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In Google Analytics, there is an order to everything. I learned this the hard way. In the past, the PPC Hero team has shared with our readers some unfortunate side-effects that can happen when you combine destination URLs, tracking parameters and 301 redirects. Today I am going to shed more light on this subject and hopefully prevent someone from making the same mistake in the future. If you would like some more information on tagging, check out the Guide to URL Tagging in Google Analytics.

I recently began working with a client that uses fairly complex tracking systems to monitor the profitability of their pay-per-click business. Part of this tracking system required me to setup tracking URLs at the keyword level to monitor both online and pay-per-click call performance. Thanks to autotagging in Google using the gclid parameter, I only had to append the call tracking URL (i.e. ?param=a&param2=b) in AdWords. Bing has introduced autotagging, which should allow for the same process to be followed for that platform. In Yahoo Gemini, I was required to combine the call tracking URL with the &utm=source parameter. Thus, the source of my pay-per-click tracking issue.

As the month continued, our cost-per-sale continued to rise, and we were not seeing sales attributed to our ads. Sales from the PPC campaign were attributed to organic and/or direct, which was really hurting our bottom line. So, I needed to resolve this issue, fast!

Resolving URL tagging is relatively simple if you know what to look for. If you have problems with tracking search engine performance with 3rd party campaigns, it is most likely one of three things (from my experience):

Problem 1: 301 Redirects

301 redirects can often strip your URL tracking, and categorize PPC traffic into organic or direct. This includes the gclid tracking code for AdWords and the &utm=source tracking parameter for other search engines. It is easy to find if this is your issue. To test the gclid, enter the destination URL into your browser with the following appended at the end: The gclid should remain at the end of the URL when the page loads. If it disappears, then you are losing your tracking info.

Solution: Update the destination URLs in your pay-per-click accounts so they point directly to the final destination. If you are pointing your pay-per-click ads to a redirected URL, then your tracking may be stripped in the redirect.

Solution: Ask your website developer to configure your server to pass the gclid and all other tracking parameters.

Problem 2: Tracking Parameter Order

Check the order of your tracking parameters. Your &utm URL tagging needs to come before any additional tracking parameters. If they are in the wrong order, then you are not going to properly track performance. In the case of my client, I initially setup the URLs with the call tracking parameter first, and the URL tagging second. Here is an example:

Under this structure, the call tracking parameters were effectively stripping the &utm=source in Google Analytics. So similar to the case of 301 redirects, my PPC traffic was counted as organic and direct.

Solution: Reorder your tracking URLs so the &utm=source tracking code comes before any additional tracking parameters. Your URL should follow this structure:

Problem 3: URL Structure

If you are still having problems tracking 3rd party campaigns in Google Analytics, then your issue may lie with the &utm=source tracking parameter setup using the Google URL Builder. If you do not properly format this tag, then Google Analytics will not record traffic properly.

Solution: Take a closer look at your &utm=source parameters to confirm everything is correct. Check out How to Troubleshoot When Tracking 3rd Party PPC through Google Analytics for a more detailed review of the problem.

Final Thoughts

3rd party URL tagging is a great resource for tracking pay-per-click campaign performance, but you have to do it right to reap the benefits. These are all very common problems with URL tagging and thankfully the solutions are simple to implement. If you are experiencing tracking problems, use this as a resource to quickly find and resolve the problem. If this doesn’t solve the problem, be sure to troubleshoot some other common Google Analytics tracking issues.

Post originally published in August 2009 and updated by Mike Matta