Are You Tracking Your URLs?

For many brands, use of Tracking URLs (also known as UTM Parameters) has become the norm. Individuals and companies use them to track email marketing, Paid Search campaigns, press releases, and even blog posts.

Used strategically, Tracking URLs can not only provide essential campaign data, they can also allow you to turn that data into decision-making results for yourself and your clients. The data Tracking URLs could potentially provide include:

  • Sources that drive the most traffic
  • Differences in the number of clicks among ads
  • The format of the source (Banner, link, post)

There tends to be some confusion when it comes to tracking URLs so let’s start at the beginning. It’s not as intimidating as you may think!

What is a tracking URL?

A Tracking URL is simply a website address (URL) that’s been supplemented with parameters to reveal information through Google Analytics. Without Tracking URLs, it would be very difficult to understand points of entrance to your website. For example, if you see 1,000 visitors to domain.com/blog, there’s no deeper understanding of how that traffic is coming to your site. Adding parameters makes it easier to gauge the performance of various mediums, sources, and messaging, which is especially necessary for managing a Paid Search campaign. A Tracking URL leads visitors to the same page as the normal URL, but Google Analytics works in the background to capture the unique campaign data that’s attached to the URL. That being said, in order for Tracking URLs to provide any meaningful data, it is essential that Google Analytics be installed properly across every page of your website.

How do you make one?

Believe it or not, it’s pretty simple to create and use a Tracking URL. There are several tools available, but the one we commonly use is the Google URL Builder.

Google-URL-builder

Say I wrote the best blog post ever and wanted to drive visitors to my post through a Paid Search campaign. Because Iam spending money, I need to evaluate ROI at the end of the campaign by creating Tracking URLs that allow me to see where readers come from before reading my blog. To do that, I will add information to the fields Google has displayed, including “source,” “medium,” and “campaign.”

Google-campaign-build

The end result is this:

http://domain.com/blog/?utm_source=Google&utm_medium=PPC&utm_campaign=BlogEducation

  • The “Source” parameter is used to identify the last place visited before a person reached your website. I have set my source field to “Google” since visitors will be coming from a Google search, but other example sources could include “November-Newsletter” or “Twitter.” /blog/url-tracking?utm_source=Google&utm_medium=PPC&utm_campaign=BlogEducation
  • “Medium” identifies the way in which the visitor arrived at that source. In our example, they clicked on a paid search ad, which is why our medium is set to “PPC”: /blog/url-tracking?utm_source=Google&utm_medium=PPC&utm_campaign=BlogEducation
  • The “Campaign” parameter is used to identify different campaigns and/or marketing tactics used to drive traffic to your site. In our example, my campaign is called aBlogEducationa: http://domain.com/blog/url-tracking?utm_source=Google&utm_medium=PPC&utm_campaign=BlogEducation

Note: Notice the way the campaign is labeled “BlogEducation.” This is deliberate. First of all, there cannot be any spaces in a URL. Second, Google Analytics is case sensitive. These are important to remember when creating Tracking URLs. However you label the parameters in your URL is exactly what will appear in Google Analytics. To see the traffic to my site from this blog post, I would look under Acquisition > Campaigns, then search for the name of the campaign in the search bar.

google-analytics-campaign-tracking

Make sure to adopt a standard naming convention, as it will help with analyzing data. If you do any importing, exporting, sorting, or filtering of data in spreadsheets, you will quickly learn what misspellings can do to the amount of time it takes to sift through it all. If I wanted to look back at my PPC campaign and see the results, I can search for “BlogEducation.” However, if I happen to misspell it or use all lowercase, “blogeducation,” it will appear as if I have two separate campaigns. I would then have to manually merge the data to get a clear picture of my campaign results. I recommend keeping an organized spreadsheet of all tracking URLs. This makes it easy to look back and find any errors. It also provides a point of reference for all tracking efforts and will help to maintain uniformity. Even when sharing content through social media, you can assemble a library of Tracking URLs that should be used according to the post and social media website.

Conclusion

Hopefully now you have a better understanding of Tracking URLs. For most beginners, the best way to understand the value is to start building trackable URLs and see the data populate over time in Google Analytics. There are plenty of great resources out on the web regarding this topic. Google support can provide answers to most questions regarding analytics. Finally, Google Chrome has a URL Builder extension you can add onto your browser, making URL building a piece of cake.

SEM and Design: Why the disconnect?

Far too often, we come across brands that consider design and Search Engine Marketing two separate projects, and the resulting pages fail to contribute to the end goal: achieving leads. The three primary reasons a designer neglects to consider SEM and SEO prior to designing an entire website, a single page, or collateral material for a site are: Resources, Process, and Values.

SEM and Design

1. Failure to Acquire Resources

This is a difficult issue to address because typically, search engine marketing and search engine optimization are believed to be additional components to a website or acceptable tactics for consideration after the website is finished. In reality, search engine strategy should be considered in the very beginning, with data (the voice of the customer) driving initial decisions and strategy. If thought about and handled in the correct way, the direction and certainty from keyword research provides a specific, linear path to visual success in a page’s design. Strategy and need should become dramatically less ambiguous, thus reducing the need for revisions based on visual messaging.

2. Preferred Design Process is Flawed

Regardless of the craft or expertise, injecting a new element to a seasoned professional’s process can be difficult, especially when that craft requires a creative and emotional connection to produce success. The larger the corporation the designer supports, the more levels of approval, therefore increasing the difficulty or likelihood of implementing data like keyword research. Designers and writers alike are communicators of ideas. These professionals of messaging have struggled with search since its inception of mainstream marketing. I’ve often heard that these communicators battle with the idea of a machine or data telling them what to say or how to design, but the irony is that it’s the targeted customers asking the questions. It is the customers who drive that data, the very people to whom we are supposed to be marketing, messaging, and ultimately helping.

3. Perception of Design’s Value is Skewed

The value of design is often dependent upon the specific brand and the artist. It’s a way to tap into the emotional elements of what the brand stands for and how the brain wishes to connect with this consumer. While some may argue that data creates interruption or unnecessary barriers of communication, these strategic initiatives cannot be ignored because they represent the voice of the customer. Search marketing and search engines have evolved drastically; there’s no longer a need, nor should there be a practice or recommendation, to oversaturate a page with unnecessary vernacular exclusively using data based on voice of the customer. In the same way every brand has style guides specifying which fonts or colors to use, customer-produced data from the search engines can also be guidelines, acting as a litmus for consideration when developing websites for developing content when designing landing pages and designing messaging.

How to fix it

There are a few possible remedies to three interrupters of incorporating search marketing into the world of design. Step 1: Provide the necessary information with the project assignment. Keyword research and visitor data isn’t an afterthought. It should be baked into the visual concepts, then tested through behavior online. Step 2: Develop a process to incorporate Search data into the design. This action is as simple as validating data and desired outcomes during the rounds of revision to ensure that all the essential communication points and consumer needs are being met. Step 3: Create search marketing guidelines. These guidelines can be incorporated into the value of the brand thought leader, educator, or advocate. There’s a way to align how people search and what they are searching for into the basic guidelines of how you communicate with people online.