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Inbound Marketing Blog

Google Analytics Link Tagging

Link tagging is one ninja-like feature built into Google Analytics is surprisingly powerful and rarely used outside of AdWords campaigns. Link tagging allows you to tag nearly any link with some special values to gain some interesting insights into your traffic sources.

To Tag or Not To Tag

So, why on earth would someone want to use link tagging? Well, link tagging allows us to see visitors from a particular email campaign. It would help us to identify visitors from a specific tweet or Facebook post. It’s really a very simple thing to do, it’s easy to get started and it can provide a lot of insight into your traffic sources.

The first thing to understand about link tagging is that you don’t need to tag everything and you can’t tag some stuff. Organic traffic is impossible to tag. No matter how much of an analytics ninja you are, you just can’t tag organic traffic. If you use Google AdWords, you don’t need to tag those because Google already does that for you. If, however, you are using a different paid advertising campaign or any email campaigns, you will definitely want to tag those.


What Tags Are Possible?

Google exposes five tags for us to use and only three are required. The tags all start with utm_ followed by the name of the tag. Now, if you’re like me, you’re probably wondering what the heck “utm” means so let me save you a search. The “utm” in the tag stands for “Urchin Tracking Module.” Urchin is a Web analytics package, similar to Google Analytics, but it’s a shrink-wrapped solution that is installed inside your organization. However, I digress – back to tags. These tag names are a little generic so I’ve tried to give them some explanation below. It should probably be noted that the values of these tags do not matter at all to Google. You can make up whatever you want. Names with an asterisk ( * ) are required for link tagging to work.

Tag Name Tag Definition Examples
Source* utm_source Use to define source for campaign. Mindscape, JuneNewsletter
Medium* utm_medium A communication medium. This is more broad than “source.” Email, CPC, Banner
Campaign* utm_campaign Useful for keyword analysis. Use this to identify a specific promotion or campaign. BoGoShoes, MarchMadness
Term utm_term Used for paid campaigns. Use to identify keywords for this campaign. Web+Development+Company
Content utm_content Ninja use! Use to measure A/B testing or different links that point to the same URL. emailLink1, FacebookPostB

How to Tag – An Example Campaign

Tagging your links is super simple! As an example, let’s use a link to our fictitious company, www.mycompany.com. We have a new widget we’re selling and have a special buy-one, get-one campaign going on to help launch it. Our campaign includes announcing the widget on Facebook, on a new landing page on our website, through a direct marketing piece and through an email campaign.

First, it would probably be a good idea to get the landing page on our website. We have our amazing graphic artists come up with a gorgeous and compelling design with very obvious calls to action and we plug it into our site. For this example, we’ll say the URL of this landing page is mycompany.com/new-widget. This is where we want to drive all our visitors. It introduces them to our new widget and tells them about our amazing buy-one, get-one deal!

You can quickly see that without link tagging, we would have to rely on referrers to tell us where our traffic was coming from and how affective each medium was. The problem with that is that our direct mail campaign would look like it was direct traffic. We wouldn’t be able to differentiate the traffic from this expensive campaign from that of true “direct” traffic (people who type the address in their browsers or who clicked on a bookmark). It’s true, we could set up a separate landing page for our direct mail piece – but stick with me here for the sake of this discussion. Also, without link tagging if we plan to announce our widget through a series of posts on Facebook, we wouldn’t have an effective way to see what post really hit home with our fans and which ones were flops. Never fear – link tagging is here!

For our email campaign, we create a beautiful email with lots of “click here” links in it directing people to our landing page. However, rather than having those links simply go to mycompany.com/new-widget, we’re going to add some tags to it. We add tags by adding a question mark after our URL followed by a tag and its value. The next tags start with an ampersand (&). Don’t worry – we’ll build one now (also, Google has built an excellent Link Tagging Tool to make this easier):

Original untagged URL: mycompany.com/new-widget

Tagged with campaign name: mycompany.com/new-widget?utm_campaign=bogowidget

See, our first tag (it doesn’t matter which one we use first) starts with a question mark. Now, the rest of our tags will start with ampersands (&), like so (I’ve color-coded them for clarity):

mycompany.com/new-widget?utm_campaign=bogowidget&utm_source=firstemail&utm_medium=email

There, we’re done, that’s all we need! Now, if that’s a little scary for you don’t worry. Google has made a great URL Builder tool to help you build these URLs.

Now, let’s say we weren’t seeing a high enough conversion rate on this email campaign. So, on our next one we want to create 2 different versions and send each to
half of our mailing list, testing which one performs better. In this case, we’re going to want to add the utm_content tag to our URL. The utm_content tag will allow us to see the performance of each version of our email so we can see which one performed better:

mycompany.com/new-widget?utm_campaign=bogowidget&utm_source=secondemail&utm_medium=email&utm_content=b-version

We could add a utm_content to the original “A” version of our second email but it’s really not necessary, since anything with a source of “secondemail” and with no content specified can be attributed to the “A” version of the email. If it makes your life easier though, go ahead and tag the “A” version with a content tag as well.

Okay – are you still with me? That was a lot to digest. Go take a potty break, get a cup of coffee and keep reading…welcome back!


Now that we have the links inside our email campaign tagged, lets try the same thing with our Facebook campaign.

For our Facebook campaign, we’re going to be creating four different posts – each with a different “spin” about our product and our promotion. We will continue to direct users to our landing page at mycompany.com/new-widget but will tag the links to indicate they are coming from Facebook AND what post they are coming from! Here’s what our links might look like on our Facebook announcement:

“Want to buy our totally awesome new widget that will make your life easier? Check it out here: http://www.mycompany.com/new-widget?utm_campaign=bogowidget&utm_source=facebook&utm_medium=social-media&utm_content=first-fb-post

For your other posts, just change the tag value for utm_content. Now you can not only see that your traffic is coming from Facebook, you can attribute the traffic to your “BOGO Widget” campaign (the value in the utm_campaign tag), we can see that it’s social media traffic (utm_medium) from Facebook (utm_source) and that someone clicked on the link in our FIRST Facebook post (utm_content). VERY valuable, don’t you think!?

Notice the value for utm_campaign hasn’t changed? That’s because no matter where our traffic comes from, we want to attribute it to this campaign – regardless of how they found us. Now, some of you might be thinking, “Oh my gosh! That link is long and ugly. I don’t want to post that on Facebook!” I might agree with that statement and so here’s another tip for you. The link tags persist using most URL shorteners! So, if we wanted a link that wasn’t quite so intimidating, we could head over to bit.ly or tinyurl.com, paste in our tagged URL and get a nice shorter URL out. That might look something like this:

http://tinyurl.com/new-widget

So, now we have a tagged URL that’s not too ugly and gives us a massive amount of control to measure our campaign’s performance right down to the individual Facebook post! You’ll need a unique short URL for each unique set of tags.

Finally, you could use that same URL shortener for your direct mail campaign. Create a short URL like tinyurl.com/bogowidgets for your recipients. When they type that URL into their browser, they will trigger your tagged URL so that you can measure how affective your direct mail campaign is. How many people actually visited because they received something in the mail? Pretty cool, huh?

How to Report on it

Reporting on this information is easy. In your Google Analytics account you’ll want to check out the “All Traffic Sources” report in the “Traffic Sources” report group. On the dashboard, you’ll see your source/medium values.

Use the filter at the bottom of the table to research just the source/medium you’re interested in. Better yet, you can create some custom segments to report on each source, campaign, and medium in greater detail…but that’s for another post!

Clear as a Bell Summary

So, there you have it: link tagging is very powerful and not too difficult to do. Here’s a summary to make it even clearer:

  • Link tags can be added to any URL and help to track the exact source of your traffic
  • You can use the Google Link Tagging tool to help build links
  • Campaign, Medium, and Source are the only tags that are required
  • Start your first tag with a ? and the following tags with an &
  • You don’t need to tag AdWords campaigns – Google does that for you
  • Tagged links work with URL shorteners
  • View reports in your All Traffic Sources report

Did you keep up? Did you find any value here? Let me know your thoughts; I’d love to hear from you!

Jeff Bell is a Project Manager for Mindscape at Hanon McKendry. He is also a Google Analytics Qualified Individual.

Topics: Marketing, Odds and Ends, Strategy, Development

Jeff Bell

Written by Jeff Bell

Jeff Bell is Chief Operating Officer. He strives to increase quality and efficiency through the use of innovative tools, approaches, and new ways of thinking. His past experience programming and leading web development and marketing teams allows him to bring a structured, analytical approach to a very creative team.

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