January 13, 2017 · Melissa Kavanagh
Common Pitfalls of Google Analytics Campaign Tracking
Here at TravelBoom, we are all about simple and effective marketing solutions. In fact, our tagline is “Hotel Marketing…Simplified.” We try to execute that philosophy in everything we do. Google Analytics also tries to keep things simple. Their campaign tag structure leads you to believe that – just add three easy parameters to your URL, and off you go! The problem is that as simple as their tagging method is, you are more likely to have a mess of dirty data on your hands if you are not careful.
Let’s look at campaign tracking with Adobe Analytics for just a moment. It will help you appreciate the simplicity of Google’s method when we get there. Campaign tracking is one of the major differences between the two analytics systems. In Adobe Analytics, you add one campaign variable to your URL, such as www.site.com/?cmpid=123. You then upload attributes about that ID via a spreadsheet into the back end of the Adobe Analytics. The beauty of this is that you can change this uploaded information at any time, as well as add new attributes. When those changes are uploaded, they are retroactive to that ID. The downside is that it can be a time-consuming process. It can also be a little overwhelming to some if the campaign attributes aren’t set up correctly, or have turned into Gremlins that seem to keep breeding.
In contrast, with Google Analytics, you use three mandatory campaign attributes within the URL (source, medium and campaign name) and have the option of two others. The upside of this method is that there is no additional work to do – you put the tracking parameters in the landing page URL, and you’re done. Google Analytics reads the value of those parameters and uses them to populate data in the reports.
These are the three mandatory parameters:
- Source: This is normally where you see the referring domain in the acquisition reports.
- Medium: The type of campaign. Common campaign mediums include: email, PPC, banner, and social. However, with no campaign tracking, Google will automatically assign some type of medium to all traffic, such as direct, referral or organic. This is another breakdown you can see in the acquisition reports.
- Campaign Name: This is the one piece of data that Google cannot populate by default without the campaign tag. Typically this is a user-friendly, common sense name of the campaign, such as march2016_newsletter.
The downside of this simplicity, and why it is so easy to build tags incorrectly, is that if you are not careful with your tags, you will end up with inconsistent data and have a tough time analyzing it. Here are some common pitfalls:
1. Mixing upper and lower case in the source and/or medium: Google Analytics is case sensitive, so if you tag one link with the medium of “email” and another with “Email,” you now have two different mediums that really should be one.
2. Setting the source without the .com: Remember that in Google Analytics, tracking the source using the parameter in the URL is going to override whatever the “default” source of traffic would have been. If you have a paid ad on Facebook, without any campaign tracking, that traffic would be reported under “facebook.com” as the source. A common mistake when making a campaign tag for the ad would be using the source “facebook.” Now when you look at your acquisition reports, you will have traffic from both “facebook.com” and “facebook,” when in actuality, the source should be the same.
Not all campaigns are going to be able to follow the rule of using the domain. For example, if you send an email to your guest history database, you wouldn’t want a domain as the source. You would use “email,” or some version of that as the source instead. Without the campaign tracking, the source of that traffic is going to come through some combination of direct (a referral cannot be detected because people are using Outlook or another non-browser email system), google.com (Gmail), yahoo.com (Yahoo mail), etc. Banners that are being served through an ad network could be another example where you would not necessarily use a domain.
3. Setting the medium value that does not follow Google’s default channel values: This is the most complicated pitfall because you won’t see the repercussions of incorrectly setting the medium until you look at the multi-channel reports. These reports are one of the greatest features Google Analytics has, and can show you how different marketing channels interact with each other. You can also see how many last-touch vs. assisted conversions a given channel has contributed. We discussed this a bit in “10 Hotel Marketing Metrics That Actually Matter.”
Google has nine default channels, some of which are: direct, organic search, social, emails, paid search and display. By default, Google uses the source and/or medium (most rely solely on medium) to determine the appropriate channel. For example, by default, if the medium equals “email,” Google will place that traffic in the Email channel. Remember, Google is case sensitive. If your medium in your URL is “Email” instead of “email,” Google will not recognize it in the Email channel. Instead, it will fall into “Other” because it doesn’t know in what channel to place that medium. You can see a full list of channels and how they are determined in this Google support document.
You CAN change the default channel settings. One change that you might want to make is to make the Email channel also match the “Email” medium. If you have print advertising, you might want to add “print” as a medium to fall under either the “Display” or “Other Advertising” channels.
CAUTION: These channel updates need to be made BEFORE the campaign tags are published. These updates are not retroactive. Additionally, once the data is in those channels, there’s no going back. There’s no such thing as “undo,” so be sure you’ve got this right the first time.
More information on how to update channel groupings can be found in the Google support documentation.
The Silver Lining
A little overwhelmed? Have no fear! We’ve created a simple tool for you to build your own campaign tags without the headache of worrying about these pitfalls. Download this worry-free campaign URL builder.