So you’ve decided to create some custom marketing campaigns. That’s great! Before you roll out your email newsletters and social media ads, let’s talk about a tool that will help you immensely: the URL builder.
The URL Builder is a tool provided by Google that helps you add parameters to your custom campaigns, so Google Analytics can sort the data. It’s a quick and easy way to generate URLs by using the “plug and chug” method.
But in order to understand how to effectively use the URL Builder, you first have to understand campaign tagging itself.
What is Campaign Tagging?
When a visitor comes to your site, your Google Analytics account captures tons of data via cookies, such as whether they found your site through organic search, or an ad, or by clicking on a social media post.
It’ll also show you things like the source (AKA the site the visitor came from). By using your own campaign tagging through UTM codes, you can overwrite the cookie data and organize your data the way you want to see it.
A UTM code is a simple code you attach to a custom URL in order to track a source, medium, and campaign name. You can also track specific content you’re using. These campaign parameters allow you to track custom campaigns, such as email newsletters and social media campaigns, in Google Analytics.
The URL builder takes these utm parameters and generates a URL for your web page that includes all of the utm codes you need. But before you start adding in parameters, you need to understand what it is you’re plugging in.
Breaking Down UTM Parameters
The medium parameter can be thought of as a large umbrella category. It refers to the type of media your campaign is using: organic, cpc, social, email, etc. Remember, you’ll want to keep it broad. If it gets too small, the segmentation becomes overwhelming.
The source tag identifies where the site the link is coming from. For example, if you’re running a social media campaign across multiple platforms, your medium would be social, while your source will be Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, etc., depending on where you publish the content. For emails, use the name of the service (since emails don’t live on a website) such as “mailchimp” or “aweber”.
This is where you name your campaign. Keep in mind that your campaigns should span multiple mediums and sources in order for you to test where that campaign best performs.
Avoid the common pitfalls of naming campaigns, such as being too narrow, too cryptic, or too similar to source/medium. Focus instead on names that are descriptive and easy to digest in your data. For example, if you’re running a Fall Sale, call the campaign fallsale2016 instead of just fall or sale.
This variable helps you track a keyword or specific ad placement. It’s commonly used for non-AdWords campaigns such as those on Reddit, DuckDuckGo, OutBrain or other alternative ad platforms.
Here’s a bonus tag. The content parameter allows you to provide additional details around your campaign, such as which ad you’re serving, which link a user clicked in an email, or even where in an email someone clicked (i.e. a header link vs. footer link). It’s not necessary to fill it out, but it can be helpful if you want to drill down even further and take a micro-level view of how certain content pieces are performing.
Using URL Builder Effectively
Now that you’ve got utm parameters down, it’s time to dive into using the URL builder. As a refresher: the URL builder is a tool by Google that easily generates URL when you plug in your campaign parameters.
You don’t have to use the URL builder by Google though. There are other tools that will do the same thing — or, you can just use a spreadsheet with using the concatenate function.
No matter what you use though, there’s a method to the madness to ensure you’re tagging your campaigns correctly and building URLs to the best of your ability.
You’ll want to develop a campaign strategy, standardize formatting, audit your tools, and avoid common mistakes that many website owners make when using custom campaign tagging.
1. Identify Goals & Existing Data
Google Analytics has the ability to gather a lot of data by default. And if you set up tracking for other critical data – you can quickly find yourself drowning in data to analyze.
Before you introduce new data – write down what you will hopefully do with the data. Identify problems that you’d like to solve. Look at how your existing data is captured and what you are currently doing with it.
2. Standardize Formatting
Once you have your strategy set, it’s time to build this information out. Personally, I prefer using a spreadsheet here. It helps me keep my information organized and in one place – rather than looking at what you already have in Analytics.
In order to build uniform URLS, keep your formatting standard across all utm tags, even if they’re in a different campaign. For example, keep capitalization consistent across tags.
If not, you run the risk of creating multiple campaigns by accident (such as fallsale2016 and FallSale2016).
3. Provide More Data
Here’s the thing about developing tags: you can always delete the data you don’t need, but you can’t always get the data you don’t have. So, make sure you take the extra time to over-provide data in your spreadsheet, even if you don’t think you need it right off the bat.
For example, you may not think you need to detail the year of the sale, right?
But in the future, fallsale1 isn’t as useful as fallsale2016. When you’re comparing data year over year (or even on a monthly basis!), you’ll be thankful you took the extra few seconds to be as descriptive as possible.
Here’s an example of a URL I was directed to after clicking on this ad on Facebook:
Notice the amount of detail in the tagging. The campaign is described by the sweater sale and the US, since this directs to their US store. The link also describes the content, which leads me to believe there are different versions of this ad showing across Facebook.
4. Audit Your Digital Tools & Teams
For better or for worse, a lot of digital tools will automatically tag URLs. Social media tools, such as Buffer, HootSuite, and even Twitter’s native app, are especially notorious for doing this, and email applications like MailChimp do it too by default.
If you are using AdWords – your ads there will likely already be tagged with a standardized format.
All of this is to say, you need to go through your analytics account(s) to identify what’s what so you know where all of your data is coming from. You don’t want to tag something similarly to a URL that’s already tagged a certain way, nor do you want to double tag a URL. Either turn off the tagging feature in your app, or take changes in your spreadsheet as necessary.
This will also apply to your teams.
For example, you need to make sure your social team is communicating with your email team and vice versa. In order to create a clean, cohesive tagging strategy (that doesn’t crash your Google Analytics account or leave gaps in data), your teams need to all be on the same page about how URLs are tagged, what formatting you’re adhering to, and which tags need to be changed based on your digital tools and tagging strategy.
5. Avoid Common Mistakes & Over-tagging
There are tons of tagging mistakes even seasoned marketers make when building out URLs for custom campaigns — I’ve already pointed out a few, such as tagging other’s content and using different capitalization in a campaign name. But the biggest mistake you can make?
Tagging internal links.
When you tag internal links, you make your Google Analytics account go haywire. It can mismark your data, rendering your analytics data completely useless (you can read more about that here).
Another common mistake website owners make is tagging the medium category as the source — i.e., tagging the medium as “facebook” instead of “social”. Remember to follow Google’s format and keep the medium parameter broad, and use the source parameter to drill down to website sources.
People also tend to cram a lot of info into campaign names. You don’t need to include the source or medium here — just the campaign name itself. And remember, use the plus sign or dashes to indicate spaces. This will make your parameters easier to read.
Last, but certainly not least, there’s the issue of over-tagging. Your tags should be a way for you to easily identify which campaigns, sources, and mediums are performing well for you.
If you tag too many things, you’ll make your data far too narrow. You should be painting a broad picture that you can analyze from many different angles. This won’t work if you have too many tags on your hands.
Now you you know how to effectively use the URL Builder, you’re well on your way to garnering even more insights about how your custom campaigns perform. Here are a few next steps to get your started:
- Determine if a custom campaign is right for you. If you don’t know how to build a custom campaign (AKA you’re still focusing all of your efforts on Google AdWords), then there’s no reason to start tagging URLs out of the blue.
- Determine your campaign strategy. Set measurable goals and determine the mediums you’ll use to achieve them.
- Build your tagging strategy based on your overall campaign goals.