While the rest of the world is fascinated by shortening their links through services such at bit.ly, and Hootsuite (ow.ly), among others. Advertisers are making their links longer so they can determine which online marketing campaigns are producing traffic on their website. It is called “link tagging,” and if you have used Google AdWords, you may already be familiar with the insights they offer through the free Google Analytics tool.
Some communication professionals are also finding that using link tagging for e-mail newsletters, press releases, blog links, and even Twitter campaigns help them to show the effectiveness of their efforts. Why let the marketers and advertising people have all the fun?
It turns out that there is a free tool in the Google Toolbox that you can use to make these special links called the Google URL Builder. If you just have one or two links that you need to convert and track it is ideal. If you are more advanced and have multiple links (say 100s) that you need to track, you might want to go with the free EpikOne URL Builder spreadsheet tool. My recommendation is to start small and grow as you scale the learning curve.
I have done this for a couple of clients, but didn’t have permission to show the data. Luckily Marc van Bree, who blogs at Dutch Perspective, has been using this technique in his job at Chapin Hall, a family policy and programs research center at the University of Chicago. We will use Chapin Hill as a “How to” case study.
Marc had been using Google Analytics to look at user behaviors and intentions on the organization’s new website. However, he was interested in the large amount of “Direct Traffic” coming to the site when he learned that direct traffic is a broad category that can include people inputting a particular web address directly in the URL bar or clicking a link that opens a new browser window—for example, a link in a document or from an e-mail program. Knowing this, it was no stretch to hypothesize that his e-mail marketing efforts were responsible for a large amount of this direct traffic.
But how to prove that the direct traffic was really from the email newsletter? or from Twitter links, or from Facebook?
Enter Google’s URL Builder tool! If you have Google Analytics on your website, you can use this tool without any IT help or technical expertise. The same principle applies for other analytics tools, but you will have to get specific instructions for that, like this one for Omniture. If you are in a big organization where IT controls your analytics, take this post to them and see if they can help you with a solution.
- Go to the Google URL Builder Site or the free the free EpikOne URL Builder spreadsheet tool if you have many URLs to convert.
- For Google URL Builder, Fill out the form
You can use any words you want for the Campaign Source, Campaign Medium and Campaign Name fields. They key is staying consistent in both word choice and case sensitivity. The long URL that the tool generates is called a “referral string” and can be “read” by Google Analytics.
- Paste the URL into an Excel spreadsheet, you will need to keep track of the links you have used and you can reuse them when it makes sense. Be sure to note what you used for the Campaign Source, Campaign Medium and Campaign Name fields.
Marc filled out the required options: source, medium and campaign. He only uses two source identifiers: “ConstantContact” and “Manual.” since he is only tracking e-mail marketing efforts the only identifier I used for medium is “Email.” Campaign is where he differentiates between “August,” “October” or “November” newsletters, etc.
– Source: Constant Contact
– Medium: Email
– Campaign: August2010
- Shorten the link (if you need to) with your favorite shortener.
Side Note and Tip: The great thing about using these links for a Twitter campaign is that even if someone reshortens them, you still don’t lose the tracking. When you use a shortened link to track, once they are reshortened by the person RTing it, or their Twitter platform, you lose the trail. Not so with link tagging.
- Put the link in your campaign
- See the results in Google Analytics, or in your Website’s analytics program. IN Google Analytics, look in your “Traffic Sources Overview.” You will see four categories: direct traffic; search engines; referring sites; and other. Your Google URL builder links will appear under the “other” category.
Analysis of the Chapin Hill Example
Marc has been doing this for four months for Chapin Hall and he has been able to get a better idea of where his traffic is coming from. The next two charts show a rise in “Other” traffic, which when you drill down you can see came
From just these four months, Marc says he was able to learn about the bigger picture. You can see the difference in traffic for the periods April-July or August-November. The first period also saw an NPR article refer much traffic, skewing the referring traffic statistic a bit upward. You can see that the search engine statistic remains constant. The Other category was also bigger as he was able to capture his email campaign.
April – July 2010
August – November 2010
Drilling down deeper, they learned more about individual campaigns. The November newsletter had a lower bounce rate than the August or October newsletters. Did they make any significant changes that caused that? Did perhaps the November content lend itself to more exploration on the site?
They also learned more about particular research reports and what campaigns were more successful in bringing traffic. But they didn’t just want traffic; they wanted people to download the report once they got to the page. Perhaps a campaign that brought in a lot of traffic actually had relatively few people download a report?
A few tips from Marc:
- Consistency is very important. Case in point, our Google Analytics show two entries for medium: “email” and “Email” when I meant it to be the same. Also, be consistent in your use of the tool; make sure each e-mail and each link within your e-mail has the Google identifiers to get the most accurate information.
- Don’t over analyze. You will be able to get more and more information by refining your use of Google Analytics and Google URL Builder, but don’t get bogged down in the data.
- A one-time event, like the NPR article in the above example, can skew your data, so don’t base your decisions on inaccurate, short term data.
- Pick your definitions well. They have to mean something when you see them back in Google Analytics.
In addition to what Marc outlines, if you can analyze what people who entered through the email link do after they enter the site. For instance, did they download the report, make a donation, or buy a product? If so, are they more or less likely to do so than someone else that came to the site through a different path? You can see if one campaign coverts better than another. The options are endless. You can even prove ROI this way if you can connect the dots.
How will you use the Google URL Builder tool for your campaigns? Would love to have you share your thoughts in the comments.
Photo Credit: Amazing chain Link Photo by VIncent Van Der Pas
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