Guide to URL Tracking In Google Analytics

What is URL Tracking?

URL tracking is the process of adding unique identifiers to your destination URLs. If you aren’t tagging your urls for tracking in either analytics or another third tier system you are losing out on a lot of helpful information.

When you manage pay-per-click campaigns in conjunction with other online marketing efforts, it is extremely important to keep your data neatly separated. In the case of Google Analytics, if you don’t take care to tag your destination URLs, the data you receive will be meaningless at best. For example, let’s say that you are running an SEO campaign that is performing well in Bing organic results AND you have Bing running full force with PPC traffic: If you don’t tag your adCenter destination URLs, all of those visitors – PPC and SEO – will be labeled as “organic” in Google Analytics.

Why Should I Tag URLs?

Reason #1 to tag your PPC destination URLs is clean data that allows you to successfully track PPC vs. SEO within Google Analytics. Reason #2, URL tagging allows you to gain a deeper knowledge of the overall performance of your PPC campaign. Each of the PPC search engines provides conversion tracking, and deep stats for impressions, clicks, click-through rate, etc. However, none of these stats explain what happens “post-click.”

When you have properly tagged your PPC destination URLs, you will be able to view stats like pageviews per visit, average time on site, % new visitors and bounce rate. These stats can help you to understand if your website and landing pages are resonating with your visitors and help you to make the right changes.

Types of Analytics URL Tagging

Auto-tagging

If your Google Analytics account is linked to an active Google AdWords account and you have auto-tagging enabled, you don’t need to tag your AdWords URLs. Google Analytics will automatically track all of your AdWords campaigns. You’ll still need to tag all of your non-AdWords paid keyword links, though, as well as your banners and other ads. Auto-tagging is selected by default in all AdWords accounts.

To enable, or disable, auto-tagging go to My account > Preferences

AdWords Auto Tagging

Auto-tagging may not be appropriate for all websites and some destination URLs won’t accept additional URL parameters. To test if auto-tagging will work for your site, follow the steps below:

  1. Append ?gclid=test or &gclid=test to the end of your AdWords destination URL.
  2. Paste the modified URL into your browser’s address bar.
  3. Auto-tagging won’t generate an error if the resulting page displays the gclid=test parameter in the address bar.

Manual Tagging for Google Analytics

If you are manually tagging your URLs for Analytics, you’ll want to use the Google Analytics URL Builder to generate the proper tagging.

Analytics URL BuilderBelow is Google’s explanation of the different parameters:

Analytics Tracking ParametersCampaign Source is typically going to be the search engine (Google, Bing, Facebook, etc). Campaign Medium will define the type of advertising (PPC, email, etc). The Campaign Name will be the name of your campaign. These three are required, and you can use the remaining parameters to further identify your ads.

Below are examples of how the same ad would look being tracking in Google and Bing:

Google and Bing URL Tagging

It’s important to note that you need to make sure you always label your URLs in the same manner. If you’re using cpc for pay per click, don’t forget and use ppc in some tags or else they will be classified differently in Analytics.

To build your URLs, you can utilize the Analytics URL Builder or create a URL builder in excel which is much more efficient, especially for creating urls in bulk.

Manual Tagging for Backend Systems

You’ll also want use manual tagging for your AdWords URLs use in backend systems. To do this, it’s best to use ValueTrack Parameters. When a person clicks your ad and visits your website, ValueTrack records certain details about the ad in the URL. These parameters are dynamic, which means the values will change based on the details of the ad that was clicked.

Here is a list of available ValueTrack parameters for PPC:
{matchtype} – the match type of the keyword that triggered your ad
{network} – whether the click came from Google Search, Search Partners, or the Display Network
{ifmobile:[value]} – if you ad is clicked from a mobile device, you’ll see whatever text you insert
{ifsearch:[value]} – if your ad is clicked from a site in the Google Search Network, you’ll see whatever text you insert
{ifcontent:[value]} – If your ad is clicked from a site in the Google Display Network, you’ll see whatever text you instert
{creative} – the unique ID for a creative ad
{keyword} – for Search the keyword that triggered your ad; for Display, the best-matching keyword
{placement} – for Display only, the domain name of the site where the ad was clicked
{target} – for Display only, a placement category
{random} – a random Google-generated number
{aceid} – the control ID or experiment ID from AdWords
{copy:[name]} – for Sitelinks and Product extentions; the URL will include the actual parameter name and the value you indicate from the corresponding headline URL
{adposition} – the position on the page that your ad appeared in
{param1} – if you’re using AdParamService, create parameter #1
{param2} – if you’re using AdParamService, create parameter #2

Possible Tracking Combinations

You can use each of the above URL tracking methods on their own or combine them together to fit the needs of you and your client. You might be in a situation where you client doesn’t have backend tracking, but you want to be able to optimize your account further, so auto-tagging would suffice for your AdWords campaigns and manual tracking for non-AdWords campaigns. If your client has backend tracking and regularly shares the reporting with you, ValueTrack may be enough.

Below are the different combinations of Analytics tracking:

  1. Auto tagging only
  2. Manual Analytics tagging
  3. Value Track manual tagging only
  4. Value Track manual tagging and auto tagging
  5. Value Track manual tagging and manual analytics tagging

Tracking Outside Data in Analytics

If are running PPC campaigns on platforms other that AdWords and haven’t properly tagged your URLs, Google Analytics will still record the source but all traffic will be classified as organic.

Bing Tracking in GoogleI’m going to go into more detail about tracking adCenter and Facebook data in analytics as it’s likely the most relevant to you, but you can follow these steps to track other platforms as well.

Tracking adCenter PPC Data in Analytics

If this is your first time applying tracking to URLs, you might find it easiest to use Analytics URL Builder. I’ve filled out the boxes below to generate a tag to us in adCenter.

Bing URL Tagging Google AnalyticsFor the Source you can use bing, adcenter, or whatever else makes sense to you. Just make sure you are consistent in your tagging, especially if there are multiple people working in an account. For medium enter cpc, or ppc just remember to be consistent. For campaign name enter in the campaign name in your account. In this example, I’ve also used the Content field for my ad group name.

This is the basic approach to tagging your adCenter data, but you can also use dynamic URLs, similar to ValueTrack, to pull even more information from each click. Initially, adCenter had a specific list of dynamic tracking inserts but now the technology allows you to track whatever you want.

Below is the list of previous supported dynamic inserts.

Reserved parameters:

  • {Keyword}
  • {MatchType}
  • {QueryString}
  • {OrderItemID}
  • {AdID}
  • {Param1}
  • {Param2}
  • {Param3}
  • {ifsearch}
  • {ifcontent}

Tracking Facebook PPC Data in Analytics

For smaller PPC platforms, like Facebook, that don’t have conversion code tracking tagging your URLs is of the utmost importance. Without it, you won’t be able to see conversions coming from those ads. Again, you’ll want to use Analytics URL builder.

Facebook URL BuilderYou’ll enter in facebook for the source, cpc for the medium, and the campaign name. Facebook doesn’t have ad groups, so to distinguish I like to make a note to distinguish the content of the ad. In the example above, this is the tag for my Spring Sale ad.

Again, follow this method to set up tracking for all PPC ads across all platforms so you can get the most information from each ad click.

Other Uses for URL Tagging & Additional Tactics

Being a PPC blog and all, it is our primary duty to inform you how to use URL tagging for PPC. But there are a myriad of other uses for tagging certain types of visitors for Google Analytics. Additionally, there are some additional tactics you can employ to build on the data you are collecting with your URL tagging and grow your PPC campaigns even further!

  1. Other Uses for URL Tagging: If the business you are utilizing PPC for practices any other type of online marketing, URL tagging is just as important for those other marketing activities. Online marketing should be a collaborative effort, and the back-end data you receive in Analytics should reflect that collaboration.
    1. Any type of banner advertising, email marketing, etc. can utilize URL tagging.
    2. When it comes time to create the utm_source= section of your URL, be specific. “Email Blast 03/04? or “Yahoo! Banner Ads” (or whatever display ad network you use) – the more specific you are, the easier your reporting will be in Analytics.
    3. When it comes time to create the utm_medium= section of your URL, choose a naming convention that you’re comfortable with – because you’ll need to stick with it. “Email” or “Display_Ads” are general names that you will need to repeat each time you launch a new campaign. This way you can look at reports for ALL email blasts or ALL display ad campaigns.
  2. Ad Groups or Ad Text Names?: When you create your PPC destination URLs, I’ve recommended that you insert the ad group name for the utm_content= section of the URL tag. I would like to plant a seed and suggest that you play around with inserting ad text names instead.
    1. By inserting the ad text name, you can view site activity in Analytics at yet another level of granularity. See how different ads with different calls-to-action result in user behavior on your website.
  3. Employ a Search Query Filter: Tagging PPC destination URLs is an absolute must for any advertiser using Google Analytics as a part of their strategy. But this tactic can only get you so far – and it doesn’t show you everything you’d like to see in Analytics. As such, I would recommend that you employ a search query filter in Analytics.
    1. I’m not going to roll through the step-by-step instructions for this tactic – instead I highly recommend you check out this post on setting up search query filters.
    2. This tactic has been touted as an AdWords-only solution. The truth is (*gasp*) that it works for Yahoo! and Microsoft campaigns as well! Once set up properly, you will see your keywords shown as this in Google Analytics reports: keyword, (search query)
    3. Why is this so important? Well, the Google AdWords Search Query Report is great, but it doesn’t show you ALL of the search queries. And neither Yahoo! or Microsoft have any sort of search query reporting available. So, when you combine the power of tagging your PPC destination URLs with this search query filter, you will have at your fingertips a very powerful set of data!
    4. The uses for knowing search queries are endless, but some of the highlights are: understanding user intent, finding new keywords to add into your accounts and most importantly – finding new negative keywords to weed out irrelevant traffic!

______________________________

As we all move forward and continue to use URL tagging for our PPC campaigns, you’ll find new, inventive ways to use this data to further improve our performance.You will be able to make smarter decisions regarding keyword level bounce rate and time on site. You can compare conversion data (with goal funnels) between all of your sources and mediums of site traffic. All in all, using URL tagging to track keyword data in Analytics will make your job as a search marketer that much easier!