Guide to URL Tracking In Google Analytics

What is URL Tracking?

 

URL tracking is the process of adding unique identifiers to your final URLs. If you aren’t tagging your URLs for tracking in either Google Analytics or another third-tier system, you are losing out on 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 final 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’s organic results AND you have Bing running full force with PPC traffic. If you don’t tag your URLs, all of those visitors – PPC and SEO – will be labeled as “organic” in Google Analytics.

 

Why Should I Tag URLs?

 

The number one reason to tag your final URLs is for clean data that allows you to successfully track PPC efforts in Google Analytics. The second reason is that 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 metrics explain what happens “post-click.”

 

When you have properly tagged your final 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 optimize accordingly.

 

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 manually tag your AdWords URLs. Google Analytics will automatically track your AdWords campaigns. You’ll still need to tag your non-AdWords paid ad links. Auto-tagging is selected by default in all AdWords accounts.

 

To enable, or disable, auto-tagging, go to “Account Settings > Preferences”

 

Enable auto-tagging

 

Auto-tagging is not compatible with a small percentage of websites and some final URLs won’t accept additional URL parameters. To test if auto-tagging will work for your site, follow the steps below:

 

  1. Click on a live version of your ad with auto-tagging enabled.
  2. If the resulting page displays the gclid in the address bar and takes you to a working site, auto-tagging is working.
  3. If you do not see gclid in the address bar or if you see an error in the resulting page, turn off auto-tagging.

 

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.

 

Google campaign URL builder

 

Below is Google’s explanation of the different parameters:

 

Google campaign parameters

 

Campaign 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 fields are required. The remaining parameters can be used to further identify your ads.

 

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

 

URL tracking examples for Google and Bing

 

It’s important to note that you need to make sure you always label your URLs in the same manner. Google Analytics is case sensitive so watch out for capitalization differences like cpc vs. Cpc.

 

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 want to use manual tagging for AdWords URLs using backend systems. To do this, it’s best to use ValueTrack Parameters. When a user clicks your ad, and visits your website, ValueTrack records certain details about the ad in the URL. These dynamic parameters are replaced with a value that is based on the details of the ad when it 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

{device} – tells you which device a user was on when clicking your ad

{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 insert

{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 extensions, 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 your client doesn’t have backend tracking, but you want to be able to further optimize the account, 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 you are running PPC campaigns on platforms other than AdWords and haven’t properly tagged your URLs, Google Analytics will still record the source but all traffic will be classified as organic.

 

Comparison with and without URL tagging

 

We’ll go into more detail about tracking Bing 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 Bing PPC Data in Analytics

 

To auto-tag your Bing ads follow these steps so the UTM parameters are automatically added to the end of your URLs.

  1. Login to Bing Ads and click Accounts & Billing under the gear icon.
  2. Choose the account in which you want to enable auto-tagging.
  3. On the Accounts tab, click the edit icon.
  4. Next to Auto-tagging, select Add UTM tags to my destination URLs.
  5. Choose to either replace all existing tags or keep the tags you already have and have Bing add any that are missing.

 

Choosing to replace all existing tags will remove any UTM tags you already have. Choosing to add any tags that are missing will simply add the new tags to your existing tags. These UTM tags are then automatically attached to your landing page URL when it loads.

 

If you choose to manually tag your Bing ads, you might find it easiest to use the Analytics URL Builder. We’ve filled out the boxes below to generate a tag to use in Bing.

 

Google Analytics URL builder example for Bing ads

 

For the source, you can use bing. For medium, enter cpc, or ppc just remember to be consistent. For campaign name, enter 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 Bing data, but you can also use dynamic URLs, like ValueTrack, to pull even more information from each click. Initially, Bing had a specific list of dynamic tracking inserts but now the technology allows you to track custom parameters.

 

Below is the list of previously supported dynamic inserts.

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

 

Tracking Facebook PPC Data in Analytics

 

It is just as important to track social platforms like Facebook. Tagging your Facebook URLs correctly will grant a deeper look into your customer’s unique behavior and journey. Again, you’ll want to use the Analytics URL builder as illustrated above for tagging your Bing data.

 

You’ll enter in facebook for the source, cpc for the medium, and the campaign name. To gain insights at the ad set level enter the ad set name in campaign term. To track performance on an individual ad level, enter the ad name in campaign content. In the example above, this is the tag for a 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, 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!

 

Other Uses for URL Tagging: If the business you are managing PPC for practices other types of online marketing, URL tagging is just as important for those channels. 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!” (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.

 

Ad Groups or Ad Text Names: When you create your PPC final URLs, we’ve recommended that you insert the ad group name for the utm_content= section of the URL tag. We would like to plant a seed and suggest that you play around with inserting ad text names instead.

 

By inserting the ad text name, you can view site activity in Analytics at a more granular level and observe how different ads with different call-to-actions lead to different user behavior.

 

Conclusion

 

As we 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 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 your sources and mediums of site traffic. Using URL tagging to track keyword data in Analytics will make your job as a search marketer that much easier.