How Google Analytics is showing YouTube ad clicks

How Google Analytics is showing YouTube ad clicks

By: · Published: April 03, 2019 · Est. reading time: 5 min

So I got this question and initially thought it should be pretty straight forward. YouTube ads are handled through Google Ads which has automatic tagging function. Expecting this to be handled by Google themselves, I was quite surprised to see that you will be totally mislead and confused when you try to analyze clicks from YouTube in Google Analytics in it's default state. This article will show you why and how to configure it so that you can get value out of a proper analysis.

Where do clicks from YouTube ads end up in Google Analytics?

If you have auto-tagging activated, like most of us do, clicks from YouTube ads will get "google / cpc" as Source / Medium. You may recognise these two values and them combined together as it is totally the same as with all other types of ads you buy through Google Ads. In other words, display- and search ads also get these values. So by using Source or Medium there is no way for you to actually know which ad network these visits were coming from and most of us will jump to the assumption that all of this is deriving from search ads. To separate these you could use Ad Distribution Network as an dimension, but this is neither helpful as both YouTube and Display ads are both mixed into the Ad Distribution Network named "Content".

Worse thing of all is how your YouTube ad visits are grouped in Default Channel Grouping... If you are not familiar with Default Channel Grouping, you should really get to know it. This is one of the most important dimensions in Google Analytics. Default Channel Grouping is what you see when you enter reports in the Acquisition section. Here you will see your traffic grouped together in groups like Social, Direct, Paid Search and so on. YouTube ad clicks will here be classified as "Display"... To me this group is for banner ads on webpages and it feels totally wrong to put video ads from YouTube here. Unfortunately, this happens automatically through auto-tagging and because Google's default rule set contains a rule saying that all traffic with "Content" as Ad Distribution Network shall be grouped in "Display".

It just seems more logical to group this traffic in a separate group called "Video" or something. Actually, it's better to let it become undefined in the "(other)" group as this may not consist of a lot of traffic. Then at least it is not claiming to be display-traffic, which it isn't. Wrongly grouped traffic is not only bad for analysing those visits in itself, but it is also messing up the analysis of display ads. So it's is actually creating two problems, not only on.

Lastly, Source / Medium should have had more descriptive values as these dimensions are often used in analysis and most of use are used to thinking search-ads when we see "google / cpc".

Does this happen to all clicks from YouTube?

No, only video ads are handled the way explained above. And this is all because it is being administrated through an ad serving system like Google Ads. Other links on YouTube will appear differently and may be handled by a different rule set in Google Analytics. I recently tested to add a link in the info-section of my YouTube channel. Clicks on this was identified as "Social" in Default Channel Grouping and got the following Source / Medium: "Youtube / Social".

What is the best practice to track your YouTube video campaign ads in Google Analytics?

After researching for some hours it became quite clear that there is one solution that will make your reports become clearly understandable and no longer consealing these visits as other traffic sources. The key solution is to use manual UTM tagging of your YouTube ad links. This way you may instruct Google Analytics to list these visits in a way that make sense. Like naming the source "youtube" instead of "google", and calling the medium "video" instead of "cpc".

Follow these steps to fix YouTube ads in Google Analytics:

  1. Allow manual tagging (UTM values) to override auto-tagging (GCLID values) for Google Ads and Search Ads 360 integrationHow Google Analytics is showing YouTube ad clicks and how to override autotagging with manual utm tags
    This setting is found in Admin in Google Analytics. Go to Property Settings and look under Advanced Settings. The default state is inactive, so make sure you tick to activate and press "Save" at the bottom of the page
  2. Create a new landing page link containing parameters utm_source=youtube and utm_medium=video along side other utm parameters
    If you are not familiar with this or if you are just a bit rusty, we encourage you to try out a UTM generator we built just for you. My UTM Builder is all free and made for creating best practice URLs with perfect UTM values. There is so many details regarding correct tracking in Google Analytics. By using this tool for creating trackable links, you just answer simple questions without having to worry about all the nitty gritty.
  3. Add your new links with UTM parameters to your YouTube ads in Google Ads
  4. (optional) Add a new group in Default Channel Grouping for Video How to create a separate channel group for Video ads from youtube
    In Google Analytics go to: Admin > View > Channel Settings > Channel Grouping
    Click Default Channel Grouping and Define New Channel.
    See screenshot of how to select the correct dimension and insert correct value.
    Be sure to read the yellow warning text before continuing. Press "Save" at the bottom of the page before exiting.
  5. Enjoy clean reports in Google Analytics

Know your user acquisition in Google Analytics

This domain is dedicated to help you get more precise reports and help you to get trust and understand your data. You have so much valuable knowledge about your business, and combining this with data from your users is so elemental for reaching your business goals. Especially when it comes to getting the most out of your investment in marketing as this is basically throwing your surplus and time out the window if not having any intended results. Digital analytics gives you insights into how to increse your ROI.

After working as a web analyst for years, I'm sorry to say that there is a lot of misleading information in Google Analytics and on related webpages around on the internet. There is a lot of shallow content from marketing agency employees who just had to produce some blog articles for their agency's content marketing strategy. Words like "best practice" are thrown around to easy and even used for solutions that makes stuff worse some times. The mission of this webpage is to give you a more in-depth take on best practice in relation to Google Analytics and user acquisition insights and digital marketing. In addition, I also built My UTM Builder, a helpful tool that lets you create landing page urls with UTM tags for tracking in Google Analytics. The builder also contains a lot of tips and tricks built in. Helps you avoid any pitfalls and saves time so you can focus on what really matters to your business!


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Wish you a happy analytical day!