Last year, a client came to us with an interesting Google Analytics conversion tracking problem.  They were getting a lot of Organic Search traffic (aka SEO traffic), but they didn’t know how to track the conversions from this traffic because visitors converted on a different domain.

In this case, our client was sending visitors from their main website over to a subdomain to complete the sign up and scheduling process.  This same situation will happen if you use 3rd party webforms or order forms hosted on another website.  I know this is common because a few months after we started working on this, we saw the same exact problem again with a new client that was using a 3rd party appointment booking tool called Bookeo.

If you’ve been struggling to track Google Analytics conversions that happen off of your main website, then this case study is for you…


The Problem

As I mentioned above, the problem was that our client was not able to track conversions when visitors moved from their main website over to their subdomain.

Plus, when we logged into their Google Analytics account we discovered they had set up two Analytics Properties – one Property for the main website and another one for their subdomain.  This was not the root cause of the problem, but it was unnecessary and caused even more confusion as we’ll discuss later.

When we looked at the main website Analytics Property, then we could see our client received over 5,000 visits from SEO in July, but only 137 conversions from that traffic.


Then when we looked at the subdomain Analytics Property, then we saw there were a lot more conversions, but they were all from Direct and Referral traffic.  Below is a screenshot of the subdomain Channels report showing July 2016 data.



As you can see above, all the conversions are showing up as Direct or Referrals, and there are no conversions from Organic Search.

Do you see what’s causing the problem?  Don’t worry if you’re not sure what’s going on here because it’s not clear yet unless you’re very familiar with Google Analytics…


What’s Causing The Problem?

I know this may sound and look complicated, but it’s actually quite simple when you break this down and look at it from Google Analytics’s perspective.

Here’s what’s happening.  A visitor that goes to the main website from Google is getting automatically tracked as an Organic Search visitor.  This happens automatically and Google Analytics reports on the traffic without any problems.

Then when this same visitor is looking to schedule an appointment, she clicks on a button and is sent to the subdomain (or in your case it might be a 3rd party webform or order form). From Google Analytics’s perspective, that visitor has left the website!  She has exited and could be going to any other website online.

Now let’s look at this from the perspective of the Google Analytics code on the subdomain.  From this perspective, we have a visitor basically coming out of nowhere and landing on the website.  This looks exactly like Direct or Referral traffic!

Ah ha! We’ve just identified the source of the problem.

When you send traffic from your main website over to a subdomain, then that traffic looks like it’s leaving your main website.  Then it looks like Direct or Referral traffic on the subdomain.

OK, now that we’ve identified the problem, what’s the solution?


The Fix

To solve this problem we need to explicitly tell Google Analytics that we want to track visitors across the domains (or subdomains in my client’s case).  If you tell Google Analytics to track across domains, then a visitor from Organic Search or any other source will continue to be tracked from that source even when “leaving” your main website.

OK, but how do you tell Google Analytics to track across domains?

This is where things do get a bit technical so my recommendation is to have your web developer read these instructions.   In that document Google explains how to edit your Google Analytics code to ensure you’re tracking properly across domains.  It’s not complex, but it does require an understanding of javascript which is outside the scope of this article.

Earlier I mentioned that our client had set up two Google Analytics Properties and how that was unnecessary.  If you implement the cross domain tracking in Google Analytics then you can use the same Google Analytics Property (same tracking code) on your main website and your subdomain, 3rd party webforms, or order forms.

There’s no need to use separate Google Analytics Properties because everything will be tracked in one Property.  Therefore, you’ll only need to log into one Google Analytics Property to run all of your reports, which makes your life a lot easier.


The Results

Once we implemented cross domain tracking and consolidated the Google Analytics Properties into one account, we instantly started to see the full picture with our client’s SEO conversions.

As you can see in the graph below, conversions from Organic Search jumped from 302 in September to 1,126 in November (the cross domain tracking was installed in October).


If you look at the conversion rates, you’ll see in September the SEO conversion rate was only about 6% and then it shot up to about 10% in November.  There were no significant website updates so this conversion rate “improvement” was simply from the increased accuracy of our reporting.

Even more importantly, we could see exactly which SEO landing pages were converting by reviewing the Landing Page report (see below).  That way we knew where we were getting sales so we could work to get more traffic and increase those conversion rates.



Without this tracking set up correctly, our client was pretty much stuck.  They didn’t know how much money they were generating from SEO so they don’t know how much they could afford to invest to drive even more traffic and sales.

However, once we fixed this cross domain issue, it was clear how many of the visitors from SEO were ultimately converting into sales.  If you’re experiencing a similar problem with your tracking then make sure you get this fixed ASAP.  Otherwise you won’t know what’s working and where to focus your marketing budget.

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