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How to tag your advertising to see if it’s working

Yesterday we looked at the need to measure advertising results better, and how straightforward it is to record the value of website visits from different adverts. Today I thought we should look at how to ‘tag’ your advertising so that you can analyse it in even more depth. This is something which you need to plan in advance of placing the advert.

In your Google Analytics report, you can see the various sources of traffic. That’s great. But of the 100 visits from, how many were from your advert, and how many were from its directory link, which you’d have got free anyway? Where is the traffic from the WidgetWorld Monthly Email Newsletter? What are those ‘(direct)’ visits? Let’s ensure this time next year we have that information.

The way to do this is to ‘tag’ the incoming traffic. There’s only so much Google Analytics can work out as standard – you need to give it some help. This is done by ensuring that the incoming links from the adverts, newsletters, press releases, etc., contain additional information. Fortunately, this can be information you specify.

The format is as follows. Instead of getting the advert simply to send visitors to the required page on your website, you get it to send them accompanied by additional information. It’s invisible to the visitor, but exactly what you need. So, instead of:
…you’ll be sending them to something like this:

When you place the advert, you’ll ask the publisher to use your new, longer link instead of just the plain page link. Nobody will ever see it, so the complexity doesn’t matter.

Let’s break that down. What you’re doing with all this ‘tagging’ is to tell Google Analytics where the advert appeared, what type of medium was involved (website, email etc), and which particular advert was clicked on. This means that not only can you track individual adverts, but you can look at the results of one publication vs another, one type of medium vs another, and one advert design vs another, regardless of the other parameters.

This is straightforward to do, and is easy to test, but it needs some planning beforehand. It’s best to set up a document listing all your adverts, directory entries, press releases etc as you create them, and the different tags you’ve given to each. There will be three ‘parameters’.

Firstly, we have the source. This is simply the name of the publication, website, etc. If it already sends you traffic, find it in Google Analytics (under Acquisition > All Traffic > Source/Medium) and give it the same name. Let’s say we’re putting a link in WidgetWorld’s email newsletter. We see that we already get visits from So we begin to build our ‘tag’ as follows:

Advert: WidgetWorld email newsletter, February 2016
Source Tag:

Next, we need the medium. Again, look in Google Analytics (under Acquisition > All Traffic > Source/Medium, and click ‘Medium’ by ‘Primary Dimension’) to see the existing options, although you can create something new. In this case, it’s simply ’email’. For a website, it would be ‘referral’. So our tag components are now:

Advert: WidgetWorld email newsletter, February 2016
Source Tag:
Medium Tag: email

Finally, the campaign. Some people use this tag to identify every campaign explicitly (e.g ‘WidgetWorld email newsletter, February 2016, launch announcement’), others use it just to identify the advert (e.g. ‘launch announcement’), knowing that the data will be available in conjunction with the source and medium anyway. This also has the advantage that you’ll be able to see all traffic from that advert grouped together if the advert is used in more than one place. So we now have:

Advert: WidgetWorld email newsletter, February 2016
Source Tag:
Medium Tag: email
Campaign Tag: Launch%20Announcement

Note that if you want to use a word-space, this is indicated by ‘%20’. Never leave a space in your tags.

Finally, make a note of the page on your site to which you’re linking, and take all this information to Google’s URL Builder Form here. This will create the fully-tagged link which you can tell the publisher to use. Alternatively, you’ll be able to work out the format if you prefer.

Test out the tagged link. Simply paste it into your browser and check it takes you to the right page. Then come back after lunch and see if your visit has shown up in Google Analytics in the way you’d want it to. You’ll see the source and medium under Acquisition > All Traffic > Source/Medium, and the campaign under Acquisition > Campaigns > All Campaigns. Make sure that today is included in the date range, and you’re showing enough rows (bottom right of the screen) to see right down to 1 visit.

That’s it. The key to successful tracking is to have a well thought-out set of labels, but it’s almost certain that you’ll think up better ideas as you go along. Your big spreadsheet of adverts and tags will become your best friend. Many companies even tag their press releases on a per-publication basis, so that they can see what’s being generated, from where. It can be a whole new world.


Above: how your spreadsheet might look
Below: Google Analytics Source/Medium/Campaign report


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