What is Link Tagging?
To track your marketing campaigns Google Analytics uses a technology called link tagging. This provides a fine level of detail about marketing efforts. The data we gather from link tagging helps us make informed business decisions about our marketing spend.
With link tagging, we add additional information to the destination URL used in an ad. The technical name for this additional information is the query string. Here’s an example:
*** NOTE: I moved some text to a second line for readability ***
Everything after the question mark is called the query string. Within the query string we have a number of parameters. Each parameter is separated by an ampersand (&). Pulling apart the above query string we find the following parameters:
Each parameter can be further divided into two parts; a variable (the text on the left side of the equals sign) and a value (the text on the right side of the equal sign). Let’s break the above parameters into variable – value pairs:
Ok, stick with me. We’ve gone from a query string, to parameters, to variables and values. Now, let’s start to explain what all of this means. What are the variables and values? I’ll start by explaining the variables:
|The name of the campaign. Think of this as a bucket. It holds all of our marketing activities. For example, we may be buying some keywords on Google, running some banner ads and sending out an email all to advertise our winter ski sale. However, these three activities are all part of a bigger marketing campaign, our ‘Winter Ski Sale’.
|I like to think of the medium as the mechanism, or how the message is delivered to the recipient (i.e. email, banner, CPC, etc). What is the ‘distribution method’ that is used to get our message out to our clients?
|Think of utm_source as the ‘who’. Who are you partnering with to push your message. If you’re tagging CPC links the source may be Google, Yahoo! or MSN. This could also be the name of a service that will be pushing banner ads for you.
|The version of the ad (used for A/B testing). You can identify two versions of the same ad using this variable.
|The search term purchased (if you’re buying keywords). This is not always used and is NOT included in the above example.
It’s important to note that you do not always need to use every variable. The core variables are utm_campaign, utm_source and utm_medium. You should always use those three. With Campaign, Medium and Source you’ll reap the most benefit from Google Analytics.
Just to recap, link tagging is the process of adding additional information to the destination URLs we use in our ads. This additional information consists of variables and values.
Here’s the really cool part, the values. The value for each variable is a piece of business information that will end up in Google Analytics. Let me clarify that, you’re actually taking information that is specific to your business, like the name of a marketing campaign, and placing it in Google Analytics. GA will display it, exactly as it is typed, in a series of reports called the Marketing Campaign Results (see Part 3 of this series). This is extremely powerful because you can look at your analytics data through the lens of your business.
So now we know everything about what link tagging is, but what happens after we tag our links?
It’s important to understand that the cookie will persist until 2038. It’s also important to understand that the cookie will be updated with other information. For details about how Google Analytics stores various referral information please see the following post: How Does Google Analytics Track Conversion Referrals?
How to Tag Your Links
The process of Link Tagging is simple. Start by identifying the information that you need to place in the variables. You need to identify the campaigns, mediums and sources that you use in your marketing activities and place it in your destination URLs. Then modify your destination URLs to include the new variables and values.
How do you do that? You can use any text editor, the Google Analytics URL Builder or the special tool I discuss in Part 2 of this series. I’m partial to the special tool :)
Remember, if you’re placing links to your site in cyber-space, you should be tagging them.