Tracking Offline Advertising With Google Analytics

With a little bit of programming you can use Google Analytics to track your off-line advertising activities. There are some caveats, but I believe the process below is reliable and convenient for customers. Here’s how to set it up.

First a disclaimer. I’m not going to go over the basics of how link tagging works. If you don’t know how to use GA to track your advertising campaigns stop reading this and start reading the GA support docs :)

Now we can get down to business!

The key to tracking off-line advertising with GA is link tagging. If you can tag the links in your off-line ads with the campaign variables used by Google Analytics you can measure off-line advertising success the same way you measure on-line advertising success. I know what you’re thinking. “How am I supposed to put some long, archaic URL in my ad?” The answer is, “you’re not”. There’s a trick to the implementation.

Instead of attaching the campaign variables to the URL that you place in your off-line ads, create a custom URL or a custom landing page. When a visitor requests that custom URL or landing page do a page redirect (using your application platform) and dynamically append the tracking variables.

Here’s an example. Let’s say I’m an online retailer, www.jeans.com, and I’m getting ready for a back to school sale. I decide to purchase a number of print ads in a newspaper. Within the ads I place a URL to my website. With a normal GA campaign tracking setup the URL in the ad would look like this:


http://www.jeans.com/?utm_campaign=fall_sale&utm_source=local_paper&utm_medium=print

Or, if I’m using a master tracking table the URL might look like this:


http://www.jeans.com/?utm_id=1

Those are ugly URLs! No one will remember those! Let’s use a custom URL that’s easier for the reader to remember. Then, when they land on the custom page we’ll do a redirect and dynamically append the tracking variables. Here’s the custom URL we’ll use:


http://www.backtoschooljeans.com

And here is the code that we’ll use when someone requests that URL:


< php

header("Location: http://www.jeans.com/?utm_campaign=fall_sale&utm_source=local_paper&utm_medium=print");

exit(0);
?>

There you have it. Your off-line ad is now tagged like your on-line ads. You'll be able to see traffic and conversion for your on-line and off-line advertising in the same GA reports.

One thing to note. If you publicize the custom URL in other locations you'll end up driving traffic to the page that is not from the off-line ad. This will skew your results.

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    Comments

    1. Thomas Jojo says

      thats an interesting “tweak”. But I have a problem about my online ads that I would like to have tips about.

      I have ads online, that I have tagged as normal, shoving up in my GA results. But then I do not know where they go.

      I would like to do, as the Admeta does; track that users into my Goals. Actually to see how many clicks that results into a buy (conversion).

      Any ideas?

    2. says

      Hi Thomas,

      By default, Google Analytics should track your visitors from the click all the way through the conversion event. The key is to make sure that the original source of the visitor is identified correctly. This is done use link tagging. When someone clicks on a tagged link then a cookie is set on their machine. The cookie stores all information about the ad that the visitor clicked on.

      I wrote a series of posts on this topic which may be helpful:
      Google Analytics Campaign Tracking.

      Thanks for reading!

      Justin

      Justin

    3. says

      Hi,

      It is interesting that you are tracking offline to online conversions. GA is a very interactive tool that can assist most of your needs with events happening online. However it lacks the ability to track online to offline conversions- opposite of what you were talking about but still conquering offline conversions. I work for a company that is able to bridge the gap for online to offline by dynamically inserting TFN using a script of code. There are resources out there that work with GA to optimize your overall ROAS. You just have to look for them.

    4. says

      Hi Jennifer,

      Thanks for sharing about your company. We haven’t had much need to track how online browsers convert offline, but that’s just the nature of our client base. I think it’s great that there are tools out there to extend Google Analytics deeper into conversion tracking.

      Thanks again for reading and sharing.

      Justin

    5. Doug says

      I do that very thing with redirecting…
      But I have issues often where the redirect happens so fast the UTM variables don’t get registered.

      What would you suggest?
      Do you think moving the GA script to the top of the page would do anything to help?

    6. says

      Hi Doug,

      That’s surprising that people are leaving the landing page that fast. The first thing I would try is adding the tracking code to the top of the page. That should help.

      Justin

    7. Doug says

      I’ll give it a shot.

      The problem I think is the PHP redirect (I like using PHP here in case they’ve blocked Javascript or meta redirects)

      Since PHP is server side and Google Analytics is Client Side … it happens very fast – sometimes before the client side GA script has time to do anything.

    8. Ashley says

      Justin,
      For someone who knows little about online tracking and is just getting started your articles have been very helpful and easy to understand.

      I want to use GA to track our offline ads as you discuss here. We want to track which ad creative and size and in which magazine is most effective, or effective at all. So instead of my campaigns being a seasonal sale they would be a certain ad creative.

      Can you see if this sounds like it would work, or if I’m on the right track?

      If I did a custom URL for the name of the ad, could I use the variables to tell me which magazine, ad size, and issue it was in?

      So my medium would be ad size, my source would be the name of the publication and the content could be the issue month?

      I’m I even close to understanding this? I would greatly appreciate any time you might spend in a response or any information you can give me. Thank you!

    9. says

      Ashley,

      Thanks for reading! I’m glad you find the blog useful.

      You’re on the right track. the only thing I would do different is change the medium to print (as the ads are print ads) and then place the ad creative in the content variable. You could add the date and publication to the source or you could split the information and place the date in the campaign variable. The great thing about campaign tracking is that it doesn’t really matter where you place the info. As long as you’re consistent.

      Good luck!

      Justin

    10. says

      Just wanted to say thanks for the useful article. As an e-trepreneur almost entirely relying on online advertising, I’ve briefly thought about off-line ads. But the expense of these ads and the inability to track the results put it on the back burner for me. I learned something useful for my business (which just happens to be selling jeans!) and it seems simple enough for an average user to do. Thanks!!

    11. says

      I have a telephony application script which has a PHP script, when the script is called i want to call Analytics tracking URL.

      I use PHP CURL to call the tracking URL which has the analytics urchin code. Since CURL doesnt execute the Javascript, the page is not getting tracked. Can any one help me in tracking the URL without Javascript?

    12. says

      Anand,

      In order to use GA the JavaScript must execute and make a request for the __utm.gif file. If you’re not popping some type of browser window then you won’t be able to use GA for this application. Sorry!

      Alice,

      Glad you found the information useful. Best of luck with GA!

      Thank you both for reading the blog and commenting.

      Justin

    13. Wayne says

      The url’s purchased for off line ad tracking will not go to the landing redirect pages unless the customer knows to place them in the address bar. If they are placed in the search bar (where most people will place the URL from the ad) Google does not have the URL cached so they will be directed elsewhere, how do you get around that? Thanks! Wayne

    14. says

      Hey Wayne,

      You bring up a good point. There is no way to insure that a person will enter a vanity URL into the location bar browser. We have very little control over the organic data in a search engine.

      However, one thing you may want to try is running an AdWords campaign in the same geographic region as your offline campaign.

      There are so many things that can go wrong. I think the thing to remember is that this technique is meant give you a general feel for how an offline campaign is going and not an exact measurement of performance.

      Justin

    15. says

      I’ve used a tracking url in the past such as tinyurl or urlbrief to track referrers from some banner ads and such.

      I’d much more prefer to just add some info on the URL string from the banner to be able to track via Google analytics. I do see they have a tool to create a url but do I need to keep with that exact format?

      Google’s tool creates this:
      http://www.mydomain.com/internalpage.aspx?utm_source=banner&utm_medium=108

      Will this work just fine?
      http://www.domain.com/internalpage.aspx?banner=108

      I have actually used the 2nd sample but can’t seem to see any data referencing those variables in my Analytics account.

    16. Tom Walsh says

      Jason – I tried this method and I see the the visit in the campaign list but I get zeros for visits, pages, time and new visits.

    17. says

      Hi Tom,

      Zeros for certain metrics can be caused by a few things. A filter might be creating the problem or you may be updating the campaign variable during a visitors session. For example, some people try to use link tagging to track internal banners, etc. That usually causes a zero-data problem

      I would check that first.

      Hope that helps and thanks for the question,

      Justin

    18. says

      Hi Tom, thanks for the useful article! Do you know if the version of tracking code being used makes a difference? I’m using the old version which includes:

      _uacct = “UA-1717048-1″;
      urchinTracker();

      I’ve created my new redirect: http:/www.cie.org.uk/preuenglish

      …and have made sure it points to the following page successfully…

      http://www.cie.org.uk/qualifications/academic/uppersec/preu/subjects?utm_source=classroom_feb&utm_medium=magazine&utm_campaign=preuenglish

      Problem is that I have clicked on the new link via a number of PCs (all outside my network) over the last two days and these clicks are not being tracked. The advert is going live in print magazine tomorrow. I am worried that tracking isn’t working. Could it be the old tracking code? Or just a delay in my clicks being picked up. Hmm…

      Any advice would be much appreciated!

      Thanks

      David

    19. says

      I’d like to post banner ad sales figures to GA and assign where the banner is sold to section front landing page of where it displayed throughout the month. My problem is, by the time I have my ad manifest, it’s now into February. Is there a “timestamp value” that I can tell GA to track this page view on say January 31 [like Omniture’s “timestamp” value?]…and then apply my e-commerce transaction [addTrans…addItem…etc.] along with it?

    20. says

      Tim,

      I’m not sure I understand exactly what the question is, but it seems like you want to only have GA track certain data based on date. You could do this, but you would need to customize the GA code to execute only if the date meets your conditions. This would be done by wrapping the GA JavaScript with some type of logic.

      Hope that answers your question,

      Justin

    21. says

      Hi Justin,

      Thanks for the great post. Love your book. Three questions:

      1. In your example above, does http://www.backtoschooljeans.com have to be real web page, or can it just be a URL set up for the sole purpose of redirecting to another page?

      2. In Google Analytics, on my Campaigns report, (direct) is listed as one of the campaigns. Why is that?

      3. What happens if people bookmark the URL with all of the campaign parameters? Won’t that skew our results in Google Analytics?

      Thanks!

    Trackbacks

    1. […] One of the most useful features in Google Analytics is its ability to track your online marketing campaigns. We all know that GA works great with AdWords, but it can also be used to track your banner ads, CPC ads and even your off line ads (which I’ve posted about before). If you’re doing any online advertising you should be tracking its performance at the most granular level possible. […]

    2. […] Using a vanity URL in offline advertising, including audio ads, is a better way to link offline advertising to online traffic. This technique is very common in print advertising. Vanity URLs are easier for people to remember and can be more indicative of your offer. I wrote a small blog post about offline campaign tracking which is a good primer. A better resource is Google’s Conversion University, which has a very good piece on tracking offline campaigns. […]

    3. […] The next integration step should be the automatic identification of online traffic that originated with an offline ad. Image if you could automatically create vanity URLs for your audio or print campaigns and have GA automatically track them. We’re already doing this manually, but it could, and should, be automated by Google. This type of integration will further remove IT from the configuration of GA making it easier for all types of organizations to track offline marketing efforts. […]

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