Tag, you’re not it.
Many of our clients that use Google Analytics are implementing our recommendation that they track and measure every online marketing effort. Sounds obvious, but this can require adding unique campaign tags via query parameters to every link in every email, pay-per-click ad, banner ad, Tweet, Facebook posting, RSS post…you get the idea. What’s more, it requires agreement among all the staff and vendors who create these links that a) it should be done and b) it should be done using a consistent taxonomy.
First, the upside: much as marketers like to separate the impact of paid search (or PPC) from organic search (or natural) search, we encourage them to separate paid — be it in cash or labor — marketing efforts from organically occurring referrals from other sites that just like linking to them. Identifying the links in the former as campaigns to Google Analytics takes those visits out of Referring Sites and creates a sharp yellow pie widget for Campaigns in the Traffic Sources Overview. But that’s just the start.
When a million-dollar Bing buy is properly tagged, Google Analytics shows the visits and conversions for each keyword, ad variation, product, and other trait. Untagged, all you get is one row in your Search Engines report, which co-mingles paid and organic. Click on that, and keywords and landing pages are revealed, but again, without a distinction between paid and organic. Yes, Bing can track this, but now someone is cracking open two data sources.
Or, when a 4-hour-a-day social media habit is properly tagged (and the tools discussed below enable that without a fifth hour), the Campaigns report shows visits and conversions for each platform, profile, topic and whatever else is tagged…Facebook posts by Sparky the Intern about the product launch mentioning the half-off deal posted on a Tuesday yielded 46 visits and 45 leads in a week (promote Sparky and the half-off deal). Untagged, links in Tweets by the corporate profile are indistinguishable from links from the cranky customer. Yes, bit.ly can track the clicks (not the conversions), but now someone is juggling three log ins.
Most gratifying to the hard-working people who interpret these data (part of our role at most every client), when a weekly email newsletter sent to 3,000 customers is properly tagged, the Campaigns report shows visits and conversions for each title, edition, and individual link. Untagged, this traffic is split between Referring Sites (when clicked by people with web mail) and Direct Traffic (when clicked by people with email clients). Yes, Constant Contact can track the clicks (not the conversions, to my knowledge), but who wants to check four systems to say which marketing works?
But whereas Google AdWords campaigns can easily be distinguished from organic search by enabling auto-tagging in the AdWords account, other PPC ads (a coincidence?) and non-search sources require a campaign tag. The tag is a series of query parameters that are appended to the landing page link in the creative (using the term loosely). Google provides a nifty URL builder that aids creation of these modified URLs for marketers and interns who haven’t seared “?utm_source=” into their brains.
For RSS, Google’s Feedburner can be configured to automatically append the query parameters, albeit without topic-specific information, which can be gleaned from the Landing Page dimension in Analytics. For social media, HootSuite has an Advanced option in its Shrink It feature that does the same. TwitterFeed bridges these worlds by pushing a feed to Twitter, and adds campaign tags to the shortened URLs it generates. (Update: some email service providers also automate tagging.)
Herein lies the problem: TwitterFeed, for example, defaults to defining each link’s Medium (the highest level of the campaign naming hierarchy) as the social media platform, such as Twitter of Facebook. It defines each link’s Source as “Twitterfeed.” Feedburner and HootSuite make other assumptions. Sparky the Intern doesn’t know that the hell we are talking about, or insists on not capitalizing “Digg.” The resulting Campaigns report will have no apples-to-apples comparisons.
We always recommend a finite, controlled list of Mediums (I know, Media is the plural) that includes Social, Feeds, Partners, Email, PPC, Banners, and client-specific categories that add up to mutually exclusive, collectively exhaustive buckets. If all else fails, at least we can total visits and conversions for these broad channels, which often line up to staffing and budget accounts and allow mapping cost to benefit. We then customize any automatic tagging systems accordingly.
To ensure these Mediums are tagged in every link, we employ what are known as “henchmen.” In reality, we build Excel or Google spreadsheets to be shared among everyone who creates inbound links. These tools allow much more room for instruction and explanation of each tag than in Google URL builder. They also allow users to see previous tags employed by their colleagues. And spreadsheets allow us to force selection from a defined pull-down list for any of the five query parameters that need it. Much of this can be accomplished with a dedicated web page, as well.
Measuring campaigns is well worth the time required to gain buy-in from those who create them. In some cases, we dedicate a tag to a code for each staffer, so adding campaign parameters allows each marketer’s contribution to be seen (what does it say about those who resist?). The key is to tag only that which can be acted upon when the impact on visits, leads, or sales is revealed.
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