Let’s Take another Look at URL Tagging and Tracking PPC Campaigns via Google Analytics

The more we write here at PPC Hero, the more we learn about pay-per-click in general and the needs and wants of our readers. Of all the topics we’ve touched on over the past few years, the one that has remained most popular is the process for tracking PPC campaigns via Google Analytics. Previously we’ve written on how to properly tag your destination URLs for Yahoo! Search Marketing and Microsoft adCenter. We even followed up with a post on troubleshooting common problems with URL tagging, but that hasn’t been enough to quench your thirst! All of that being said, today I’d like to touch on this subject once more and offer up a reminder of why this process is so important, insights I’ve learned along the way, and provide some additional tactics to add to your Analytics tracking arsenal.

Before I dive into the details, let’s have a refresher course on URL tagging for Google Analytics. You can create custom tagged URLs quickly and easily by using Google’s URL Builder Tool. No muss, no fuss. You input important details like “source” which will distinguish between search engines and “medium” which will label these visitors as coming from PPC. You can also tag your destination URLs with “term” for keywords, “content” for ad group or ad text names and “campaign” for – you guessed it – the name of your PPC campaign!

Google AdWords automatically tags your ads with this information, but if you need to know how to tag for other analytics packages – check out this article on Google’s insertion tags. For your Yahoo! and Microsoft campaigns, the dirty work is in your hands. For most advertisers, the first question is “Do I have to add a unique destination URL for every keyword?” The answer is no! Both YSM and adCenter pass referral information with each PPC visitor that you can piggy-back on and include in your URL tagging. The important ones to remember are for your keywords: Yahoo!’s keyword parameter is {OVKEY} and Microsoft’s parameter is {keyword}. By inserting these parameters into the utm_term= section of your URL tag, you will successfully pull the keyword you bid on from your campaign into Google Analytics.

Why Is It So Important to Tag Your Destination URLs?

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 (our analytics package of choice), 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 Yahoo! organic results AND you have Yahoo! Search Marketing running full force with PPC traffic: If you don’t tag your YSM destination URLs, all of those visitors – PPC and SEO – will be labeled as “organic” in Google Analytics. Doh!

So, 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. Additionally, when you have set up goals, you can view goal funnels and understand when and where customers fall out of your sales/lead process – allowing you to make the necessary changes to improve conversion rates!

Insights and Mistakes: Practice Makes Perfect

When I originally posted instructions on URL tagging for YSM and adCenter campaigns, I was still relatively new at the game – and I made a few minor errors. Additionally, I’ve found potential pitfalls along the way. Remember, hindsight is 20/20! Most of these have been cleared up in comment strings, but I’ll lay it all out on the table here:

  1. Inserting “ID” Parameters into URLs: Initially, I gave instructions for placing ad group and campaign ID parameters into the utm_content= and utm_campaign= sections of the URL. Truthfully, this won’t do you a bit of good. These are literally ID numbers given to each campaign and ad group for use by Yahoo! and Microsoft.
    1. Solution: Insert the actual name of your ad groups and campaigns into these sections of the URL. This will allow you to filter your data by ad group, by campaign, etc. within Analytics.
  2. Inserting “QueryString” as the Default for adCenter Keywords: Initially, I gave instructions for utilizing utm_term={QueryString} for pulling in the keyword from your Microsoft adCenter campaign. In truth, this pulls the search query instead of the keyword you bid on. While the search query is important data to have, it isn’t accurate if you’re looking for the actual keyword!
    1. Solution: Insert utm_term={keyword} instead. This will pull the keyword that you are bidding on within adCenter for a more accurate portrayal of account performance. I’ll show you how to access the search query later.
  3. Be Conscience of 301 Redirects: This statement goes for ALL of your landing pages. If you send PPC traffic from any search engine (including auto-tagged AdWords campaigns), the URL tagging will be stripped by a 301 redirect. All of your hard work will be for nothing, and your PPC visitors will be attributed to either “organic” or “direct” Sources in Analytics (as was my experience).
    1. Solution: Before sending PPC visitors to a new landing page, check for 301 redirects at a site that can read server headers. If there’s a 301 redirect, change your destination URLs to point to the final destination of that URL! You can also program (or have someone else program) your server to pass URL tagging parameters through those 301s.

Other Uses for URL Tagging & Additional Tactics

Being a PPC blog and all, it is my 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, we’ll find new, inventive ways to use this data to further improve our performance. I for one can’t imagine life before I discovered URL tagging, and hope that you all share my enthusiasm for this PPC tactic.

Does anyone have any additional tactics or ideas for using URL tagging with Google Analytics? If so, leave me a comment!