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Feb 9, 2021

Google Analytics Campaign Tracking

The first step toward attribution and measuring success

Each post in our Google Analytics series has mentioned the need for an effective campaign tracking strategy. The time has come to dive into why it is important, how to implement your campaign tracking and our recommended approach.

Why should you care about implementing a campaign tracking strategy for your site traffic? A well-planned campaign tracking strategy allows you to measure how paid and unpaid efforts bring traffic to your site and contribute to your campaigns' and organization's success. This data enables you to better allocate human and financial resources to strategic channels, understand who is responding to each tactic, set expectations for different efforts, and refine your strategy to convert fans and patrons into site visitors and purchasers.

Traffic Attribution

How are visitors attributed to a specific campaign or channel? For general traffic, Google Analytics will look at how the visitor came to the site and assign it to the appropriate channel, medium, and source. For example, if a session came to you after searching on Google, the source is "google," the medium is "organic," and the channel would show "Organic Search," or if a visitor comes to you from an artist's site, the traffic will be seen in the "Referral" channel with the medium "referral" and the artist's site will be the source. Google's default definitions are beneficial for most traffic, but you want to see your efforts to bring visitors to your site separately. To do so, you need to add campaign tracking tags on those links.

Add manual tracking

Adding campaign tracking tags, sometimes referred to as "utm codes," to your links is easy. Google's Campaign URL Builder is a useful tool and will construct the final URL for you. If you want to keep a record of the source, medium, and campaign terms you are using, you can create a URL builder file in Excel or Google Sheets to add these tags quickly and easily. Several of Paciolan's Google Analytics consulting clients, such as Virginia Tech, Purdue, Michigan, and NC State, have had great success with these files. In the end, all you need to do is add a short string to the end of the URL you are using in your email, post, or ad.

The template for adding utm codes is as follows. Of course, you will want to replace each XXXX with your desired terms for source, medium, and campaign.

?utm_source=XXXX&utm_medium=XXXX&utm_campaign=XXXX

 

If you are using an eVenue link, be sure to add your campaign tracking tags to the end of the URL after any RSRC/RDAT values. Additionally, you will need to change the leading ? to an & as seen below.

&utm_source=XXXX&utm_medium=XXXX&utm_campaign=XXXX

 

You can include the content variable by adding &utm_content=XXXX to the end of either template above.

 

Creating Your Data Strategy

Most digital marketing campaigns utilize multiple channels and platforms with paid and unpaid efforts working together to drive traffic to your site and drive a result. Putting all those pieces together to measure the success of a campaign is complex. Google Analytics won't be able to show you every possible measure from all channels, but it is a great place to start putting those pieces together. Using campaign tracking tags you're now adding to all links going to your site, you can make data-driven decisions to be more efficient with your time and budget and create more effective campaigns.

Campaign

The best place to begin is by naming your campaign. You want your campaign name to be indicative of the goal you are trying to meet. If you are selling tickets to a concert, the artist's name is likely the best option. If you're wanting to drive newsletter sign ups, "newsletterSignup" might be the best way to go. You can get as granular as you like with the campaign name, but make sure it aligns with your overall business objectives. There's no need to have a campaign for a specific game if your budget is defined as "singles" for all games.

Your campaign name should also be applicable across all efforts and channels. Keep in mind we're talking about the utm parameter for campaign, not necessarily the name entered in an ad platform when setting up an ad. Oftentimes these can differ from the campaign name you want to use when aligning your reporting.

You will also want to ask yourself whether your campaign is actually the outcome or if it is a way the visitor comes to your site. A good example is with weekly emails. You may consider using "insiderWeekly" as a campaign to make it easy to tag all of the links within an email. However, if the weekly insider email is selling tickets to different events, each event link should likely be a unique campaign, with the source labeled as "insiderWeekly" because that email is where the user came from to take the desired action, purchasing tickets to one of the events.

Medium

Moving on to the medium, keep these to fairly broad categorizations representing how the user came to your site, not where they came from. Terms such as "email," "social," "display," "video," and "search" are appropriate here. You could even consider splitting social into "paidSocial" and "social" to get easier visibility into paid and unpaid social traffic.

Depending on how you like to measure, you can also let your ad platforms do the heavy lifting for defining mediums. For example, if you do not define your own medium for a search ad, traffic from that effort will show with the medium "cpc" or "cost-per-click." Google Analytics will then put this into the "Paid Search" channel grouping based on its default definitions for each channel.

Source

Now we get to where the user came from. You will likely have multiple sources per medium, and some sources could belong to more than one medium. In most cases, you'll want to find a way to automate the source or use the default value from your ad platform. For example, Facebook provides the variable {{site source name}} which will dynamically pull in either "fb" or "ig" depending on where your ad served. If you cannot automate this value, using a template will make it easier to change sources for posts to social channels and other common link placements.

Email

Email can be difficult to define. You've already defined the medium as email, so using "email" again for your source isn't helpful nor is using the name of your newsletter if that's the only value you will have as a source. This is where you must evaluate what is going to be valuable to your organization and advance you toward your business objectives.

Generally, you should use "email" as the medium for all emailed communication, regardless of who the sender is. Use the source to define the different email types, which could include "announce," "presale," "specialoffer," "insider," "thisweekinsports," "gamepreview," or "onsale." As long as the type of email is clearly represented, you should be in a good place. However, when multiple entities are sending messages, you may want to add clarity between the organizations.

Athletics, Foundation, and University all sending traffic to the same site

If there are multiple entities sending emails with links pointing to the same site, aligning efforts across each organization will give a clear picture of which emails are most effective for driving traffic and different outcomes. Sources could be made general to designate the sender as "athletics," "foundation," or "campus," but you might be better served appending the sender to the source, such as "ath-onSale," "foundation-givingTues," etc. If all organizations are using different sources, adding extra designation to the source or content is likely unnecessary.

Arenas and Performing Arts Centers

You've got your work cut out for you. Between resident organizations, tours, promoters, and your own efforts, you're going to get some email traffic that doesn't meet data standards you want to have. The best you can do is provide direction and guidance to each group and hope they do their level best to adhere to it. Make sure to communicate the benefit to using the structure. Transparency often helps others buy in.

As for the actual structure, I'd recommend having a source specific to your regular newsletter as well as sources to represent the type of communication. If you're sending a blast announcing a show, "announce" would be an appropriate term, the same goes for "presale," "onsale," and any "reminder" emails you send. If it is essential to know if the email traffic came from an entity other than your own, consider using the content variable to separate the traffic from those entities' efforts or asking them to append the source value as suggested for Athletics. In this case, you could have "artist-announce" or "promoter-onSale" for those groups and "announce" and "onSale" for your internal efforts.

Reminders for Working in Ad Platforms

  1. Facebook Ads
    • Source can be set dynamically. You can set the source to {{site source name}} to populate whether the ad is on Facebook, Instagram, Instagram Stories, etc.
    • Without campaign parameters, traffic will be combined with organic social.
  2. Google Ads
    • Without campaign tracking on destination urls, default values will be used. The traffic will be placed in the correct channel, but you may see 'cpc,' 'cpm,' or another value as the medium and 'google' as the source.
  3. General
    • Without a campaign term defined, the name of the campaign in the platform is used. Though this sounds helpful, the name used in the platform may not be applicable to other channels. Using a custom campaign term, along with ticking the box in your property set up to allow manual utm tagging from our previous post, Preparing For Success With Google Analytics, will allow you to see aggregated traffic for the campaign in Google Analytics.

Sample Campaign Diagram

Below is a sample campaign diagram which could be used for a ticket sales campaign for nearly any event. This structure will allow you to combine all efforts under one campaign, and clearly see traffic and performance from those tactics.

Campaign Diagram.png

Real World Example

What could this look like when you stop theorizing and get real? Let's take a look at how the University of Michigan structured their Hail From Home campaign. Before we dive in, Keith Bretzius, Michigan's Director of Digital, has this to say about the importance and value of campaign tracking.

"Campaign tracking is an easy, yet impactful way to understand how fans are interacting with our content. By establishing a consistent campaign tracking structure, we can quickly evaluate and report on our marketing effort in Google Analytics to see what digital channels are effective. Campaign tracking not only helps measure our efforts, it also allows us to benchmark our digital performance for future marketing efforts."

The primary goal of the Hail From Home campaign is to drive engagement with fans on and leading up to game days throughout the season, focusing on retaining existing fans, season ticket holders, and previous single-game purchasers. The campaign began with football, but is extending to men's and women's basketball as well as ice hockey. Knowing the campaign was not going to directly drive revenue and their primary audience is already familiar and likely engaged with the organization, they relied mainly on email and organic social content, but they also invested in paid social to ensure their intended audiences did not miss their message.

Hail From Home Campaign Map.png

Example full URL with tracking:

mgoblue.com/gameday/football-vs-minnesota/football/14/index.aspx?utm_source=twitter&utm_medium=social&utm_campaign=hailfromhome&utm_content=minnesota

 

With this structure, all traffic from each of the many email sources is aggregated within the 'email' medium, and the same is true for the social and paidsocial traffic. This allows Michigan to know which way visitors come to the site generates better engagement, more returning users, and if any goals defined in Google Analytics are being met. With this data, Michigan can allocate resources for future campaigns with similar goals or inform specific tactics in other campaigns.

 

The same analysis can be done for the sources within each medium. If Michigan begins to see really good on-site behavior from organic Twitter sessions, they may decide to send more tweets about this content. Alternatively, if they see very little engagement through a specific email source, they can choose not to include the content in those types of emails going forward. Doing so will reduce the amount of time their staff needs to create the email and provide a better experience for the fans getting those emails by removing unwanted content.

Michigan is also using the same email sources across multiple campaigns, which allows them to see how specific email types contribute to the success of each campaign quickly and easily within Google Analytics.

You will notice their content terms are not directly tied to specific sources. Each content term can, and is, used with multiple sources. Doing so allows Michigan to see how Facebook posts, or any other effort, about each game within this campaign performed against each other. When consistently applied, they can also filter data in Google Analytics for a specific game to see overall performance across each source and medium. Ultimately, it was determined this data point wasn't vital to measuring campaign success, but still worthy of analysis, which is why it was collected with the content parameter, not in a source, medium, or individual campaigns for each game.

Keys To Success, Parting Tips, and General Recommendations

I sincerely hope you've found this helpful. Campaign tracking can be a tricky thing, but once you determine the right way forward for your organization, you'll be better equipped to make informed decisions and measure your success. If you're not currently using campaign tracking tags, I encourage you to try. As you get started, there's no harm in trying one setup to see how the data comes back. If it doesn't make sense, or you think it could be better, change it up, try again, and keep trying until you find what works best for you.

Keys to Success

  1. Plan ahead
    • Determine your goal/desired outcome for the campaign.
    • Map out your tactics and how visitors will interact with those efforts to come to your site
    • Consider how naming conventions may impact other campaigns
    • Your goal should work toward your overall business objectives. What data will be influential in making business decisions related to those objectives?
    • Keep it simple
      • Do not over complicate traffic sources - consider what data is needed to measure success and inform strategy
        • Does including a "retargeting" versus "prospecting" designation actually help inform the success of the overall campaign or the specific tactic? If the latter, this data can likely be found in the ad platform through ad group or audience performance.
        • The same thought applies to email traffic. Opens, clicks, and general email engagement for each message sent is likely available in the email platform. Using the email date as a source in Google Analytics has proven not to be as helpful as the type of email sent.
  2. Write it out and make it easy
    • Create a system or file to help individuals create and add campaign tracking tags to links to reduce potential errors
  3. Communicate and encourage buy-in
    • Make your plan available to stakeholders and groups who send traffic to the site
    • Show how having this data can benefit different groups and individuals
    • Demonstrate the value of sticking to the plan
      • Celebrate successes before calling out failure if possible
      • Highlight how individuals' actions impact business objectives

Parting tips

  1. Use lowercase terms
  2. Be willing to adjust your strategy
    • Digital marketing is continuously changing, be prepared for your strategy to evolve
  3. Be consistent - don't change your entire strategy for one campaign 
    • Consider if the change will be beneficial to future campaigns
  4. Map out the campaign hierarchy
  5. Review channel performance as overall impact to the site and guidance for where your fans are currently coming from
  6. When looking at a campaign, evaluation can be best done by source/mediums
  7. Reminder: Paciolan's came from codes, RSRC and RDAT, have no bearing on Google Analytics campaign tracking
    • RSRC and RDAT values only work when the destination URL is on eVenue
    • When using Paciolan's came from codes on eVenue links, Google Analytics campaign tracking tags should be placed at the end of the URL, after any RSRC and RDAT values
    • A different tracking strategy is likely needed for RSRC/RDAT values. Using these parameters typically informs other business needs, so your RSRC/RDAT strategy does not need to align directly your Google Analytics campaign tracking

authorPost by Mark Baker, Digital Marketing Specialist, Paciolan