Numbers never lie, right? Well, not exactly.

There’s actually a lot of misleading data out there. That’s not to say that tracking tools necessarily do a bad job at collecting the data but rather that they don’t always display the data in a clear, comprehensive way. Many tracking systems show stats a certain way by default, but those might not really be the ideal way to understand the stats.

As more companies have begun favoring digital advertising, many have also begun to question exactly how to measure advertising success. There are no universal digital advertising metrics, and many marketing tracking tools use different methodologies for measurement.

This understandably leaves many marketers skeptical of marketing tracking but also conflicted because they know they can’t just ignore it. You need data to make smarter decisions for your business, but you wonder what numbers you can really trust.

There are a couple of common concerns many marketers face when it comes to popular platforms, such as Google Adwords and Facebook, but there are steps to get around them so you can see the real numbers. Here are some things to be aware of before you set up your next marketing campaign to get your marketing tracking off on the right foot.

DON’T pay attention to “clicks (all).”

Did you know Facebook has five different click metrics? The metrics are:

  • Clicks (all)
  • Social clicks
  • Outbound clicks
  • Link clicks
  • Button clicks

If you advertise on Facebook, the default is to show you “clicks (all),” which is always — you guessed it — the highest number. It’s quite literally any click on your ad, including likes, comments, shares, and even clicks on your profile thumbnail image.

Many marketers dismiss Facebook likes as vanity metrics or “meaningless figures that one should avoid when trying to prove the value of social activity.” This is because many Facebook users mindlessly like random posts on their feed, without even giving them a second thought or clicking the ad itself. Yet, all of this activity is counted in this “clicks (all)” metric, which can skew your CPC (cost-per-click) and make you think some ads are more effective than they really are.

DO pay attention to “link clicks.”

The more useful and accurate “click” metric to look at is “link clicks.”

Link clicks are the number of clicks on links to select destinations or experiences. They’re counted when someone clicks on your ad and it takes them to another website either through clicking a button, such as “Shop Now,” on your ad or simply clicking on the link itself.

This number signifies the people who click on the specific link you specify in the ad set-up process and the number that really matters.

DON’T look at “view-through conversion” metrics.

On a similar note, the next flawed advertising metric is related to what’s called an “attribution” window. This is a time window during which any conversion on your site will be credited back and counted as a conversion on the ad platform.

One of the common default metrics related to attribution is “view-through conversions.” This means it’s counted when someone sees your ad, doesn’t click it, then sometime within a specific time window, decides to convert. The tracking software will take credit for the ad that a consumer “saw” even if they scrolled by it without a second thought.

Here’s a simple way to think of this: Imagine a billboard for a burger restaurant on the side of the highway. Although a driver was focused on the road and may not have seen the billboard at all, when he goes to the restaurant, the billboard will get the credit for convincing him to come. It could have been that the driver was just hungry or a friend told him to check out the restaurant, but still the billboard takes the credit. Then, the restaurant owners might incorrectly put their resources into more billboards because they think that’s what’s working even if it had little to no effect. There might be correlation, but it’s risky to assume causation.

Just because consumers might have seen your ad doesn’t mean they did. That’s why it’s safer to ignore “view-through conversion” metrics.

DO look at “click-to-conversion” metrics.

View-through conversions are passive, but click-to conversions require someone to actually click on your ad. It’s a much more active process and a much more accurate indicator that the ad impressed a viewer enough to take the desired action.

DON’T forget about date ranges.

Here’s another tricky thing to look out for — date ranges. Each of these ads run for a time window. Many platforms give an extremely generous amount of time as the default time window. Many marketers, even while only looking at click-to-conversions, will be ecstatic to see their numbers so high. But that’s because the default attribution is 28 days.

So if a consumer saw your ad almost a month ago, then converted on day 28, the original ad will still take credit.

Many marketers, have fallen victim to this misleading data. It’s natural to assume that the rates given represent people who clicked through your ad and converted in the same action, but that’s not the case. It’s actually people who clicked on your ads, then sometime within 28 days decided to convert. It could’ve been a postcard you sent, or an email that sealed the deal, but the ad that person may have seen 28 days ago will get the credit.

This significantly skews your CPA (cost-per-acquisition) and can cause marketers to favor certain ads that actually had no impact on their sales results.

DO set short date ranges for your ads.

Fortunately, you have the ability to set date ranges on your ads for both Facebook and Google Adwords. There’s a conversion window setting where you can alter the default 28 days attribution window and set it yourself.

If you really want to get the fastest, most accurate look at what’s working, set your date range to one day. That will essentially show you the people who clicked on your ad and made a purchase in the same sitting.

DON’T trust email open rates.

One of the biggest misconceptions in the world of marketing tracking relates to email performance.

The industry standard way of tracking email open rate is by a tiny tracking pixel. Your email provider will embed a 1×1 transparent image, or pixel, into the email. Once that image is loaded, it feeds the information back to the provider and they mark it as an “open.”

But there are many problems with this method that lead to completely inaccurate results. First, in order for the image to be loaded, the person receiving emails has to have images turned on. Many inbox providers block images by default, either across the board for all incoming mail or for non-whitelisted addresses.

Also, many people read email on their phone and some email reader apps block images in mobile view.

Lastly, some users block all HTML in their received emails. Instead, they only receive a “plain text email” that doesn’t show images.

This means that some people could be opening your email, but it won’t count as an open because the image didn’t load. This turns your email marketing into a game of chance, depending on who has images blocked or not, and you could be favoring a certain email that’s actually underperforming.

DO track click-through rates.

Click-through rates (CTR) show the ratio of the number of people who saw your link to the number of people who clicked on it. They’re what tell you if your emails or ads are actually prompting engagement. For example, if you have a catchy subject line, people will probably open your email to see what it’s about, but if they don’t click on any links in your email, the fact that they opened it doesn’t really matter. You want people to click your links as that’s what leads to sales or conversions.

One of the best ways to track all your online marketing efforts and your click-through rates is with UTM variables. UTMs are the industry standard way of tracking traffic from inbound links. They involve appending information to the end of a link URL which tells your tracking platform where the click came from. With UTMs in your email links, you’d be able to tell if someone clicked on a link from your email as opposed to an ad or other source.

DON’T just look at first clicks.

While tracking your click-through rates, it’s important to keep in mind that most tracking platform will only track the very first interaction that contacts have with your brand.

The challenge with this is that sometimes marketing campaigns are long-term and have multiple touch points. If you have a lead that opted in a year ago and finally became a customer this year, do you really want to attribute that sale to an ad they saw a year ago? Probably partly, but not entirely.

DO look at last click AND first click attribution.

It may be tempting to then assume that you should only look at last-click attribution, but it’s not that black and white. It’s crucial to consider both of them, as they both play a big roles in the customer lifecycle.

First-click shows you what attracted the customer to your business in the first place; last-clicks shows you what sealed the deal. In the “marketing is like dating” analogy, first-click is like the first hello that sparked the relationship, and last-click is the marriage proposal. They are both defining moments in the relationship, and it’s important to pay equal attention to both of them to see what’s really working.

For most accurate reporting, find a software that shows the entire contact history with all of your marketing assets — especially first and last click attribution.

DON’T cross compare metrics from a series of tied-together tools.

Comparing metrics from a series of tools duct-taped together is as difficult as it sounds. If you use different tools for all of your marketing assets — a tool for your email marketing, another tool for your landing pages, another for your CRM, and another for your shopping cart — your data will be disconnected and spread out among all those tools. There’s no universal language for data measurement that translates perfectly across multiple tools.

That means you won’t be able to connect dots between who opened an email and visited a page, for example, because the email data is in one place and the page data is in another and things might not match up. You won’t easily be able to tell if someone who made a purchase came from your ad or your email or other asset, because your shopping cart tool is not connected to those other tools.

Comparing metrics from a series of tied-together tools can be confusing and may lead you to make inaccurate conclusions.

DO keep your marketing tracking data all under one roof.

If you want the most accurate, comprehensive marketing reports, it’s essential to keep all your marketing tools under one roof. When you use an all-in-one system, not only does each piece of your marketing seamlessly work together, but the data gathered from each piece seamlessly connects and makes sense.

That means there’s no need to export data sheets from multiple systems and try to reconcile them in spreadsheets in an attempt to make sense of the numbers. You can gain clarity on how each piece of your marketing is impacting your results and more easily make adjustments to your campaign to focus on what’s working.

About Camille Smith

Originally from the Blue Ridge Mountains in Virginia, Content Marketing Strategist, Camille Smith came out to California to attend UCSB and fell in love with Santa Barbara’s perfect mountain to ocean ratio. During her time in college, Camille also worked on the growth marketing teams for several technology companies. When she’s not putting her Communication degree to use at work, she’s using her minor in French to remind everyone the correct pronunciation of her name à la française (pronounced cah-mee, not kah-meal).