If you have an online business, you surely have a website. Otherwise you wouldn’t be online, right?
Now, how much do you know about how your website is doing – apart from that it is active and being visited?
How much do you know about what is attracting and repelling your visitors, where they are coming from, or how much time they spend on your site? — When you use an analytics tool, you can get many of these questions answered, but it requires a bit of work to get the setup right, because it is not just about activating some tool. There is a little input required from you, too.
In today’s article, I will be teaching you an analytics hack to run your business strategically with every move you make.
The Importance of Website Analytics
The purpose of Google Analytics, just like any other analytical tool, is to provide answers to questions you would otherwise need a clairvoyant to answer, such as:
- How popular is my site?
- How many visitors are coming to my site each month?
- What kind of content do my readers love and what do they find boring?
- Which of my marketing tactics are most effective, and which should I not pursue any further?
- How do people reach my site?
And there are also demographic and technical aspects that an analytical tool can provide answers about, such as:
- Which countries do they live in?
- What devices do the visitors use to access my site?
- Which browser are they using?
How to setup Google Analytics and connect it to your website is not discussed in this article. You need to do this first, and if you haven’t done so, yet, I can recommend this tutorial.
Also, I will not be going into detail about how to use the various reports inside the Google Analytics dashboard, that provide the answers to most of the questions outlined above.
This article is about the marketing aspects, and how to work strategically with Google Analytics to find out how much your work resonates with your audience, and whether or not your marketing tactics and growth hacks are working at all.
But before I start, I need to confess something. I totally underestimated its importance!
I really wish I had started with this months ago! Creating good content and sharing it via social media is not sufficient. You may be lucky and have come into some virtual fame because one of your blog posts was incredible and went viral. But for most of us, this is not the case in the beginning stages of a business. Many of us find it difficult to become widely acknowledged, and we are losing ourselves in the depths of social media. We are wasting time, only to resurface and feel exhausted and drained by overwhelming amount of information.
As for myself, I am less interested in becoming a legend, but I certainly would like to have some level of success that reflects the fact that I can help others achieve what they want and need. Before I dove into the strategic aspects of analyzing my marketing activities, I was basically running blind. I wrote articles and shared them on the social networks (mostly on Twitter, but occasionally I tried out other platforms as well), but I had no idea at all how well it worked or whether it worked at all. I did get a certain amount of attention, but in some ways it felt pretty shallow, and like a bubble of reality that I wasn’t sure was real.
That felt a bit like in a black hole.
I finally decided to invest some time into strategically analyzing what I am doing and measuring its outcome. My first goal was I wanted to know the effect my blog posts have on the different social media channels I am using. The second goal was to track my marketing campaigns; and by that I mean not just having some vague idea, but really seeing the numbers, recognizing trends of what works, and skipping those attempts that bring nothing.
Building a Google Analytics Tracking Code for Campaign Tagging
To make use of analysis features, a website needs to have a tracking code installed and be connected with Google Analytics. When a visitor comes to such a site, Google Analytics captures a lot of data via cookies, such as the browser type and version, its language, country, type of operating system, screen resolution, medium, and source – just to name a view.
With (marketing) campaign tagging you can overwrite the cookie data with your own information. Not all of it, but some. What you obviously cannot and should not be able to overwrite is something like the browser type or the country. But you can influence parameters such as medium and source, and I will now show you how widely used this already is, and what a difference it makes to identifying what works in your business.
Let’s start with an example URL I borrowed from a blogpost from Buffer. Here’s the URL:
As you see, it is a bit cryptic, and an untrained eye may have difficulties trying to decrypt what this URL is about. That’s because this URL has query parameters included, which allows Buffer to track with pinpoint accuracy, how the reader found this article and what campaign this piece of content is assigned to.
Knowing how to read a tracking URL is valuable for an online entrepreneur like you, as it will expose you to all the possibilities there are with online marketing, and puts you ahead of those trying to manage their business while flying blind. So, here is what you want to look out for in a tracking URL:
The question tag in the URL is the divider between the real URL and the query parameters that are used for tagging purposes.
The query parameters are interesting, and absolutely vital for observing what is going on with your campaigns. They are like values that transport a specific piece of information, and will later be stored in your Google Analytics account, and allow you to sort through and filter information by the choices you make.
Now, let’s have a look at the same URL again, but this time with another pair of glasses. This time we are identifying what information Buffer is generating by checking its query parameter.
This URL has four query parameters attached.
Let’s disregard the first tag for a moment, and begin with number two through four. These are the three tags that are required for tracking a URL:
- utm_medium – The medium parameter tells Google Analytics how to classify the medium by which your link was presented to the user. You are free to name your medium whatever you want, but some good mediums names can be: social, email, banner, cpc, affiliate, ebook, print, billboard, widget, etc.
- utm_source – The source parameter tells Google Analytics where the click came from, or more specifically: where the person has found the link that was clicked on. Examples for a source parameter can be twitter.com, Facebook.com, pinterest.com, linkedin.com, YouTube.com, etc.
- utm_campaign – The campaign parameter holds the information that is specific to the campaign(s) you are running and tracking. Strategic and well-organized marketing campaigns have campaign names that span multiple mediums and sources. It can be an individual campaign name, a slogan, promo code, a name of a product, etc.
If you’re still a little confused about these three query parameters, I highly recommend this 7-minute explanatory video from Annielytics.
These are the three main parameters, and they are absolutely required for tagging in conjunction with Google Analytics. But there are two more parameters that are optional to use. You have seen in the example I have used above, that there is a parameter ‘utm_content’. It’s one of them; the other one is ‘utm_term’.
- utm_content – The content parameter allows you to provide additional details about your campaign.
- utm_term – The term parameter is used in paid search campaigns to note the keywords you are bidding on.
As I said, they are optional to use, and come into play when you are really pinpointing your marketing efforts. At the beginning stages of your tracking endeavor, I guess they could be a bit overwhelming. But if you want to read more about these two query parameters, I can recommend the excellent article from Annielytics: The Definitive Guide To Campaign Tagging in Google Analytics.
How can this work for you?
Before you can use Google Analytics to analyze its data for the effectiveness of your marketing campaigns, you need to make sure you distribute only URLs with these tracking codes on all social media platforms.
This is the moment where some strategic work is awaiting you.
To be honest, it is a little tedious, and it was one of the main reasons why I refused to do it myself for many months. But I finally did it, and I am sharing with you how to handle it and showing you a shortcut!
To create Tracking Codes you can use a free tool from Google, called URL builder, which allows you to manually input values for the tagging parameters, and generate a URL with UTM codes.
But if you want a more strategic approach – and you probably will if you are eager to set up a sustainable business – the second option I have for you will pay off in the long-term. Following this option, you will set up a spreadsheet that helps you to maintain everything that is going on involving the links and campaigns in your business.
I have used the Google Spreadsheet that Annielytics generously provides for her readers. If you have a Gmail or Google Apps account, you can copy the spreadsheet to your GoogleDrive and begin using it for your purposes.
From a strategic point of view, using such a spreadsheet is your best move. You can always look-up older URLs and filter through what you have already used.
To satisfy my individual demands, I have tweaked this spreadsheet a little.
If you want to read more, I can recommend Google’s resource on campaign tagging:
- Custom campaigns
- URL Builder
- Best practices for creating custom campaigns
- Campaigns and traffic sources
There is also another possibility to make tagged URLs work for you. If your website runs with WordPress, you may want to check whether a WordPress plugin is your best option for tagging URLs. I have found one plugin that seems to be good with this job, but I am currently not using it myself, so I cannot praise how well it really works.
It’s a premium plugin for WordPress, called Campaign Tracker. It costs $45, and comes with a multi-site license.