Analytics Basics: Campaign Tracking

In my last column, I outlined how organizations can come unstuck with their Web analytics if they don’t pay sufficient attention to the integrity of the data they report. Data integrity can seriously impact the decisions the organization makes. Organizations particularly struggle with using their Web analytics tools for campaign tracking. And once again it’s often the processes and not the technologies that cause the problem.

The ability to track marketing campaigns is now a standard component of any Web analytics tool. We don’t need to worry anymore about having to set up specific landing pages and tracking referrals to the page. Most Web analytics tools now use the same principle of campaign tracking: adding a tracking parameter to the end of the landing page URL to identify the piece of marketing activity. The Web analytics tool is configured to recognize the tracking parameter at the end of the landing page URL as a visit generated by a campaign, then populates the database and reports as appropriate. Simple enough in theory but often trickier in practice.

Two common pitfalls that lead to poor quality campaign tracking data are:

  • Campaign data aren’t properly structured.

  • Campaigns aren’t consistently tagged.

The first of these pitfalls is a planning issue. The second is a process issue.

Most Web analytics tools have a framework or structure for campaign reporting. This is where a specific piece of activity is identified by a series of attributes. These attributes are then used to provide different levels of reporting. With Google Analytics for example, a piece of activity can be described using up to five different attributes (source, medium, term, content, and name). Part of the campaign tracking implementation process is to determine what these attributes mean for your campaigns and how detailed you want to be. It’s important to think ahead about what activity you might want to run in the future as well and how that might fit into the framework. You might run only one type of e-mail newsletter at the moment, but if you develop your e-mail marketing strategy to include different types of more targeted e-mail, will your campaign tracking approach allow you to identify how each e-mail type is working?

While the underlying principle of campaign tracking is generally the same across most Web analytics tools, the framework for reporting differs from system to system. Some tools are more flexible in their approach than others. Whatever the tool, though, proper planning is required to ensure that the right kind of reports come out the other end.

After planning comes process. Having decided how you want to structure and report on your campaigns, the campaign landing page URLs need tracking parameters attached to them. Sometimes this is an automated process, but more often there’s a degree of manual intervention — and that’s where the problems usually start.

First, all campaigns need to be tagged to be tracked. This might seem obvious, but it’s surprising how often in the heat of the moment to get a campaign live, the tracking parameters are forgotten. Once the campaign has gone live without the correct tracking parameters attached, you can’t go back to recover the data. It just doesn’t exist. And the time you really want to know how a campaign is performing is when it goes live. So you must have management processes in place to ensure that all campaign landing page URLs have tracking parameters.

You also must ensure that the landing page parameters have the right tracking parameters in place. For example, if you have “e-mail” as an attribute to identify all visits coming from e-mail, it must be used consistently as “e-mail” as opposed to “email,” “Email,” or “E-mail.” Inconsistent tagging results in poor data integrity in reporting. Again, this may seem obvious, but the challenge comes when you may have different people or agencies responsible for managing different types of campaigns. They all need to tag the campaigns in the same way; a degree of process and control is required. This can be helped by having a centralized approach or using campaign management technologies.

Make “planning” and “process” your watchwords for campaign tracking success.

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