The word “campaign” can be used in a variety of ways. When used in terms of warfare, it refers to a specific effort whose goal is to win a battle. The effort of many campaigns is coordinated to achieve a specific goal, which is to win the war. When a campaign is referred to in term of marketing, it refers to a “coordinated series of linked advertisements with a single idea or theme.1 This message can be communicated through a variety of advertising channels, such as TV, print, radio, social media, press releases, events, or web. Regardless of “how” the message is communicated, the “what” and the end goal should all be the same for a particular campaign.

It is possible to expend a lot of effort and money towards a marketing goal without having an understanding of the return or whether or not a particular method is effective. This is very easy to do when it comes to online marketing as promotions, press release, and shared content can be accessed far beyond the time period of a particular campaign. It’s not like a newspaper ad when you know the specific launch date and the expected lifespan is of the ad is until the next issue comes out. There are exceptions to this. Someone may hold on to a magazine for months, or even years, and later respond to an ad, but most of the time there is a limited time period for exposure and reach, whereas online content can pop back up and be reshared at the oddest times.

Identifying Traffic Sources through Google Analytics

So looking at the total bucket of visitors to your web site, how do you know what prompted that visitor to come to your site at that particular time? Out of all the the online promotion efforts you have done over the time your domain has been active, which ones are pulling in visitors? If you are using Google Analytics to track web site usages, there are several metrics Google displays by default. Under the “Aquisition” section are listed:

  • All Traffic: The options beneath this include: Channels, Treemaps, Source/Medium, and Referrals. Each of these can be further customized from the default. The referrals dashboards lists all external sites referring traffic to your domain. In the article on how to get rid of Google Analytics referral spam, I explained how to get rid of false referrals that artificially inflate your site statistics.
  • Adwords: If you are running an Adwords campaign to promote your web site, this is a key section for testing and monitoring the effectiveness of your campaigns.
  • Search Engine Optimization: The reports in this section tell you which search terms a visitor used to access your site. Keyword search terms will display here, unless the visitor is logged into their Google account while searching, then the search terms will be obscured and will be listed under (not set).
  • Social: This area gives a number of metrics for assessing the engagement for your site on social media including what networks are sending you traffic, what other networks or “data hubs” are discussing content on your site, the most frequented landing pages from social media referrals, trackbacks, goal conversions from social media referrals, how visitors engage on your site, and where the users go once they get to your site.
  • Campaigns: Finally, there is an option to track campaigns in Google Analytics. The most simple type of campaign is a default option in Analytics called “organic keywords.” This tracks the number of people who came to your site through organic keyword searches. If people are finding your site at all in search, there will be “campaigns” listed under organic search. If you are running Adwords campaigns, there will also be results listed under “paid keywords” in this section.

Using Campaigns to Track Marketing Effectiveness

Adwords campaigns and social media referrals are not the only place where campaigns can be tracked. By coding campaign data within a url for Google Analytics, any type of promotion can be tracked and measured as long as the url is triggered.

Specific Content: For example, let’s say you publish a press release and are allowed links within the publication. A custom url can be coded for a link to your site or a specific page on your web site. A visitor coming to your site through that url would register as a visitor gained through that campaign.

Links from email newsletters: One of the most common ways to use campaign data is for links within email newsletters. Commercial newsletter services such as Mailchimp and Constant Contact have built in options for encoding campaign data within each newsletter sent. One thing I have found regarding newsletters is that often the recipients will reopen the email numerous times after the initial sending. In newsletter that track opens, depending on the content, the newsletter can be referred back to months, and even years after it was first sent. If the urls within the newsletter are encoded with campaign data, you will be able to track exactly which newsletters the visitor is clicking through on regardless of when it was sent.

Other ideas: Other places to use campaign coded urls are:

  • Links in guest blog posts
  • Links given to share with friends
  • Links used for QR codes
  • Links for other offline promotions

Using Google’s URL Builder

In order to track this information, the url directing the visitor to your site must be coded with the campaign data you would like to track. Google provides a URL builder online as a companion tool to Google Analytics. Simply fill out the fields of the form and hit submit. A url will be generated with your campaign information encoded.

Below are the fields requested. The starred fields are required, the rest are optional. The URL builder will add UTM fields to the end of the url which will register with Google Analytics when the url is accessed.

  • Web Site url:*  This is the actual url from your site to link to. This can be your root domain or a specific page on your web site. Remember that you will only see the campaign data for your own domain urls.  If you encode campaign data on a link to a domain you do not control, they will see the campaign data in their report, but you will not see it on yours.
  • Campaign source:*  This is where the visitor will be coming from. Are you creating the url to be used in a print campaign, a Facebook post, in a link from a Youtube video? Enter that here. This is a required field. The question this field should answer is where  is this link going to be used?
  • Campaign Medium:* If the campaign source answers the question “where,” the medium field should answer the question “how” is this link being used. Is it being used in an email, a QR code, a print ad? For an email newsletter, the “source” would be your newsletter list and the medium would be “email.”
  • Campaign term: If you are running an Adwords campaign, this field is used to code the keyword that is being targeted in the campaign.
  • Campaign content: This field is not required; however, it can be used to add more granular data to your campaign statistics. This is the field that should be used to provide more segmentation within the campaign and/or medium.
  • Campaign Name:* This is the name of your actual campaign, the marketing effort that may span not only online promotion, but print, onsite, and a variety of other mediums.

Shortening Services to Us with Campaign Links

After entering these terms, the URL builder will construct a url coded with UTM variables and will look something like this:

You could use this generated url as is; however, if you are trying to share it in a print ad obviously that is not even close to the type of url that someone would actually take the time to manually enter. You could encode it in a QR code for print, this assumes the person knows how and wants to use it. Even though smart phones are fairly standard, there are certain demographics that don’t really use QR code.2

So how do you use these unwieldy urls effectively? One option is to convert the long urls into short urls that redirect to the target url along with the UTM variables. There are several ways of doing this:

  • Manually creating redirects: If you host your own domain, you have the option to create redirects either through the control panel for your site or manually in the .htaccess file. I know of no one who does it this way, but you could do it.
  • Custom URL shorteners: There are a number of custom url shorteners. There are even open source scripts available, such as Yourls which you can install on your server and operate your own shortening services.
  • Plugins: There are several plugins for WordPress that allow you to create and manage redirect links. One of the most popular is a plugin called Pretty Link.
  • is a url shortening service that is integrated with a number of other third party services.

Keeping Track of Campaigns URL’s


If you don’t have a plan, it’s probably better not to mess with tagging at all. This is a guide on tagging that points out that campaign tagging is a powerful weapon in the fight for exposure and reach . . . One that can explode your own data if you’re not careful. When you are creating content and running campaigns through multiple mediums over a number of years, it’s very easy to forget what exactly your strategy was if you don’t write it down. For overall campaign information and short urls that part of ongoing promotions, I track the terms, the short links and the target links in a spreadsheet on Google Drive.

Whatever your strategy is write it down. Write down what you are doing and the reasoning behind it so that not only can you refresh your memory when you look back, but coworkers or consultants can see and understand the strategy of your marketing efforts.

Resources for Tracking Campaigns

References Cited
  1. Advertising Campaign. Business Dictionary. Accessed January 5, 2016. []
  2. Brian Morris. Are QR Codes Thriving or Dying. Business 2 Community. Published May 21, 2015. Accessed January 5, 2016. []