the issues that each nonprofit needs to be aware of. In our next post we will examine ongoing optimisation.

The series How to set up a successful Google Ad Grants account comprises of: