Google Analytics is a free web analytics application that is quickly becoming one of the most widely used web analytics tools around. A common misconception that many people have is that GA can only be used to track Google AdWords. That’s simply not true. GA can be used to track any online marketing activity. And not only will Google Analytics track online marketing, it will also identify the conversion events that your online marketing creates.
There are two distinct steps to configure Google Analytics to successfully track online marketing activities:
Before we can really get into how to track online marketing we must understand what we can track. With Google Analytics we can track 5 attributes of our online marketing campaigns. Each of these attributes provides insight into what is, and what is not, working, and are the foundation for making good decisions when adjusting your online marketing activities.
5 Aspects of Online Marketing
The Campaign: The campaign is the high-level marketing activity that you’re conducting. Think of it as a bucket that holds other activities. For example, you may conduct a big “back to school” marketing campaign. This campaign might involve an email blast to your newsletter subscribers, a special paid search campaign, and some banner ads. All of these activities are part of the “fall-sale” marketing campaign.
The Medium: The medium is the mechanism that is used to push the message to the customer. Continuing the fall sale example, the campaign has multiple mediums because we’re using multiple mechanisms to reach the consumer. We’re using email, banner ads, and paid search. All are different mechanisms for pushing the message out.
The Source: The source identifies who is delivering the message to the customer and helps us better understand the medium. For example, there might be three sources for the paid search component of our campaign: “Google” for Google AdWords, “Yahoo!” for Yahoo! Search Marketing and “MSN” for Microsoft AdCenter.
Term: The term is only used for paid search tracking and identifies the keyword that the visitor used in their search. It should be noted that you do not need to use a term. Every search engine will, by default, pass a keyword to your site and Google Analytics will capture and store that keyword. However, not every search engine will pass along the exact term that the visitor entered.
Content: The content attribute is optional and stores information about the ad that the visitor clicked on. For example, we may want to send out two versions of our email newsletter during the back to school campaign. The emails will be sent at the same time, but will contain different formatting. We say these emails have different content. Using Google Analytics we can identify which ad performed better for us.
So now that we know what attributes of our online marketing we can track, how do we actually do it? We use a process called link tagging. Link tagging involves adding query string parameters to the destination URLs used in online ads. It doesn’t matter where the URL is used, it could be in an email, a banner ad or a paid search ad. If the URL has the appropriate query string parameters then Google Analytics can identify which ad the visitor clicked on. Once Google Analytics knows which ad the visitor responded to it stores the information in a cookie on the visitor’s machine. From that point forward, as long as the cookie exists, Google Analytics can connect the visitor’s actions with the originating ad.
We have one query string parameter for each campaign attribute.
Query String Parameter
All you need to do is assign a value to each parameter and attach it to the URL used in your online ad. What should you use for values? It doesn’t matter! Whatever you place in your parameters will be extracted by Google Analytics and appear in your reports. With that said, there are some best practices that will make your data easier to use.
How about some examples? Let’s look at a few links that will be used in our fictional back to school campaign.
|Tagged Link||What It Means|
|This link was part of the 2007 back to school campaign. It appeared in the fall newsletter email blast.|
|This ad was part of the 2007 back to school campaign. It was an 800×100 pixel banner ad that appeared on Facebook.|
|This ad was part of the 2007 back to school campaign. It was a 60×300 pixel banner ad on the Facebook site.|
|This ad was part of 2007 back to school campaign. It was a CPC ad on Yahoo!. The keyword was whatever Yahoo! passed to the browser.|
|This ad was part of 2007 back to school campaign. It was a CPC ad on Google AdWords.|
The great thing about link tagging is that Google Analytics creates a report based on each parameter. For example, there is a Campaign report that identifies all the values in your utm_campaign parameter. You can then drill into the campaign to see which sources, identified by the utm_source variable, were better at driving traffic. I’ll discuss how to use these reports below.
Here’s another tip. If you’re unsure about your tagged links, run a small test. Send an email to 10 co-workers that include a tagged link. Ask them all to click on the link. Wait a few hours and then log into Google Analytics. You should see data from the link in the email.
Once the tagged links are published Google Analytics will start collecting data.
I can’t stress how important it is to tag your links. It is the single most important step to tracking your online marketing. If your links are not tagged you won’t be able to track the traffic from your online marketing activities. Un-tagged links is one of the most common problems I see when working with clients.