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Are You Using Google Analytics’ Campaign Tracking?

Credit: mikebaird

Credit: mikebaird

In the beginning, the key to growing your traffic is to engage with other bloggers in a meaningful way. This could be through comments on their blogs, it could be through social media like Twitter or Facebook, or it might even be with paid advertising.

If you’re paying for advertisements on Facebook or Google Adwords, you’d probably invest the time to learn how to track the performance of those ads, right? Are you doing the same with your comments or your social media activity? What about your guest posts?

If you aren’t, you should. Your time, especially if you’re doing this on the side on nights and weekends, is extremely valuable. You should be focusing on the stuff that works and the only way to know if it works is by tracking it.

That’s where Google Analytics’ campaign tracking comes in. If you’re not using it to figure out where your traffic is coming from, you’re missing out on extremely valuable data.

What is Campaign Tracking?

If you’ve ever seen a link with the arguments utm_campaign or utm_medium or utm_source, then you’ve seen tracking in action. You just append those arguments to a URL and Analytics will know to bunch those together in some of its reports.

A little trivia, the acronym UTM stands for Urchin Traffic Monitor. Urchin is the precursor to Analytics and was acquired by Google in early 2005.

Why do you need it?

It gives you increased visibility into the sources of your traffic. If you go to Analytics and look at Traffic Sources -> Sources -> All Traffic, you’ll see a list:
ga-sources-all-traffic-brg

By default, Google Analytics will set the source and medium as certain values based on pre-determined criteria. For search traffic, there’s organic and paid. For referral traffic, it’s often defaulted to referral.

This is good data – but it could be better.

What if you comment often on another blog and that blog also publishes a guest post for you? Without campaign tracking, you can’t tell the difference between a visitor that clicked your name in a comment and a visitor who read your guest post. They both appear as a referral from that site. With campaign tracking, you can set the medium of each link so you can tell the difference between the two. On the guest post, you might set it as “guestpost” or a more specific term just to that guest post (and you may opt to leave the comment URL alone).

Now, when someone clicks on the guest post link, you’ll see domain / guestpost for that specific visitor. Clicks through a comment will simply be domain / referral

How can you use this information?

Now that you know how people are visiting your site, you can start tracking what they are doing. At the moment, I have one Goal (in Analytics) for the site – email subscribers. A goal is achieved when someone visits the confirmation page, which is loaded after they opt-in. For each Goal completion, I can now track where they came from and how effective various campaigns have been.

If I’ve been guest posting elsewhere, I can find out which guest posts have yielding the greatest number of subscribers. If I’ve been doing interviews, I can find out which interviews drive the most subscribers. If I’m commenting, I can see who has signed up for my list because they clicked through a comment.

I can use this information to tailor my outreach efforts to maximize my email signups. Should I do more interviews? Or more guest posts? What kinds of interviews or posts should I do? Should I comment on blogs? Which blogs? How often?

How do you implement it?

You don’t have to do anything in Google Analytics, it’s already enabled, you just need to edit any links you use to include the utm parameters. Google has instructions here, along with a form to help you create the URL, but all that form does is append the text. You can do this yourself.

There are five possible fields to use and they are:

  • utm_source (required) – Where is this traffic coming from? I like to use the domain of the site, like Google or Microblogger or CNN.
  • utm_medium (required) – What medium is this traffic coming from? They recommend things like email, cost per click (cpc).
  • utm_term – keywords for an ad (I don’t use this)
  • utm_content – a/b testing and content-targeted ads (I don’t use this). If you are running an ad with two banners, content would differential banner A from banner B.
  • utm_campaign – to specify the campaign/promotion being run

You can use almost anything for these fields, as long as it’s not personally identifiable information (Part of the Google Analytics T&C under 7. Privacy). That means definitely no names, no emails, IPs, etc. Just stick with groups and you’ll be OK. Also remember to safely escape special characters, but otherwise you can use whatever you want for each value. I stick with source, medium, and campaign and use it to help measure the benefits of my various promotional methods.

Example: Tracking Comment Effectiveness

One of the common promotional methods I use is to find other blogs to comment on. My #1 goal in leaving a comment is to make a connection with the blogger. My #2 goal is to connect with other readers and, through just the link in my name, entice them to visit my site because my comment is just so freaking insightful and awesome.

That said, I want to measure how effective my commenting efforts are because sometimes you leave a comment, reach out to the blogger, and don’t get a response. I don’t take it personally, people are busy, or sometimes bloggers don’t want to make new friends (maybe it’s just with me, no worries).

In those instances, I want to know if I’m at least getting benefit #2. So I use the following as my link:

http://microblogger.com/?utm_source=[blogname]&utm_medium=profile&utm_campaign=comment

Just replace [blogname] with the blog I’m commenting on and now traffic from that particular link will appear as [blogname] / comment in the logs.

Is there an impact on SEO?

One of the benefits of guest blogging is the link – will adding these arguments after it have an impact? Probably not but it might, fortunately Google has a way to be sure it won’t have an impact. Log into Webmaster Tools (if you don’t have it configured for your site, here is a guide for that) and click on your site.

Look in the menu for Crawl and then click on URL Parameters.
webmaster-tools-url-parameters

Here is where you can tell Google to ignore the utm parameters. Click on Add parameter and start entering in the fields you use and whether they change the page. The utm variables should all be No: Doesn’t affect page content (ex: tracks usage).
webmaster-tools-add-parameter

If you make a mistake, you can always Edit or Delete it.

Setting up Campaign Tracking is simple and you should be using it in everything you do.

Do you use campaign tracking? If so, how do you use it? If not, is there a reason you don’t?

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Jim

In 2005, I founded a personal finance blog (Bargaineering.com) that became successful enough that I quit my career as a software developer in the defense industry. It is my goal to share everything I learned so that you can do the same - build an online business that let's you pursue your passion.

8 responses to “Are You Using Google Analytics’ Campaign Tracking?”

  1. Michael says:

    Oh, wow. Great info. No, not using this. But I can definitely see the utility.

    Question: Any idea if the extra parameters make it more likely that your comment will be flagged as spam? Or do plugins like Akismet ignore extra parameters?

    • Jim says:

      I don’t know the answer to that but I haven’t experienced any problems though.

    • Viet says:

      I highly doubt the extra parameters will be an issue since its just one (although there may be an aggressive plugin or two out there that flags anything that includes variables/parameters in a URL)

      For those more inclined and its easier to do on WordPress.. you can also write a quick PHP script that pass these parameters onto Google Analytics, so it’ll make it easier to leave your URL in comments vs grabbing that entire list of campaign parameters

      (e.g. it’ll be something more simple like http://www.microblogger.com?ref=anotherblog)

      On another note, I haven’t read anything about Google auto flagging analytics campaign parameters, but I bet Googlebot recognizes these parameters and canonicalize them accordingly. Still, doesn’t hurt to set them properly in Webmaster Tool.

  2. Wow, this looks like such helpful & useful information to have! I am not using this, but I plan on digger more in depth to it myself.

  3. Adrienne says:

    I’m one of these idiots Jim that didn’t understand all of this stuff so I just ignored it. Yeah, when things are a little over my head and no one really explains it to me so I can grasp it then I move on.

    Of course you know in my last post I shared a site that went over all of this and I wanted to kick myself in the you know what for not having tried harder to understand all of this. Dah!

    I so appreciate how you explained this and how it can benefit us so we’ll know what’s working and what’s not. I seriously never want to say that visiting someone’s blog is a waste of time but since my time is becoming much more limited then I have to really pay more attention to those blogs that can benefit me right now. I love the relationships I’m building so I enjoy that but I just don’t have enough time I’m afraid to hit them all anymore.

    Again, thank you for taking the time to explain this. I really appreciate it and rock on my new blogging friend. 😉

    Have a great weekend.

    ~Adrienne

    • Jim says:

      Ha yeah I did see you mention it, it’s something I’ve been doing for a little while now with MB just to see how effective commenting is (so far, not bad from a traffic perspective – great from a “meeting people” perspective because that’s how we got to chat on the phone!).

      I agree with you, it’s hard to follow everything, but the good stuff tends to rise to the top I think. I hope anyway. 🙂

      You too!

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