Over my 20-year career in the travel and Internet industry, I have come across hundreds of cases where a travel client has used Google Analytics (GA) to track their clicks from their online advertising and seen major discrepancies on the clicks and conversions. We should all agree as an industry to put this behind us and not use GA to track clicks and bookings.
Don't get me wrong as I love Google as much as the next guy. GA is a great tool for analytics, market research and web trends but just not for tracking every single click you receive from many different websites. I have done a variety of tests over the years including me personally physically clicking on a link that was not public 10 times. I then saw 10 clicks correctly in my 3rd party professional tracking system but GA only showed four or six clicks. I did the same type of test with the engineers at TripAdvisor and the results were confirmed. I have tested with DART, Adtech, Zedo, Mediaplex, Atlas and other paid click tracking software tools and they are all infinitely more reliable than GA. I have used other free solutions like clixtrac.com which are just as free as Google but are much more accurate.
So how can this be that mighty Google has a product that so many people use for free with so many issues. What most people do not realize is that Google simply bought a company called Urchin which became GA. This free version of Urchin was not designed to track tons of links and bookings from other websites. It was a solution that was good at tracking your general website stats and visitors in aggregate. Not a tool that specialized in finding 1,000 needles in 111 different haystacks. Urchin does seem to have much more reliable solutions available for a fee.
Instead of algorithms and filter-based calculations, most other paid click-tracking tools we mentioned above simply tally up the actual number of clicks recorded, which is much more accurate. So, since GA cannot properly record all the clicks to your site, you end up missing a lot of bookings in your GA reports.
And speaking of bookings, it is of course much harder to track a booking than a click. Most paid tracking tools monitor the travelers that click your banner ad, text link or email but then do not book right away. Those travelers might check with their significant other before booking and then bypass your tracking link and book directly on your website days later. But with advanced tracking and reporting you would still be able to properly record all of those bookings and give credit to the websites that referred those folks that booked even 15 days after they clicked your link.
GA is missing some of those clicks and, of course, some of those bookings, which makes it even less likely to depict reality. So, before you assume that your online advertising is not working, make sure to use the right tracking software to see the full picture. You would never use the sun or the North Star to track the speed of 10 runners in a race. So, why would you use Google Analytics to track your clicks and bookings just because it was free?