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.
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.”
The end result is this:
- 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 BlogEducation: 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.
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.
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.