Campaign tagging, also called link tagging and sometimes UTM tagging, is at the heart of Google Analytics’ tracking and reporting of how visitors reach your website.
Google Analytics provides a set of 5 dimensions – think of them as values – that can be updated to record details about the link a visitor clicks to reach your website.
In the normal course of events Google Analytics will automatically update some of these values with information about the nature of the web traffic.
However, if you publish content or adverts on other websites, through social media, or in email to customers campaign tagging can be used to collect more detailed meaningful and accurate information. Thus enabling you to assess the effectiveness of your advertising and the content you are distributing.
What is campaign tagging?
Campaign tagging involves adding parameters and values to links that lead back to your website that are then updated into your analytics data.
There as 5 campaign tagging dimensions: Medium, Source, Campaign, Content and Term available.
Medium should describe the communications channel
Source is the location of the link, such as the website it was on or marketing email it was in.
Campaign, Content and Term should be used to describe the content that drove the traffic to you.
Their use is best described by an example, if you were a percussion manufacturer running a spring promotion on your range of cymbals and you paid to display your “big display advert” on the mikesdrums website, you could capture all that information each time someone clicked on the advert.
The traffic is coming from paid advertising on the mikesdrums website. So you would set medium to paid advertising and source to mikesdrums.
The content driving the traffic is the big display advert from the cymbal promotion. So campaign would be cymbal spring promotion and content big display advert.
In order for this data to be captured you would attached the following link to the advert:
Note, Google Analytics interprets the “+” signs in the URL as spaces. Using this helps keep your reports easy to read.
By doing this for all your links you will capture the data needed to measure the performance and return of all of your online advertising.
You will also be able to compare the results of your promotions. For examples you might compare: the results from paid advertising against other visitor channels, the performance of different referring websites, how different adverts performed, how different campaigns performed and any permutation you might need.
Five hints for successful campaign tagging
1. Think carefully about the data you want to collect and how the values you choose will display in the reports and fit in with the untagged visits.
2. Use a consistent and structured approach to constructing the values you use.
3. Only use values that will be meaningful to you, even if you look back 6 or 12 months later.
4. Always use lower case for everything. This is important because Google Analytics is case sensitive so, in the above example, “Cymbal Promotion” and “cymbal promotion” would be treated as two different values and show up as two lines on reports.
5. Document your marketing campaign and the campaign tags you use. It is always surprising how quickly the detail gets forgotten.
Campaign Tagging: what to watch out for
Tagged Links are not reported as referrals
In the normal course of events Google Anlalytics would record a visit via a link from another website as a referral. It would do this by updating the value referral into medium and the website’s name into source. This means that visits from tagged links will not appear as referrals, even though they are visits from other websites. This is not generally a problem since the whole point of tagging is to provide more detailed information.
The Acquisition All Traffic Channels Report
Link tagging parameters that you add directly to a link will automatically override the values that Google Analytics would normally use. This affects some of the reports in Google Analytics.
The extract below is from the Acquisition – All Traffic – Channels report and shows what happened when a business started to use link tagging for its content on twitter and LinkedIn. Because they were using their own values for Medium the visits from social media were being categorised as (Other) and not Social.
Provided you have taken a consistent approach to defining your own campaign tags rectifying the above report is fairly straightforward, you need to amend the definitions for Default Channel Groupings. You can either amend the selection criteria for the Social channel to include your tags or you might create a new channel specifically to identify visits that come from the content you distribute that will contain your tagged links.
The settings for this can be found In Admin under Channel Settings. Beware changing these settings permanently changes the data as it comes in.
The Conversions Multi-Channel Funnel Reports
This report is affected in the same way as the All Traffic Channels Report above.
The (other) channel in the report shown is made up of campaigned tagged traffic from social media.
Unlike most other reports in Google Analytics the multi channel funnels can change the analysis of the data retrospectively.
To amend the report so that is displays the visits in the correct category you can click on the Channel Groupings drop down and create a Copy MCF Channel Groupings Template, which you can amend to include your tagging criteria and use for reports. You will need to remember to select the modified copy each time you view the report.
The Acquisition – Social reports are a highly customised section in Google Analytics that rely heavily on behind the scenes logic for determining what is considered a visit from a social media site and hence included in the social reports.
The chances are that the values you choose for your campaign tags do not match Google’s logic and so will be excluded from these reports.
However, it is possible to work out what values of source and medium Google requires for each social site in order to include it. But, unless you have a very good reason for doing so I recommend using the source and medium values to suit your own reporting requirements.
The result will be that the social report will only include visits from social media visits that are not generated by your campaign tags, which you might even consider an advantage.
utm_term or Keyword
The sharp-eyed may have spotted that whilst I list term above as a dimension that can be updated I did not use it in the example.
The reason is that the values from utm_term are updated into a dimension called Keyword. This is used to hold keywords that visitors have used to find your website from Google AdWords paid search and organic searches from search engines such as Bing. Google no longer provides the keywords from searches on Google.
So whilst it is OK to use utm-term to hold more detailed information about your advertising content you will find that it often appears in inappropriate places in the standard reports, along with search terms used.
You must always have values for medium and source
You do not have to use all of the values for each link. However unless you have values for both medium and source all the campaign tags will be ignored and not uploaded to Google Analytics.
Short URLs and QR Codes
Link tagging can be used for any link back to your site and can work with URL shorteners and QR codes. However, not all generators allow you to specify all of your own campaign tags and will substitute in their own values.
Always test before distributing the links, regardless of what is claimed on the generators website.
Never use campaign tags for internal content on your own website
Campaign tags are specifically designed to captures information from referring websites. If you tag internal links then the original information collected about where the visitor has come from whgen they first arrive on your website will be overwritten with your internal information and lost.