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Measuring Your Marketing: Campaign Tracking via Google Analytics

July 8, 2009

In a recent Search Engine Land article I talked about how to measure the success of your SEO endeavors using Google Analytics (GoAn). It focused on how to check whether the keywords for which you optimized your pages were bringing you targeted search engine traffic and whether that traffic converts for you.

In addition, I gave you pointers on "Measuring Success Beyond the Search Engines"
as well as tips on understanding "If Your SEO Campaign Is Out of Focus."

To further add to your web analytics knowledge, today I'm going to explain how you can more accurately measure email and social media marketing efforts by using tracking links to create "campaigns" in GoAn.

If you have a Google AdWords account hooked up with your GoAn account, then you're probably somewhat familiar with how to view and analyze campaigns within GoAn. What you may not have realized is that you can create campaigns that show up in that same area of your GoAn account and that provide tracking beyond your paid search activities.


Where to Find Campaigns


To find your website's campaign info in GoAn, click Traffic Sources > Campaigns in your dashboard.


Campaigns in Google Analytics 


If you have no AdWords or other campaigns set up, you won't see anything in that area. If you have AdWords campaigns set up and hooked up, you'll see that info.

Email Marketing


But what if you have an email newsletter where you often link to offers of interest or to past articles on your website? If you use an email marketing service such as ListHost or Campaigner, you'll know how many clicks you received, but they can't tell you much more than that because they don't know what happens after the click. You can look in the GoAn referrers section and try to find clickthroughs from whatever your email host names your tracking links, but this is clunky at best, and most of the time it's inaccurate.


Social Media Marketing


The same can be said about links you post to the social media ether. When you Tweet a direct link to content on your website, you may never be able to track the visitors as having come from Twitter. This is because most people use Twitter through various applications rather than from itself. So if you are reviewing Twitter referral data via GoAn, you will not see a good chunk of your actual Twitter referrals. See Danny Sullivan's article, "How Twitter Might Send Far More Traffic Than You Think."

While you can use URL shortening services such as Cligs that report the number of clickthroughs, similar to email marketing reports, the information provided is limited.

Setting-up Your Campaign Tracking


By now you're probably wondering how you can get your email and social media clickthroughs to show up as GoAn campaigns. The secret is tracking links! But not the old-fashioned ones we used to use in the '90s, where you just appended a question mark and a specific keyword referring to your URL. I'm talking about special Google Analytics campaign tracking links.

If you use GoAn at all, you've probably noticed that there are various "dimensions" to most of the stats you see. Three of those dimensions that are important for our tracking links are Campaign, Source, and Medium. Website visitors coming from an organic Google search, for instance, will show a Source of "Google," a Medium of "Organic," and a Campaign of "(not set)." Website visitors coming from your Google AdWords ads will show the name of your AdWords campaign as the Campaign dimension in GoAn.

To get a Campaign, a Source, and a Medium to show up in GoAn, simply add and name them using these special URL tags:


Example Tracking Link


A typical GoAn campaign tracking link for a blog post that you mention on Twitter might look like this:

Which simply means that the Campaign is called "BlogPostName," the Medium is "SocialMedia" and the Source is "Twitter."


Be Consistent


Note that that there's no right or wrong way to name those fields. The key is in being consistent. This is something I've learned the hard way – by not always being consistent and then seeing confusing results later in my GoAn.

If you start by making your Campaign names equal the page you're pointing people to, then you should keep doing that with all your campaigns and don't all of a sudden create a tracking URL where you fill in the Campaign as Twitter and the Source as the name of the page.

An Easier and Prettier Way

If creating those tracking URLs looks tedious (and it is), don't despair – there's a better way! Google has a Campaign URL Builder Tool available in which you just have to fill in the appropriate fields and your tracking URL is created with the click of a button.

Campaign tracking URLs can be used for any piece of content on your site that you are marketing either online or offline, but many don't like to use them because they're long and ugly, not to mention impossible to remember or recite to someone in person.

Again, don't despair – I have a geek solution to this too, and it's fairly simple. You can either create a prettier/smaller version of your long tracking link by using your or other URL shortening service. Or you can create your own redirects through your server if you know how to do that. It's pretty easy if you're on an Apache server and can use an .htaccess file, but that may be outside your technical abilities.

I'm lucky in that our custom CMS has its own simple method for creating tracking URLs, which actually gives us an additional layer of tracking as well as a nice shortened URL.

Where to Use Campaign Tracking URLs

I suggest using campaign tracking URLs for any links to your site that you post to Twitter, Facebook or any other social networking site. In addition, use them for any links to your site from any email campaigns, newsletters, guest articles or posts, and blog comments. They would also come in handy for offline advertising such as radio, newspaper, magazine or TV ads.

There's one SEO caveat that you should be aware of when you use tracking links to your site. Because they're not the actual one true URL for the page you're pointing to, your pages may get indexed by Google under multiple URLs. Plus, you're not really passing link popularity or PageRank to the one true URL for the content, but are splitting it instead, which is never a good thing. One way around this (beware, it's also geeky) is to use the Canonical Link Element.

In Part 2 of this article, I'll show you the awesome information you can glean from your campaign tracking URLs, so stay tuned!

Jill Whalen is the CEO of High Rankings, a Boston SEO Services company.

If you learned from this article, be sure to sign up for the High Rankings Advisor SEO Newsletter so you can be the first to receive similar articles in the future!
Post Comment

 Louise Desmarais said:
Very intriguing article Jill. I have read every word - some of them more than once - and maybe I'm missing something, but how exactly do I add a new campaign? (To get a Campaign, a Source, and a Medium to show up in GoAn, simply add and name them using these special URL tags) I don't see a directive - like Add New Campaign - for this anywhere in Campaigns - GoAn.
 Jill Whalen said:
Hi Louise,

You just add those tags, and the campaigns will magically show up in GoAn once the URL has been clicked. You of course need to wait a day or so for GoAn to gather the info. They lag behind a number of hours.

The next article will explain more about that. Sorry it wasn't clear here!
 Marco said:
Great article, very useful. I’ll love it and under your permission I’d like to translate it in Italian. Just one question about URL Shortening Service: how can we justify to our customer a different domain name (for instance instead of ? I think it confuses them; they could even think it is phishing.
 Jill said:
Marco, they don't have to use cligs if they're worried about that. Just do the redirects from your own server instead via .htaccess.
 MinuteMan SEO said:
Hey Jill - the one part of all this that always eluded my understanding is the redirecting of these "tracking" URL's. Is it possible to place a universal command in your .htaccess file that will redirect all URL's using these campaign tracking appendages to the root file name / URL without the appendages, while still being able to track at the same time?

Providing a technical How-to on how to do that would be extremely helpful as a follow up. I suppose the shortening route would the be the easiest method.....? With HTML emails there is not really a problem in terms of presenting ugly URL's because you can use anchor text as the link, but with Twitter, etc., the shorter URL would be ideal.....
 Jill Whalen said:
@MinuteMan that's a great question for our 301-redirect forum. I think there's probably a way to do it, but I don't know for sure. I'm sure Randy or someone else at the forum does, however.
 stacy adams said:
I think twitter has fast become a have for spammers and I haven't gotten much traffic from it valuable or not. I have gotten a bunch of followers but they are almost all spammers. I focus on keywords and keyword links on my site with plenty of content. And also try to make the website as idiot proof as possible.
 Al Toman said:
If a client requires tracking and they are not google analytics or Web savvy I create my own tracking for them using php. Results are sent to a data base or flat file. No messing with htaccess, redirects, etc. and the URLS are clean. Clients access the data via their ADMIN PANEL. Real easy to do for my clients.
 Geoffrey Gordon said:
Thanks for your advice on adding tracking to your urls, I have always wondered how you do this .
Jill you are a genius.
 Rebecca said:
A question - what if you use a email marketing service that generates tracking links for click though tracking? Obviously we want to know the number of people who open the email and of those who actually clicked on a link.

But we also want to know of those people who did open the email with images OFF and who DID click on a link.

How do we track both sides of the coin?
 Jill Whalen said:

You put your own tracking links into the newsletter and let the newsletter add their own tracking link on top of it. That's what our system does and it works fine.

 Lucas said:
thanks for the explanation, really clear and straightforward.

i have a doubt that you will hopefully be able to help me with:

- in order to see campaigns data on my google analytics account (after i have created the specific links for them), do i need to add any special code to my pages (other than the normal / default google analytics tracking one). I.e, is there a specific google analytics "campaign" tracking code i need to add to my pages?

i am asking this because i created a campaign yesterday morning, and in 24 hours no data is shown for it - even though i know for sure that there were a few clicks on my links.

thanks in advance
 Jill Whalen said:
Hi Lucas,

No, you don't need any other code on the pages, just the codes in the URLs that people will click on.

You should be able to find the data in the Campaigns section of Google. But Google runs 24 hours behind, so you may need to wait one more day to see today's data. You can try to set your timeframe for just yesterday and today to see if you see anything that way.

 lucas said:
thanks so much Jill, for your answer and for posting it so fast!
 Barbara said:
Jill, not sure if you're still responding to posts on this topic - but thanks in advance if you are. I was wondering how you'd recommend tagging three different Google TV ads all displaying the same landing page url? What is the best way to track and see which of these ads are converting best inside Google Analytics? I believe one way is to give each ad its own vanity url and tag each of those. Each would redirect to the landing page - that way you could track each ad with its own referral tracking id. Any thoughts on this, or other ideas? Thanks.
 Jill Whalen said:
Hi Barbara,

I believe if you redirect URLs you'll likely lose the tracking information. I would just use one landing page and use 3 different shortened URLs each with their own unique tagging.

I think that would work. (I've never done TV stuff, but it seems to me that it's pretty straightforward.)
 Barbara said:
Thanks Jill - a 302 (temporary) redirect doesn't pass link value, but the 301 does. Thanks so much for your recommendation about using 3 differenet shortened urls!
 Jill Whalen said:
Passes link value isn't the same as being able to store the tracking code info. I don't believe it will do that for you.
 Charlotte said:
Useful summary, Jill, thank you. However, I have set up a Campaign to a banner ad we're running using the URL builder, and while I am seeing increased traffic against our own website as a referring site, I am seeing nothing in Campaigns themselves. What am I doing wrong?!

 Jill Whalen said:
Is it a banner on someone else's site pointing to yours? If it's running it's own tracking script through JavaScript that might mess with your code.
 Sofie said:
Have I gotten this right: each time I share one of my posts on Twitter or facebook, I should create a tracking url using, for example, the google url builder. Once that's done, I'll see how many people have clicked on that shared link?
And let's say I regularly put my website's url in posts on fora and other websites, than I would need a tracking url for each time I do that?

 Jill Whalen said:
Sofie, this article was written in 2009 before Google Analytics was able to track Twitter and Facebook through the Social area. So no, you no longer need to add the tracking URLs.
 Andrew Knight said:
Thanks for your article Jill. I know this article is a few years old now but I have still found it to be useful and much simpler than other articles I've read on Campaign Tracking (even Google's! Shh). I especially found your point about utilising htaccess very useful and will be implementing a redirection for our new campaign, so thanks again!