How to Monitor Promotional Campaigns with Google Analytics

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The standard Google Analytics reports provide in-depth statistics about traffic sources. They include information for:

  • direct visitors, i.e., those who entered your URL or used a browser bookmark
  • referring sites, i.e, a link on another website which users follow
  • visitors from search engines, i.e., a link from results for a search term
  • visitors from AdWords, i.e., if your AdWords account is linked, Analytics will indicate the effectiveness of those campaigns.

But what about links from emails, newsletters, banners, link exchanges, third-party pay-per-click programs or other online promotions? A few years ago you would have needed to create special landing pages for each advertising campaign. Even then, not all statistical reports would track a visitor from site entry to goal completion.

Fortunately, campaign management is built into Google Analytics. If you’re using the system already, it’s simply a matter of tagging links to your website with the appropriate arguments. These are the arguments you can add to inbound URLs (you’ve possibly seen these before without realizing what they were):

utm_source (required)
The source of the website link, e.g., the name of an affiliate or website where the link can be found.

utm_medium (required)
The medium, e.g., email, banner, advert, etc. In some cases, you could provide different mediums for the same source or campaign.

utm_campaign (optional)
The name of your campaign. This can be used for keyword analysis — for example, the value could be used to identify links to specific products.

utm_term (optional)
A search term, possibly for paid results, which identifies the keywords used for a campaign.

utm_content (optional)
Used to differentiate different versions of the same advertisement. This can be useful for A/B testing and content-targeted ads.

All values must be alphanumeric and contain no spaces. You can mix upper and lower case, but I’d recommend keeping the names short.

As an example, let’s assume you’re promoting fluffy widgets on your website and require a link within your December 2010 email newsletter:

Google also provide a URL Builder to help you create campaign links.

The source and medium will appear in most Google Analytics reports. From your profile, select Traffic Sources then All Traffic Sources to see the results for “NewsDec2010 / email.”

It’s easy to monitor the effectiveness of any promotional campaign. Armed with that knowledge, you can take steps to reduce ineffective advertising and increase sales.

Craig BucklerCraig Buckler
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Craig is a freelance UK web consultant who built his first page for IE2.0 in 1995. Since that time he's been advocating standards, accessibility, and best-practice HTML5 techniques. He's created enterprise specifications, websites and online applications for companies and organisations including the UK Parliament, the European Parliament, the Department of Energy & Climate Change, Microsoft, and more. He's written more than 1,000 articles for SitePoint and you can find him @craigbuckler.

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