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Let’s start identifying your website traffic better

Yesterday I mentioned the problem of the mysterious category of “direct” traffic in your website analytics. Let’s start to see what we can do about it, shall we? After all, the heading amalgamates so many different sources of traffic that it’s tempting to say: “we can’t measure those” and to continue to throw money at advertising with no idea what response it’s bringing. It doesn’t have to be this way.

The first thing we need to do is to take out the easy stuff. If you’re in control of the link people follow, you can convert that link into a “tagged” one which will have its own heading in the traffic sources. See how we separate out the Google AdWords visits for our clients? You can do this for anything.

Analytics Sources example

The method is quite simple. If you put a small addition on the end of a link, called a “source tag”, Google Analytics will give traffic from those links its own category. So, when you next put a link to your website in a Word document, or in a PDF brochure, or in an email, make sure it has a source tag to identify the visits it generates …forever. Easy. And the tag can have whatever you like in it: it’s your own labelling system.

There are a whole bunch of tags you can add to your links, categorising the type of link, the specific campaign, etc., but I find that most beginners like to just stick to the source tag. The format is this:


So, instead of having a link on the footer of your email to:
you use something like:

The tag bit makes no difference to the person clicking on it, they go to the same page as an untagged version.

Don’t forget, you don’t have to show that tagged link in an HTML email: show just but highlight that and set the actual link to be the tagged version.

You can add the tag onto complete page names, not just the domain, for example:

A couple of notes. Firstly, if your web page address already contains a “?”, then use a “&” instead of introducing a second “?” with the utm_source tag.

Secondly, web page addresses shouldn’t have spaces in, so if you want your tag to have spaces (like our “BMON AdWords” source label above), then use “%20”, which is code for a space, and is permitted. So we would have used:

But just try it! Copy the URL from a random page on your own site; add a source tag as I’ve shown (maybe “test” or something); paste that link into your browser’s address bar; and hit return. You’ll go to the page, and Google Analytics will be sent your tag as a source for the visit. Give it a couple of hours to show up there.

There are other parts to the tag which you could (and probably should) use, so Google has conveniently come up with a “URL Builder” tool which makes things easier. I normally set the medium as “referrer” if the link is going on another website, or “email” if it’s going in an email, etc. The “campaign” can narrow things down to a specific date or other identifier.

Once you’ve got confident, you’ll be tagging every link in your emails, your office documents and your PDF brochures. What’s more, you can ensure that any third-party advertising (such as banner ads) has a source tag and subsequently jumps out of the Google Analytics reports. Then you can really start finding out what these adverts and emails are sending you.

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