How NOT to use campaign tags: links on your site

Campaign tagging is the key to using Google Analytics properly. Done the wrong way, however, it can make your Google Analytics data useless.

Campaign tagging – adding some Google Analytics-specific information to the links you send out – is a very powerful technique. If you’re not using it for measuring the impact of your online marketing, start right away.

Some people use campaign tagging to track clicks on links on their own website, like “Donate” or “Buy Now” buttons, promotional banners in sidebars of pages or images in a slideshow.

This technique trashes their Google Analytics data and makes it next to useless for monitoring online marketing.

Here’s why.

How campaign tagging works

Campaign tagging works by adding a bit of information to each link in the HTML code that tells Google Analytics things like where the link was clicked (utm_source) how the link was distributed (utm_medium) which marketing effort the link was part of (utm_campaign) and other details. Here’s a cheat sheet if this is all new to you.

Here’s a link to your donation page that might appear in your email newsletter. I have included the HTML with campaign tags, below it.

Campaign taggiing or adding UTM values to your links helps you track your email results in Google Analytics.


Adding the  information in bold to the links in your email newsletter  helps Google Analytics  record when someone visits your website from that email message.  Combine this with conversion tracking and you will be using Google Analytics like a pro.

Campaign tagging is great, I am a big fan, and you can be too.

Campaign tags on our own website ruin Google Analytics

The problem starts when we get too “smart” in our use of campaign tags, and try to use them to track user behaviour on our website.

Two things happen when we put campaign tags on internal links – for example our “Donate” button – on our own website:

1. we inflate the number of visits our website gets by counting a single visit as two visits (this is bad, but not a disaster) and

2. we have no idea where our website visitors who convert have come from (a disaster)

An example of campaign tagging gone wrong

To illustrate what happens, let’s look at an example.

We send an email (with the tagging in the illustration above) to our email list. When a subscriber  clicks on a link in the email, Google Analytics knows how they got to our website – which email list and message sent them to the site.

This is great.

The page they land on on our website has a donate button on it.

Hoping to track clicks on that donate button, someone has added campaign tags to that button on our website.  Here’s the HTML of that donate button that has campaign tags added:

Don't do this: buttons and links on your website should NOT have campaign tags (utm values) added to them!

Campaign tagging helped us identify traffic from our email list, now it’s going to help us identify who clicked on the donate button, which is great, right? Wrong.

Don’t do this – it’s a Google Analytics “worst practice”

When someone clicks on that “Donate” button and travels to our donation page, Google Analytics resets their visit information: it ends one visit and starts another one.

So one visit is recorded to the landing page. Once that ‘tagged’ button is clicked, that visit ends and an entirely new visit is recorded on the donation page.

Two visits are recorded, when in reality it’s  one person moving between pages on our site. We’re overcounting visits. This is bad, but it gets worse.

We can see, in Google Analytics, that the “first” visit to the landing page came from someone clicking on our email message. The only information we have about the “second” visit – the one to the donation page – is that it came from a click on that donate button.

So every visit to that landing page that clicks through to donate is recorded as originating from that button click.  We’ve lost the main advantage of Google Analytics tracking: understanding what we did to get people to our site in order to convert.

What our data looks like when campaign tagging  is not used properly

Here’s  what our Google Analytics data looks like  “before” and “after” we tagged internal links with campaign tagging.

The most important report in Google Analytics  (Conversions > Ecommerce > Overview > Top revenue sources by Source / Medium) is shown below with  the proper use of  campaign tagging. Click on the image to see a larger version.

Google Analytics ecommerce report with proper campaign tagging - great.

We can see how much each marketing method brought in for the period in question – email brings in the most donations, with organic search and social media bringing in a few more donors.  We see a healthy mix of sources of donations, and notice that email is a pretty big source of revenue for us. Understanding what we did to bring in revenue  is one of the main reasons to use Google Analytics.

Now see what happens when we use campaign tagging on our “Donate” button.

This is the same report (Conversions > Ecommerce > Overview > Top revenue sources by Source / Medium) when the “Donate” button has had campaign tags (aka UTM values) added to it.Report showing sources of revenue in Google Analtyics Conversions > Ecommerce > Source / MediumWe can see that most people who end up donating have clicked on our  “Donate” button (surprise!). We don’t know what page  that button was clicked. We don’t know what brought them to the website before they clicked  on that button. We just know that at some point they clicked on a “Donate” button on our website.

To be honest, I could tell you that without using Google Analytics, and save everyone lots of time! I have seen this method  used on websites  far too often –  that’s why I wrote this post, to discourage this “worst practice”.

How do  you track link clicks on your website properly?

I will cover that in my next post, but as a preview, I would suggest using Event tracking in most cases, or Custom Dimensions in a few specific cases.

Google Analytics for Website Redesign

I am running a workshop next week called Website Redesign with Google Analytics

In the two hour workshop, we’ll quickly review the key elements of these Google Analytics tutorials  before applying them to the website redesign process.

What You Will Learn

From the registration page :

During the two hour workshop we will cover

  • A brief introduction to Google Analytics, and why it’s particularly helpful with planning a website redesign
  • Avoiding the most common and costly mistakes of redesigning your site (solving the baby/bathwater problem)
  • Identifying your top content, your biggest opportunities to get more visitors and what’s working and what’s not on your current website
  • Dashboards that will help your site redesign go smoothly
  • Do you really need to redesign your site, or can you just refresh it?

While this workshop is most useful to people already using Google Analytics on their website, you don’t need to have any previous experience with the tool.

Online Version

A few people have asked me if this workshop will be offered online in the future. I have not committed to that yet, but if that sounds interesting to you, please let me know!

new mode test

The Three Most Important Reports in Facebook Insights

Facebook Insights helps you understand what' s working and what's not with your Facebook marketing.

Facebook Insights is a really powerful tool for showing you the impact of your Facebook marketing.  It’s like Google Analytics for your Facebook page.

Like Analytics, Facebook Insights can be a bit overwhelming.  My colleague John Haydon has posted a helpful guide  you can use to help you quickly understand  what’s working and what’s not with your Facebook marketing. More

The Single Most Important Report in Google Analytics

How to find and read the most important report in Google Analytics

If you only looked at one piece of information in Google Analytics, what should it be?

Whenever I look at a new (to me) clients’ account I go straight to this report in Google Analytics that tells me instantly how their website (and online marketing) is doing, and what needs to be done to properly set up Google Analytics.

I am going to walk you through this one report: what it is, how to set it up and what it’s trying to tell you.


What does “Untagged Email Campaigns” mean in Google Analytics?

When you log in to Google Analytics, you might see a warning like the one below, telling you you have ‘Untagged Email Campaigns’.  

What does that mean, and how can you fix it?

untagged email campaigns - what does this warning in Google Analytics mean, and how do you fix it?

The warning above will show up in your Google Analytics administration panel.

This warning means you’re not using Google Analytics to track  your email marketing – the regular email broadcasts you send out.  

You won’t be able to use the power of Google Analytics to track the behviour of site  visitors who follow the links in your email.   You’re missing a huge opportunity to get all kinds of insights into the effectiveness of the emails you send out.

Don’t send out untagged email campaigns

Don’t send out untagged email campaigns

When someone clicks on links in your email newsletter and comes to your website, Google Analytics knows they came from a Gmail or Yahoo mail account, but not much else.  

So you need to add a little bit of information to each of the links you send out, giving Google Analytics three bits of information:  

Who is following this link?   You will let Analytics know the ‘Source’ is a subscriber to your email list.

What kind of link is it?   You will let Google Analytics know this visitor is coming from a link sent out in email.   Other options for ‘Medium’ are social media or online ads.

What outreach campaign is this part of?   Is this your fall promotional series of emails, or is it the regular monthly newsletter? You will add  a ‘Campaign Name’ tag to your email links.

Here’s a tutorial explaining  exactly how to do campaign tagging.  It’s part of a set of tutorials that covers three key techniques to making sense of Google Analytics – you can sign up for free here.

Here’s a helpful article on the Google Analytics blog “Tips for tracking email marketing campaigns

I have posted about other ‘analytics notifications’ – Google Analytics’ way of nagging you to keep your data clean.

Tracking Signups as Goals in NationBuilder

NationBuilder works well with Google Analytics

If you are trying to connect with supporters of your cause, NationBuilder is incredibly powerful software for the price.   And Google Analytics is incredibly powerful web analytics software at any price (though it happens to be free).

In this tutorial I am going to show you a very important step in using Google Analytics with NationBuilder: tracking NationBuilder website conversions as goals in Google Analytics.