I have been extremely fortunate to work with a variety of brands doing really good things for their customers. Our clients include clothing and shoe retailers, high-tech manufacturers, and pure consultative service companies.
And the marketers for these companies have needs that span a wide spectrum. On one end are fast-moving initiatives that go for immediate impact with limited budgets, on the other end are programs that have the benefit of more robust spending with long-term goals, such as “brand impact” or “awareness”.
But one universal need is that, at some point, every marketing professional will have to prove the success and value of their efforts. This can seem difficult at first, but with a good strategy and many new tools (from inexpensive to free), tracking and measuring campaign results can be easier to achieve.
- In order to provide value and affect change, track everything.
- Demand clear direction on all objectives and goals.
- Build a Digital Marketing Measurement Model to drive focus.
- Plan your campaign strategy and labels.
- Take advantage of inexpensive and free tools to support your efforts.
- Review analytics (from all tools) often.
- Test and refine your tactics and, if necessary, your strategy.
of digital marketers say a SEO audit should be conducted every six months.
– SEJ Annual Report: State of Digital Marketing 2017
Campaign Tracking Spreadsheets and Tools
“Ummmm, yeah. I have a board meeting tomorrow. If you could tell me how much money we have made since starting this thing, that’d be great.”
The starting point for successful rollouts and reporting is campaign tracking for both online and offline efforts. Billboards, radio, and even magazines can be included in your “How’d we do and what do we need to change?” report.
The Prep Work
A critical first step is to have everybody on your team driving towards the same objectives. This is easily accomplished by defining a Marketing Measurement Model, allowing everyone to be aligned with the same goals for the organization and what success should look like. Here’s an example:
Once an organizational direction is in place, a good quality media plan (i.e., your roadmap) is critical to align all assets, vendors, and internal staff to the orchestration of events to come. An additional benefit of the campaign planner is that it can supply the labels of the campaigns themselves.
The Tools – Google Analytics Campaign Tracking
Now we are getting to the guts of actually tracking your efforts. At PixelMEDIA, we take full advantage of Google Analytics (GA) as most of our clients use this tool. Here’s some best practices for campaign tracking via GA.
In order to show attribution to a specific channel (social, print, banners, radio, etc.) or campaign (e.g., “Fall-Collection-2014”), you need to add additional tracking to the destination URL (the page on your website you are sending users to from your ads). This is done by using campaign tracking variables (also called UTM variables), which allows GA to “see” the users as they come to your site and attribute them to the proper campaign, along with source and medium.
There are five variables (three of which are required*) and Google has a tool that allows you to enter your information, click submit, and have the URL auto-generate for you.
Once a user clicks on your link or types in a vanity URL (more on that later) and lands on one of your website pages, the URL will have the UTM variables appended to it, bolded below:
That user will then be registered in Google Analytics as a Session which is tied to a specific Campaign, a Source, and a Medium.
You now have a wealth of information that is directly related to your campaign’s goals and metrics like ROI, so you can see what’s working and what’s not.
Fast tracking: adding UTM variables to your links
As linked above, Google has a free tool called the URL Builder that allows you to quickly build the proper links needed to track campaigns one link at a time in three easy steps:
- Paste in your destination url.
- Add the name of the Campaign, proper Source and Medium labels.
- Click generate. Voila, your URL is ready!
You might be thinking, “How am I going to do that for every link I send out?” It’s easier than you may think.
Spreadsheets can be very effective to track multiple URLs if constructed properly. They allow for fast replication of tracking variables. This is extremely helpful when running hundreds of different offline and online ads. Also, if working with multiple vendors or marketing teams, having a universal tool to track items such as vanity URLs will keep duplication issues to a minimum.
Vanity (a.k.a., “Friendly”) URLs
A vanity, or “friendly,” URL is an easily recognizable or memorable URL, usually short, easy to recall, and aligned to the marketing effort e.g.; yoursite.com/summer. Friendly URLs mean that users do not have to remember long, complex strings, especially valuable for radio campaigns. They also allows your print pieces to be have specific, clean destination URLs to better track actions and ROI on the site.
Offline marketing (print, radio, TV, etc.) is very much alive and well. However, offline media still seems to be a challenge for marketers who need to measure their success. Fortunately, with the use of vanity URLs, we can gain insights and adapt more quickly. While we will not know if all users read the print piece or listened to the radio ad, we can incentivize the audience to act and type in the vanity URL, at which point you will have much more information than you would have had without any tracking.
Using 301 Redirects
How do you associate the vanity URL with the destination URL you want to track? With the help of your development or IT staff, you can use what is called a 301 (“permanent”) redirect to link to the proper destination URL that has all the campaign tracking attached to it. 301 redirects let you avoid having to point users to generic landing pages or employ long, ugly links that are difficult to remember.
Social Media Tracking
Vanity URLs and 301 redirects are great for larger efforts, but the lag time required to get 301s in place can hamper the continuous flow of content on the social media channels. That is where using social media tools that allow you to add tracking and shorten your links really comes in handy. There are many, but I will focus on one.
Hootsuite is a tool that allows marketers to push content out to a variety of social media networks (Facebook, LinkedIn, Google Plus, Twitter, etc) using one interface. In addition to saving time, Hootsuite also has some built in analytics as well which, if configured correctly, can provide decent insights. But what most marketers are not doing is adding campaign tracking back to the main site. Hootsuite makes this really simple to do with some little known, built in features.
How to add campaign tracking with Hootsuite:
- Once you write your post, grab the link off your website and paste it into the “link” field.
- Just to the right of the link is a cog symbol. Click it, and additional fields will drop down.
- Click the dropdown arrow called “Add custom URL Parameter”.
- Choose “Google Analytics”. Now you can add specific campaign tracking information.
- Click “Apply Parameters” button once you’re ready.
- Click “Shrink”.
Now you are ready to send your links, all with tracking applied. This takes seconds to do.
To make this even more simple, you can preset a series of parameters for future use (e.g., by campaign, source, etc.). In two clicks, you will get all the tracking you should have in GA.
More Tips & Tricks
● Have a consistent, simple naming convention for the labels of your campaigns.
● Train everyone involved in content production to add tracking.
● Use analytics to refine campaigns and content to improve ROI.
● Consider adding Event Tracking to your site to get even deeper insight.
● Remember that everything in the campaign chain matters. Don’t skimp!
All of the above can be set up and running in very short order (days/weeks vs. months). The daily tasks, once learned, take very little time as well. And for that minimal effort you gain massive amounts of insights into the performance of your marketing efforts such as which campaigns are performing better than the others for visits, bounce rate, etc, what source (email, social, google, etc.) is winning, and your conversions based on campaign goals (Leads, Ecommerce, Awareness, etc.).
There are dozens of ways to now slice and dice the data allowing you to see your wins/failures, enabling you to rapidly drive quality, positive changes.
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