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Use Tracking Parameters for Better Tracking, Better Linking

Stu Eddins

Ahh, the Analytics Direct Traffic channel. We call it the “Junk Drawer of  Site Traffic.” It’s the channel label that Google assigns not only to truly Direct-access traffic, but also to all other traffic it can’t identify. Since every visit has to be accounted for, Direct Traffic is the default catchall for unattributable visits.

Digital marketers take great care in selecting what pages our digital campaigns target, and we should take equal care in identifying that traffic to Analytics. Doing so will tell you whether campaigns are working effectively and grabbing the attention of the right people, and whether your dollars are being spent in the right amounts and the right places.

To truly understand where your traffic is coming from, you must implement a source tagging strategy on your site: URL tracking parameters.

What is a link tracking parameter, and how is it used?

A tracking parameter is a bit of code added to a URL that communicates to Analytics the source of the link traffic. That means, for example, if you have a link tagging strategy in place for Analytics, the links you place in an enewsletter could look like this:

https://www.yourhospital.org/gyncancer?utm_source=newsletter&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=21900205-newsletter-cancer-stories

The portion in black is the targeted URL. The portion in red is the tag indicating to Analytics that the  visitor came from your enewsletter link. If you didn’t have a link tagging strategy in place on your site, you’d lose insight into the user’s journey to get to your content. The path would wind up in the Junk Drawer of Analytics — aka, the Direct Traffic bucket, and any valuable action taken by your enewsletter visitor could be overlooked.

Within the tracking tag, we usually see three parameters. While there are several tracking parameters  available in Analytics, these are the three most common:

  • utm_source: This parameter describes the placement or origin of the link.
  • utm_medium: This parameter explains which channel brough the link.
  • utm_campaign: This parameter shows which marketing effort generated the link.

As you can see, these tags show where the user originated, which channel they used to get to your site, and which of your campaigns was the conduit for that engagement.

Schedule a free 15-minute strategy call with me to discuss URL tracking parameters.

Best practices for URL tracking parameters

Before you start a URL-tracking initiative, take a moment to consider these best practices for properly tracking your URLs and translating the findings.

  • Use date codes in campaign names. This is particularly important for short-term projects, such as social ad campaigns or enewsletters. It will help you understand how effective your campaigns were immediately and long-term.
  • Be consistent in your naming conventions. We recommend that you always use lowercase for source and medium tracking parameters, and we recommend using capital letters for campaign parameters in order to match search engine and AdWords campaigns.
  • All traffic-driving links need tracking parameters. You should track every link used in your traffic-driving strategies with tracking parameters.
  • You may need to create new channels in Analytics. This is so your traffic sorts properly into meaningful channels.

It’s important to be specific with campaign names. You can use the same campaign name across different medium and source combinations, but add the date to differentiate which link came from which piece. This also is true when you restart a previously run campaign — just update the links with the new date.

Once a tracking plan is in place, many built-in Analytics reports will begin to show clearer data. For example, under “Conversions,” the Top Conversions Paths and Assisted Conversions reports will offer greater detail. Custom Segments can be created that focus on site visitors who arrived from specific sources or campaigns. There also is a full range of possibilities around AdWords and creating highly-targeted remarketing campaigns.

How to add source tags to your URLs

There are two options for adding tracking parameters to your URLs: auto-tagging and manually tagging.

  • Auto-tagging provides detailed AdWords data through automatic link generation. This is the less time consuming option. Many other platforms also offer auto-tagging, so make sure that the parameters they use fit into your existing channels in Analytics.
  • Manual tagging should be used for any source that doesn’t provide auto-tagging. Tags can be built quickly using tools found online.

If you haven’t already, we suggest that your web team initiate a tagging plan for your site Analytics. Our digital strategy team can help you decide which strategy to use and help you implement it to better track your next marketing campaign.

Adding tracking parameters to links is an important part of your integrated digital strategy and budgeting processes. The information you’ll gather from these tagged URLs can help keep your site traffic out of the Junk Drawer. In doing so, you’ll have better insight into which of your campaigns are working, where you can increase or decrease your marketing efforts, and which channels already send traffic to your site effectively.

Register for our free webinar "Top 10 Ways Analytics May Be Lying to You!"

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