People are visiting your site, yay! But where exactly are they coming from? Are your Facebook posts and Tweets driving traffic and if so which ones?
That’s the problem we’ll try to fix in this post.
This is the first in a four part series on blogging tech for beginners called ‘Tech arrgh’.
It’s hard when you run a small business and blog. You can write, that’s the easy bit but then there’s all this stuff that nags at you. What are tracking links? What’s a rich snippet when it’s at home? What are canonical links? What do all these abbreviations mean?
Over the next four weeks, I intend to help you understand some of the techy stuff related to blogging. Starting this week with UTM tracking links.
Using tracking links will help you find out a whole load of stuff about the traffic that comes to your website. You can see what ads, social channels and campaigns are working for you and maybe more importantly which aren’t.
What Do You Mean You Don’t Know What A Tracking Link Is?
If you’ve ever got lost in a Google Analytics hole you’ll know how much information it can give you about your how your blog is performing. But there are two areas of analytics that can be frustrating.
- The ‘Direct’ medium just tells you there’s traffic coming to your site but you can’t track where from.
- The ‘Social’ section. Yes, it’s great to know that Facebook is sending all that traffic but how many of those visitors arrive organically? How many from your own page posts? How many from ads?
You click and click away but the info just isn’t there.
And this is important information. You need to know if what you are doing on Facebook, Twitter and other social networks is working. There’s only one way to find out… UTM tracking links.
Tracking links are different versions of your blog post links. They are tagged with additional information that is picked up by Google Analytics.
Each version of the link you create is unique but points at the same blog post. This means you can identify the traffic that comes to your site from each one.
When I publish this podcast and the show notes on my site the link will be something like:
I’m going to post that link to:
- My Facebook page
- My Facebook group
- My Facebook profile
- Twitter at least 8 times with different headline versions
- LinkedIn profile
- LinkedIn company page
- My email newsletter
- My chatbot update
- I’m going to give you the listeners a spoken link that will bring you back to the show notes page
- If I’m feeling flush I might even create a series of Facebook ads to promote it.
The problem is that when I look at my Google Analytics it will only tell me that I got 100 clicks from Facebook. That number includes clicks from my page, my profile, my group, my ads and clicks from other people who have shared it to their pages.
I can’t narrow it down and see which works best. Buty if I use UTM tracking links I can
So come on then, what is a UTM tracking link?
The UTM part of the name refers to a piece of internet history. It’s short for ‘Urchin tracking module’.
Urchin Software Corporation developed the software that was to become Google Analytics. The company may be gone but the name remains.
A UTM tracking link is a link that has a bit of extra text added to it which gives additional information to your analytics program.
Going back to the link for this post. If I added tracking code to the raw link it would be transformed to:
If you typed that into your browser bar it would bring you to the exact same post that the first, undecorated version did, but Google Analytics will register that extra data.
There are three sections to that link that we can customise:
This is the type of traffic the link is sending. In Google Analytics it includes:
In my link above, I’ve chosen ‘referral’. Remember this is the link I’m sharing with my podcast listeners. They are being referred to my site from the Podcast.
By naming it as referral traffic Google Analytics will put it in the ‘referral’ section of my dashboard.
Source gets more specific about where the traffic came from. For example, if the medium was social my source would be the specific network involved. It could be:
The link we’re working on is a referral link so I’m specifying the source as ‘podcast’. When I click on the referral medium in Google Analytics I will see ‘podcast’ as a referrer.
This is the final section of your link and this info is created by you. You can add a phrase that identifies the exact campaign you are associating the traffic with.
For example, if you were driving traffic from a Facebook ad you could ad the Facebook campaign, ad set and ad name as your ‘Campaign’.
I read the link out loud during my podcast so I’ve added the campaign string ‘verbal cue episode 90’.
I’ll be able to access the statistics from the campaign in my Google Analytics ‘Campaigns’ dashboard. More on that below.
Finally to make my link easy to remember I take the big long version and use the ‘Pretty Links’ plugin to shorten it.
Why are we doing this again?
If we’re going to get serious about our blog we need to know what’s working. Not just what’s driving traffic to our site but which networks are sending traffic that eventually converts into sales.
By using tracking links we can better understand the results from:
Create unique tracking links for each ad we run helps us determine which ones sent traffic and which ones converted.
I write three headlines for (almost) every post I publish. When I share my posts on Twitter I rotate between the three. I figure this gives me a better chance of capturing the attention of my audience.
If I make a tracking link for each version I can easily see which headline works best in my Google Analytics.
Testing social networks
Groups are the big thing on Facebook at the moment but do they drive traffic? Do people actually click the link when I post my blog to my group, my page and my personal timeline?
The only way I can find out is by creating tracking links for each.
This sounds complicated. How do I make these links?
I’m not going to lie. UTM tracking links can be complex. I’ve given you enough information to set them up correctly but if you want to know more read this in-depth guide from Annielytics.
You don’t have to create your tracking links manually. There are tools that can assist you.
Google URL builder has a basic form you fill that spits out the correct link for you.
If you are creating a lot of links there’s a Chrome browser extension ‘Google Analytics URL Builder‘ that allows you to quickly create links from the web page you are on.
Or if you are an excel fan you could create them yourself on a spreadsheet with some formulas. Annie has one linked in her article.
Navigating Google Analytics
As long as you labeled your links correctly the information from the links will be added to the Medium and Source Channels in Google Analytics.
You’ll find the ‘Medium’ under the Aquisition tab in ‘Channels’. Click onto a channel and it will bring you to the ‘Source’.
To find out more about your campaign click the ‘Campaigns’ tab under Aquistion.
Click ‘Secondary dimension’ here to see the source and medium of each campaign.
One more thing
Even after all this work there is still one unknown entity. When other people share your links they aren’t attaching tracking code (or at least not in most cases).
Some social sharing plugins add UTM tracking code to links that are shared. Although this only adds data to links that are shared using the sharing buttons it does narrow down the data.
Two paid services that enable UTM tracking at the pro level are:
- Come up with a system for your tracking links
- Create different links for different social networks each time you publish
- Create different links for headline variations
- Create different links for different ad variations
- Keep an eye on results of your campaigns in Google Analytics