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.
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.
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:
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.
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.We 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.