Are you seeing new website sessions that appear to be coming from a Google Ad campaign that's been paused or has ended? You're not alone. If you use any sort of tool or software to track your website traffic, like Google Analytics or HubSpot, then you've probably experienced this at some point.
We've certainly noticed it on more than one occasion, so we decided to get to the bottom of it once and for all.
There are a few situations that can cause this to happen. Here's what we found:
- If you have auto-tagging turned on in your account (most do, but here's how you can check) then Google adds a unique click ID (tracking code) to the landing page URL your ads link to. This is used to track which specific ad your website visitors are coming from. So sometimes, people who clicked on the ad can copy the URL (with the tracking code) and send it to someone else, or post it to a forum or to social media – anything like that. Anyone who clicks on that shared link will register as a new session coming from the ad (even though they never saw or clicked on it).
- Similarly, if a user bookmarks the landing page they land on from your ad, then the bookmarked page will contain the unique click ID (which Google calls a "gclid value"). If they visit your site by clicking on the bookmark, it’ll register as a new session from the ad because the unique click ID is on the bookmarked URL. Even if the cache is cleared on the users computer, the unique click ID will remain on the bookmarked link to your site. In this circumstance, the user will show up as a new user to your site who came from the Google ad they bookmarked the URL from.
- Another scenario is if a URL with the unique click ID is picked up by a spider or Google-bot it can actually get indexed causing the URL with the unique click ID to pull up in Google Search Results. In this situation, users who click on an organic search listing will show on your site as a new user from the Google Ads campaign attached to the unique click ID on the URL.
- And finally, if a user clicks on one of your Google ads and then returns directly (meaning they type the URL directly in) to your website several more times throughout the next few weeks, each of these direct return sessions will show up as another website session coming from the ads.
So it all comes down to ad tracking parameters and caching on our computers. Mystery Solved. But is it something that needs to be fixed?
According to Google, it’s “normal behavior and indicates positive engagement with your website". So if you're seeing a small percentage that this is happening with you shouldn’t worry about it. However, if you're seeing a lot of this in your traffic then you might need to address it in order to keep your ad stats as accurate as possible.
Unfortunately, there's no solution for the first three scenarios, however, for the fourth scenario you can create a robots.txt file to exclude URLs that contain a unique click ID from being indexed. You can do this through the parameter-handling tool in Google Search Console (read more it here).