How to Fix Clicks and Sessions Discrepancy in Google Analytics

In this article, I am going to talk about how to fix clicks and sessions discrepancy in Google Analytics.

Many times it happens that clicks from Google Ads and Google Analytics sessions do not match. 

Sometimes it shows high clicks and lower sessions and sometimes it shows lower clicks and higher sessions.

Clicks and Sessions Discrepancy in Google Analytics
Low clicks

We will look into these discrepancies and how they occur. We will also see how clicks are recorded and how sessions are recorded in Google Analytics. Then we will see how we can fix this.

How are clicks recorded

When someone sees your Google Ad and then clicks on the ad, the click is immediately recorded in the Google Ads server log. 

Following this, the request is made to a client web server for a web page by the browser. The following diagram illustrates how the clicks are recorded.

click recording process

How are sessions recorded

When it comes to session recording, many things happen before the session is actually recorded:

  1. When the click on your ad happens, after this is recorded on the Google Ads server, the request is made to the client web server.
  2. The client web server then responds and transfers data from the server to the user’s browser.
  3. The browser receives data and starts downloading the web page. These requests may contain files, audio, video, images, scripts, etc.
  4. The JavaScript file (ga.js or analytics.js) is downloaded and interpreted by the user’s browser.
  5. Next, the browser sends a separate request to www.google-analytics.com, the analytics server.
  6. Finally, a session is recorded.

The following diagram will illustrate this process for better understanding.

session recording 1

As you can see, recording a click is pretty straight forward but when it comes to the session recording, there are multiple checkpoints, requirements, server calls. 

In many cases, the latency occurs only at these checkpoints which creates discrepancies.

Since you know how clicks and sessions are recorded, now let’s have a look at the reasons for discrepancies in them.

Why are there clicks and sessions discrepancies in Google Analytics?

As we have seen, the methods for recording clicks and sessions are completely different. Even though your Google Ads account is linked to your Google Analytics account you can see discrepancies in clicks and sessions. 

There could be multiple reasons for this, and based on these you can try to fix them. Here are a few of the reasons.

  1. Difference in measurement
  2. Invalid clicks in Google Ads
  3. Auto-tagging/manual tagging issues
  4. Redirection issues
  5. Landing page not tracked in Google Analytics
  6. Server issue/page load time 
  7. Browser issues
  8. Bookmarking the landing page

#1 Difference in measurement

Google Analytics and Google Ads measure clicks and sessions differently so it is an obvious place for discrepancies to arise.

Let’s suppose the user clicks on the ad two times within the span of 30 mins. In this case, Google Ads will count two clicks, but as per the Google Analytics session definition, it will count as a single session only.

#2 Invalid clicks in Google Ads

Invalid clicks are clicks on ads that Google considers to be invalid, such as unintentional clicks or clicks resulting from malicious software. Google Ads will remove such clicks from the server log if found.

  • Manual clicks to increase your advertising cost or to increase profit for website owners who use Google Adsense for earning.
  • Automated clicks by bots or software.
  • Extraneous clicks that provide no value to the advertiser, such as the second click of a double-click

In such cases, you might find that the clicks are very less but sessions are more in number.

#3 Auto-tagging/manual tagging issues 

Auto-tagging/manual tagging is a required feature when used for Google Ads conversion tracking or Google Analytics. It allows you to see how effectively your ad clicks are leading to successful conversion on the website. 

If this setting is not done properly then there could be discrepancies arising in the total no of clicks and the total number of sessions.

For example, let’s suppose I click on your Google Ad, and you haven’t set up auto-tagging or manual tagging. In this case, Google Ads may record clicks as organic traffic but in Google Analytics it will be recorded as paid traffic.

#4 Redirection issues

If you are redirecting users once they land on a web page after clicking on your ad, it is possible the redirection is not allowing the Google Analytics script to load completely and hence causing an issue in discrepancies in click and session count.

#5 Landing page not tracked in Google Analytics

Many times it happens that you have created a new landing page for a particular campaign but you have not added the Analytics tracking code (gtag.js or analytics.js). This may result in a count of clicks but no sessions will be recorded because the Google Analytics script is absent on the landing page.

#6 Server issue/page load time 

If a user clicks on your ad, and for some reason, like server lagging, the page load time is very high, the website is not optimized for mobile users. 

In such cases, the user is waiting for the web page to load but it is taking more time and then the user leaves the website or closes the browser. 

If this is the case, your clicks will be recorded but sessions will not be recorded creating big discrepancies in clicks and sessions.

#7 Browser issues

The user’s browser/device and security settings must support cookies, JavaScript, and images for Google Analytics to record a session. 

If somehow they are not supported by a browser, or the analytics script is blocked by any extensions, the clicks will be recorded but sessions will not be recorded.

#8 Bookmarking the landing page

If the user is clicking on the ad and then lands on your website, the URL will have a query parameter associated with your campaign. 

If the user bookmarks this URL and uses it every time he visits your website the query parameter will be loaded on every page load. 

Here Google Analytics will attribute every session to Adwords but the click was recorded only the first time. This can lead to more sessions and fewer clicks.

How to fix clicks and session discrepancies in Google Analytics

Before you begin to fix the issue, let me remind you again that the clicks and sessions are recorded differently and it will never be accurate because of the reasons mentioned above. 

First, just check if the number of discrepancies is below 20%. If so, it is fine to leave and no further efforts are needed. 

If the discrepancies are more than 20% then you can try fixing some configuration issues but again some things are out of your control, such as how Google calculates clicks and sessions, bookmarking landing page URLs, browser issues, etc. 

Here are few things that can be done to minimize the discrepancies in clicks and sessions:

  1. Check auto-tagging/manual tagging issues.
  2. Analytics tracking issues
  3. Improve website performance
  4. Redirection issues
  5. Use the Troubleshooter provided by Google to get some new ideas.

#1 Check auto-tagging/manual tagging issues

You can check how your conversions are tagged and if there are any issues in the tagging part. If you have not enabled auto-tagging (it is turned off by default) in Google Ads you can follow the below steps.

  1. Sign in to your Google Ads account.
  2. In the left page menu, click ‘Settings’.
  3. Click ‘Account Settings’.
  4. Click the auto-tagging section.
  5. To enable auto-tagging, click to check the box next to ‘Tag the URL that people click through from my ad’.
  6. Click ‘Save’.

#2 Analytics tracking issues

Before you launch your campaign make sure that your landing page is tracked in Google Analytics, and when the page loads it also loads the analytics script (gtag.js or analytics.js).

#3 Improve website performance

Make sure that your website performance issues are not screwing your analytics data. Check the page load time of your landing pages and it should not be more. 

Make sure that your website is well optimized for mobile devices and loads quickly.

#4 Redirection issues

Make sure that whenever the user lands on the web page after clicking on the Google Ad, there are no redirects.

#5 Use the troubleshooter provided by Google to get some new ideas

troubleshooter

That is how you can try to minimize the clicks and session discrepancy in Google Analytics.

Frequently asked questions about how to fix clicks and sessions discrepancy in Google Analytics

Why are there clicks and session discrepancies in Google Analytics?

As we have seen, the methods for recording clicks and sessions are completely different. There could be multiple reasons like below.
1. The difference in measurement of clicks and session
2. Invalid clicks in Google Ads
3. Auto-tagging/manual tagging issues in Google Ads
4. Landing page URL redirection issues 
5. Landing page not tracked in Google Analytics
6. Server issue/page load time 
7. Browser issues
8. The user has bookmarked the landing page

How many discrepancies should be there between clicks and sessions in Google Analytics?

If the number of discrepancies is below 20% then it’s fine, and no further efforts are needed. If the discrepancies are more than 20% then you can try fixing some configuration issues in Google Ads and Google Analytics

Why do I see sessions coming from an old (paused or deleted) Google Ads campaign?

If the user is clicking on the ad and then lands on your website, the URL will have a query parameter associated with your campaign. If the user bookmarks this URL and uses it every time he visits your website the query parameter will be loaded on every page load. 

In this case, Google Analytics will attribute every session to Google Ads and hence even if the campaign is paused or deleted you see sessions coming. Another reason could be if the user has shared the landing page URL to some other places (social media) and different users are accessing that URL to visit your website. 

In this case, the URL shared by the user had query parameters in it. And hence even if the campaign is paused or deleted you are seeing sessions coming from it.

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About the Author

Himanshu Sharma

  • Founder, OptimizeSmart.com
  • Over 15 years of experience in digital analytics and marketing
  • Author of four best-selling books on digital analytics and conversion optimization
  • Nominated for Digital Analytics Association Awards for Excellence
  • Runs one of the most popular blogs in the world on digital analytics
  • Consultant to countless small and big businesses over the decade
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