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Campaign Tagging with Google Analytics

“We spent $25,000 on a blue widgets campaign, what was the return?” It’s a seemingly simple question, but if you don’t sort out your marketing campaign tracking properly, you may never get the answer.

What I’m talking about is campaign tagging – the ability of your web analytics program to associate activity (and revenue) with different sources of visitors and marketing campaigns.

In this post, I’m focusing only on campaign tagging with Google Analytics. I’ve seen marketing campaign tracking butchered so many times that I wanted to set the record straight once and for all.

There are 3 areas that matter for campaign tagging with Google Analytics (or Urchin):

  1. Parameters
  2. Parameter values
  3. Destination URLs

#1 – Campaign Tracking Parameters for Google Analytics

Parameter is a geeky word for a part of the URL after the question mark (?) or ampersand (&). Take this example:

http://www.alexlcohen.com/?utm_medium=example

If you have multiple parameters, any ones past the first are separated by “&”:

www.alexlcohen.com/?utm_medium=example&utm_source=second-url

In that URL, utm_source is the parameter. Google Analytics recognizes 5 specific parameters for measuring campaigns:

  1. utm_medium
  2. utm_source
  3. utm_campaign
  4. utm_content
  5. utm_term

Parameters exist for marketing campaign tracking. Each Google Analytics parameter has a different purpose and requires different values (more on that later).

utm_medium is used to designate the channel of this particular marketing. This includes large sources of visitors like:

  • Email
  • Paid search
  • Affiliate
  • Offline Ads

utm_source should differentiate sources of traffic within a given channel. If you have an affiliate program, you could separate out traffic from Linkshare from Commission Junction. In paid search, you’d want to distinguish Google, Yahoo and MSN.

utm_campaign is unique among the parameters. It’s the only parameter that can be common among different sources and mediums.

campaign tagging campaign trackingFor example, let’s say you sell Earth friendly products and you have a marketing campaign promoting canvas totes for Earth Day on April 22nd. You could be promoting this in a variety of channels–email, paid search, and affiliate banners.

You can see all of the activity for that campaign, regardless of channel, rolled up into one report. Just give the utm_campaign parameter the same value (discussed below), such as “earth-day-totes-042208″, for each tactic in your marketing campaign. You’ll be able to get the standard metrics in the Campaigns report: visits, page views, bounce rate, conversion, etc (Go to Traffic Sources, then Campaigns).

utm_content is meant to help you provide a bit more information about the creative/messaging that sent a visitor to your site. There are any number of ways to use it:

  • Display – Banner size and message (e.g. 160×800-free-shipping)
  • Paid search – Ad variation.
  • Email – You could distinguish among the different locations of links, e.g. right-nav-link, offer-link.

utm_term is used only for non-AdWords paid search. Google automatically recognizes AdWords campaigns (if you want to get cost data in, you have to link it within AdWords under the report tab in the AdWords interface).

If you’ve tagged destination URLs for paid search with the other parameters, you then need to add the utm term parameter as well. Otherwise, when you look at your paid search keywords report, it will show up as (not set).

For specific instructions about paid search tagging, check out my previous posts:

Now that you understand the parameters, let’s talk about the values you assign to them.

#2 – Campaign Parameter Values for Google Analytics

Parameters signal to Google Analytics that you’re about to define something about a marketing campaign. The value is what actual shows up in your reports.

Campaign tracking works in a parameter=value pairs.

All parameters should be all lower case where possible. If you have multiple words in the value, separate them with a dash, such as “banner-ads”.

You’re free to use any value you want, but there are certain standards you should follow depending upon the parameter.

utm_medium – The one hard and fast rule here is that you must tag all non-AdWords paid search campaigns as cpc. Sure, Google Analytics understand that campaigns labeled as ppc are paid search, but then you get the data on separate rows.

Here are a few other values that you could use for other channels. It’s important that you develop company standards for these values and document them. If you don’t, people won’t understand or act on the data.

Affiliate – affiliate
Comparison Shopping Engine – cse
Email – email
Local Search – local
Offline media that drives online click-through – offline
Paid Inclusion Bulk – paid-inclusion
Pay Per Click Search – cpc

utm_source – You can use any value here. Again, these are meant to be specific sources within a given channel. A good tag is decipherable by anyone and scalable to a variety of channels.

I recommend you use “ysm” for Yahoo paid search, because Google reports organic Yahoo clicks as “yahoo”. For MSN, you can just use the capitalized version or “msn-ppc”, since Google uses the lowercase “msn” for organic clicks from that engine.

utm_campaign – Your campaign value should contain some form of the date. It helps you keep track of marketing campaigns and adds important context for analysis.

utm_content -If your content is text based, use values that account for the differences in type of content, messaging and location of the text. If it’s display (banner) ads, you’ll want to include the size of the banner.

utm_term – For specific instructions, check out my previous posts:

Okay, now you’ve got all of the components and you just have to put them together into a…

#3 – Destination URL for Google Analytics

The destination URL is the link you use for your marketing campaign. It’s made up of three parts:

  1. Base URL
  2. Parameters
  3. Values

If I was running banner ads for Digital Alex, the base URL would be www.alexlcohen.com. The campaign tracking parameters might be something like:

  • utm_medium=banner-ads
  • utm_source=facebook
  • utm_campaign=subscriber-drive-03052008
  • utm_content=120-600-strategy

I would then combine them together into the destination URL:

www.alexlcohen.com/?utm_medium=banner-ads&utm_source=facebook&utm_campaign=subscriber-drive-03052008-utm_content=120-600-strategy

And that’s it! No you’re on your way to better marketing campaign tracking.

Here are some other good resources for Google Analytics campaign tracking:

  • Destination URL builder – By Google Analytics
  • How do I tag my links? – By Google Analytics
  • Campaign tracking series by Justin Cutroni

For a bit more on my background, check out my internet marketing resume.

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