Archive for June, 2011

Presenting, by Popular Demand, the Tracking Parameter

We often get questions about tracking parameters. Specifically, people wonder about what tracking parameters are, how to add them to urls and how to use the parameters provided by Google Analytics.

First, just a quick overview on why you should care about tracking parameters.   The bottom line is that without tracking parameters, many campaigns are very difficult to track.   Tracking parameters allow you to tell your reporting engine how to show tracking data in reports.  They allow you to give the data in your reports the names that make sense to you, and to group the data in your reports into units that make sense and are actionable.

Like many things in the internet space, understanding tracking parameters is simple once you know it, but sometimes you need someon to give you a foundation of understanding before you can internalize the
knowledge.   That’s what I’ll try to do here.

To start, you’ll want some vocabulary.   Tracking parameters are a specific kind of query string parameter.   A query string is a part of a url. A url is the tech term for a web address.

Now, let’s dive in…

These are all urls:

Of these 5 urls the last three have query strings.   A query string starts with a question mark and contains one or more name-value pairs.   The name
value pairs have a parameter and a value.    Let’s look at these in more depth.

The first url above has one parameter, “q”, whose value is “dayparting”.   The second url has two
parameters, “q” and “sort” with values “dayparting” and “asc” respectively.   You will notice that the name value pairs are separated by ampersands.

Generally speaking, query strings pass specific information to the hosting server (the server that has the file that you are requesting with your web browser) so that the hosting server can deliver specific
information back to you .

In the case of Google Analytics, tracking parameters are added to the url to talk to javascript on your webpages that in turn talk to Google so that your Google Analytics can understand the visit better and report on it in a useful way.

There are 5 parameters used in Google Analytics.


I won’t go into what these parameters correspond to in GA reporting (let me know if you want that and I’ll do it in another post.)

How to add Google tracking parameters to your urls.

The key is that each url should have only one question mark.   The question mark says to the server “ my query string parameters start here”.  Having more than one question mark can cause errors.

If your url does not have a query string parameter you need to add one at the end of the url and then put your name value pairs.

could become

could become blog/eric/?utm_campaign=email&utm_content=banner

If your url already has a question mark, you need only to add your tracking parameters as name value pairs.
You start with an ampersand (to say, “here is another parameter”) and keep going.

could become

could become blog/eric/? sortorder=asc

Did you see how the two examples I gave end in a slash, “/”?   Adding the query string is easy in
these cases, you can just add it at the end.

However, not all urls do.   What do you do if yours doesn’t? Unfortunately it depends on the case and I’ll need to explain why.

To understand the slashes in urls,  it’s helpful to remember that urls are requests to a webserver for a file.   The slashes give a path to the information you are requesting.  They indicate which folder (aka directory) the file lives in.   There is a master folder called the root for your domain name that holds all the other folders.   It can be found either by typing in the domain name

or by typing the domain name with a trailing slash

Beyond that, all the other folders are specified using slashes for each level you go in.

specifies that I am looking for a file called within a folder called “eric” within a folder called “blog” which is found at the root.

No file is specified in that request.   That’s OK. Most servers have a default file they will serve if no file is specified.  However, sometimes there is a file request.  This is the last thing you need to know (I think).

File names end with a suffix.   A file suffix starts with a period.  Common file suffixes for web files are


If your url ends with a file name, you can simply add the question mark and your tracking parameters.

could become

Generally speaking the order of your parameters does not matter as long as you are following the proper syntax of starting your query string with a question mark and separating your name value pairs with

Here are a couple of common examples of using Google Analytics tracking parameters to get reports on common campaigns:

Ad Center CPC Destination URLS:[the keyword for this link if you are using keyword level destination urls or
‘default’ if not]&utm_campaign=[your campaign name]

Email:[mailing name]&utm_medium=email&utm_content=[the specific link if you’re interested in reporting on that]

Checking mobile usage in Google Analytics

Do you know how many visitors are accessing your website via a mobile device?

Mobile commerce is one of the hottest topics being discussed in eCommerce. However, mobile commerce is tiny compared to overall web sales. According to Forrester’s Mobile Commerce Forecast, 2011 To 2016, retailers can expect an average of 2% of their online sales to be transacted using a mobile device in 2011. According to the report this number is expected to grow to 7% of total online sales by 2016.

Where do you fall on the spectrum? Do you need to have a bigger mobile presence? Do the math. If online sales via a mobile device is a significant dollar amount it is probably time to begin investing in a mobile solution for your website. You can’t know unless you’re reviewing the data. Start by checking monthly. If you have Google Analytics installed on your website you can check your mobile usage stats by going to Visitors > Mobile > Mobile Devices.

If you are using the new version of Google Analytics go to Visitors > Technology > Mobile


First Thoughts on Google Plus One

Have you heard about Google Plus One  (+1)?    Google launched it earlier this month and seems to be poised to push it.  For example, it’s front and center on Google Ad Innovations currently (great site which makes a great default homepage, by the way:, and it’s a very logical play for Google as they embrace social.


Here’s what I love about it

Plus 1 brings social media to where eCommerce people really need it – Search.   Social is here to stay and there’s no doubt that social connections are going to continue to influence ecommerce buying decisions more and more. Plus One puts Google in an interesting place in this dynamic.  It allows them to leverage the unique selling proposition of the adwords platform – very powerful psychographic targeting capabilities via keywords to have gain a foothold in social.

I also really love that the Plus Ones you see are only of those people whom you know.   That makes the recommendation much stronger in my opinion and it makes Plus One much more useful to me.  That’s pretty cool.

So I think it’s an interesting and smart play by Google  …  um, good for them, but “So what?”     Can you as a marketer jump on this and make a huge difference for your brand?

I don’t think so… not yet.


What I don’t love about it

1) You have to have a public Google Profile to Plus One something.   It’s pretty easy to do, but the problem is that few people have done it and I’m not sure that people will be compelled to do it.  What’s the upside for them?   It seems to me that there isn’t an immediate payback for doing so.  On Facebook you get to hear about the lives of people – long lost friends, neighbors, family, etc.   People share stories.  Plus One is a lot less rich.

But perhaps this isn’t at all what Plus One is trying to be.

I guess it’s a bit like Amazon ratings… people DO seem to do those…but the difference is that they are talking to the whole world and not just their friends.   I think that stage is the attraction and incentive.   Imagine if the only reviews you saw on Amazon were those by your friends.   How often would that be useful?

It’s sort of a chicken-and-egg problem with Google Plus One.   I suppose if I were to start really seeing value of commentary from friends, I would be inclined to pay back that Karmic debt.   At this point, however, I’m seeing nothing.

Maybe Google is big enough to overcome this.   I feel like they have been patient in the past with new offerings.   They put something out there and learn… They continue to innovate and find new ways to bring value and in time the offering is really compelling.  Gmail was like that,  Adwords didn’t start as the leader in it’s space, Analytics has gotten better year after year and looks to be poised for a great leap in 2011.   Maybe Plus One will just take time.

But the bottom line is that it is NOT super important to most marketers at this time.   There just isn’t a population there yet.


That said, what is the downside of promoting Plus One on your website?   There is very little investment for you as a website owner to do so.   Sure, not alot of people will use it, but it probably does behoove you to get in the game and start seeing what Plus One is and how it’s being used.   My understanding is that data will be available with Google Webmaster Tools (which in turn is becoming more integrated with Google Analytics).  It’s Google, after all – they are always worth watching.

Besides that, the other trick is to be great in the other things you do.   Have a great product, have incredible customer support and get Plus Oned.  That’s a piece of cake, right?














The Next Big Thing: Multi-channel Funnels

Want to see how all your marketing efforts work together to create a conversion? The new Multi-Channel Funnels feature in Google Analytics does this by showing you all the marketing efforts (or channels) a buyer interacted with prior to purchasing. It includes everything: organic search, paid search, affiliates, ads, social networks and more. Here’s an introductory video on multi-channel funnels.

Google Product Extentions: U.S. School Supply

I’ve pointed out product extensions before as a great way to increase AdWord effectiveness. Here’s another example of how powerful they can appear in relation to a growing number of product photos in the limited ad space Google provides. U.S. School Supply not only gets the usual blurb with the usual link, but five additional links, photos of product and price listings… all for no difference in the CPC (cost per click).

You can read more about enabling Google Product Extensions here.

Oh, and did you notice the stars in the lower right corner, next to the Pottery Barn ad ( That’s another neat little trick for increasing conversions from AdWords. It’s called “Seller Rating Extensions” and Google claims they get an average 17% higher CTR (click through rate) than ads without them. You can read more about them here.