How to Set Up Source Tracking in Google Analytics
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Success in digital marketing comes from a combination of many skillsets. While the ultimate goal is usually to generate sales or leads for your clients, your job isn’t done upon converting a prospect into a customer. In today’s highly competitive digital marketing world, you’re falling behind if you’re not analyzing client data regularly to determine what’s working, what’s not, and what needs to change.
With free and robust analytics tools like Google Analytics available, you have most of what you need for analysis at your fingertips, but without proper source tracking, you may not have the full picture.
This blog will take a look at the most popular analytics tool, Google Analytics, and what needs to be done to ensure source tracking is set up effectively and accurately.
This blog assumes you already have Google Analytics installed and understand the basics of how to navigate the interface. When you reach the “Acquisition” section, you’ve likely come across reports like Source, Medium, and Campaigns, but the differences aren’t always clear. Let’s break it down.
This bucket broadly identifies a few categories of how traffic got to your client’s site. Want to know if traffic came from SEO efforts (organic), digital ads (cpc), or other websites (referral)? This is how you find out.
This more specifically defines where your client’s traffic comes from. Expect to see more detail here, like the names of search engines, social media platforms, and domains of referring websites.
As the name implies, this identifies the specific marketing campaign effort that resulted in traffic visiting your client’s site.
Adding Source Tracking
A common misperception about source tracking is that it’s something added to Google Analytics in the website code or admin section, but that’s not the case. Source tracking is captured via information contained within links that send traffic to your client’s site, access to your client’s Google Analytics profiles is not necessary for someone to help classify that traffic. This is done through the addition of a query string parameter (QSP) with “utm_” variables. Here’s an example of what one looks like:
Any traffic that reaches your website via that link will have “email” as the medium, “newsletter” as the source, and “newproducts2021” as the campaign. Pretty simple!
When you control the link yourself, this is easy to accomplish. Just append the utm_ variables to the URL via the query string parameter and you’re done.
Sometimes links on various platforms are controlled by the client or third parties, like a partner business. In these cases, you’ll need to reach out to whoever controls the link and work with them to implement or revise with the correct query string parameters.
In some cases, source tracking is added automatically. Platforms like Google Ads add source tracking with no additional effort on your end. Most platforms give you an opportunity to customize or override tracking parameters, but that’s often best reserved for advanced users.
If you’re trying to overwrite Google Ads source tracking with your own parameters, be sure to check the admin panel in Google Analytics to make sure you’ve enabled manual tagging for Google Ads.
Query String Parameter Tips
Query string parameters are easy to get the hang of. Google Analytics provides a Campaign URL Builder tool that does the work for you and explains all of the available UTM values. Rather than focus on the process of building the QSP, we’ll provide tips on ensuring that you create helpful source tracking tags.
Keep Your UTM Values Simple and Clear
Some marketers feel the need to create complicated or obscured UTM values, but resist that urge. Make sure you select a value you and your client can easily read and understand, not just next week, but next year and beyond. You’re better off naming a campaign “springsale2021” than “ss21” because the client or a new employee would easily know what it is.
Keep Your UTM Values Short
Shorter values are easier to understand and are less likely to result in errors. It’s generally recommended to keep URLs below 2000 characters. Even if your UTM codes are far below 2000 characters, don’t forget that Google Analytics sends a lot more information than source tracking via the tracking URL to its servers, making the 2000 character limit easy to reach. Avoid risking it by keeping your values short.
Source Tracking Is Case Sensitive
In Google Analytics, “springsale2021” and “SpringSale2021” will show up as two separate campaign values by default. Make sure you’re using consistent capitalization in your UTM values to ensure that mediums, sources, campaigns, and more are grouped together correctly.
Name Campaigns with Grouping in Mind
If you want to understand the performance of a campaign across all of your mediums and sources at quick glance, make sure you give each campaign a broad name that doesn’t vary for different mediums and sources so it’s all grouped together as one campaign in Google Analytics. For example, with your “springsale2021” campaign you shouldn’t use “springsale2021email” for the email portion of the campaign and “springsale2021facebook” for the Facebook portion. It’s all one campaign and can be treated as such, so name it “springsale2021” in both email and on social media. If you want to know how the campaign performed within different mediums or sources, Google Analytics gives you the ability to break the data down further.
Digital marketers are expected to be experts across a wide range of digital marketing practices, but digital analytics tends to be a practice that confuses and intimidates people without an analytical background. As you can see in this guide, source tracking in Google Analytics via query string parameters isn’t as intimidating as it sounds. The information and tips in this guide will help you and your clients get the most from Google Analytics, learn what marketing initiatives are working best, and use data to make decisions to stay ahead of the competition.