Campaign Tracking


Goals and conversions can give you valuable insight into people’s behavior on your website. But if you are thinking like a marketer, you want to connect those insights to the actions they took that brought them to your website in the first place. 

That’s where campaign tracking comes in.

What do we mean by “campaigns”? The term comes from the direct marketing industry. Essentially, it’s any organized effort by your team to get people to come to your website. 

This could include:

  • Email newsletters
  • Social media posts 
  • Advertisements (on search engines, social media, or other websites)

The idea behind campaign tracking is to understand the website behavior of people who respond to campaigns by clicking on an ad or a link in an email newsletter.

Typically, whatever platform you use for your campaign will tell you how many users (or what percentage) who see the campaign actually respond. For instance, an email newsletter platform (e.g., MailChimp) will tell you what percentage of people who received the email actually clicked on one of the links. Similarly, Google or Facebook will tell you how many people clicked on your ad.

That’s useful information, but it tells you only how successful your campaign was in generating visits to your website. What you really want to know is: For different campaigns, what do users actually do AFTER they get to your website?

You might want to know:

  • Did they donate?
  • How many pages did they view?
  • What parts of your site did they visit?

Having data to answer these questions will help you figure out which campaigns are producing the best results. You can launch more campaigns like the most successful ones, and stop or modify the kinds of campaigns that aren’t working as well.

Let’s take a look at an example of why using campaign tracking is valuable. 

Under Acquisition > Campaigns in Google Analytics, you can see different levels of engagement for different email newsletter editions. The red arrows show that people who clicked from the No. 1 email newsletter viewed an average of 1.28 pages per session, while people who clicked from the No. 2 email newsletter viewed an average of 1.42 pages per session. 

This means that the second email newsletter proved to be more engaging. (Another indicator: It also has a lower bounce rate.) Tracking the success of different campaigns should yield insights about how to build the most engaging email newsletters, landing pages, ads, etc. 

The same approach can help you figure out if certain social media posts or ads are bringing you more engaged users. This data can help you refine your social media strategy.

Understanding UTM Codes

Before we get into the details of campaign tracking, we need to take a step back and understand “UTM codes.”

These are strings of text added to the end of a URL that are passed over to Google Analytics. UTM codes are also known as UTM parameters, or tracking tags. The acronym stands for “Urchin Tracking Module.” Urchin was the original analytics software that Google acquired in 2005 and turned into Google Analytics.

What UTM Codes Look Like in Action

If you’ve looked at URLs, especially the ones associated with clickable online ads, you might have seen links that look like this:

This URL includes the three required UTM codes (utm_campaign, utm_medium and utm_source). There are two that are optional. The UTM codes:

  • Campaign name (required): Whatever you’re calling it, say “one-dollar-promo-offer”
  • Source (required): Which website is sending you the traffic (say, “facebook” or “google”)
  • Medium (required): This is Google’s term for the different categories of traffic sources. These include “organic” (non-paid search), “social,” “cpc” (cost-per-click ads such as Google search advertising) or “referral” (links from other non-search, non-social sites)
  • Term (optional): This is used only for paid search engine advertising, indicating which keyword(s) generated the click.
  • Content (optional): This is used to differentiate different types of content that direct users to the same destination page from the same source and medium. For instance, a landing page might have two different “subscribe” links, one at the top of the page and one at the bottom of the page. You can differentiate the links with the Content parameter, say utm_content=top or utm_content=bottom.

You can choose whatever text you want for the UTM parameters. But if you want to compare results and impact of different campaigns, it’s important to be consistent. For instance, for social media ads, don’t use utm_medium=social in some cases and utm_medium=socialmedia in others.

Campaign Tracking with a URL Builder

Imagine that you want to understand the behavior of people coming to your site from a single web page – or, say, a social media post or ad. For instance, you might buy a Facebook advertisement that, when clicked, sends a user to a page on your website. This might be a great story you’ve published, or a special targeted subscription offer.

For a campaign that is designed to send everyone to the same page on your site, use a URL builder such as Google’s Campaign URL Builder.
A URL builder is just a web form. You enter your campaign parameters and it generates the full URL including UTM codes. There are many different UTM builders available online, but we’ll demonstrate using Google’s Campaign URL Builder.  
Enter your parameters into the form. In the screenshot below, we’ve done so using the previous example. You just copy/paste the “generated campaign URL” and use it as the link that you post or share.

Campaign Tracking: Integration with Other Tech Tools

Another option for generating UTM codes is to integrate with another marketing tool – for instance, your email newsletter platform. All of the most popular email newsletter platforms can integrate with Google Analytics. With this integration, UTM parameters are automatically generated by the newsletter platform and passed to Google Analytics.

MailChimp’s integration instructions are available here: You should be able to find comparable instructions for other email providers.

by Medill/Northwestern Prof. Rich Gordon for INN

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