When you first started marketing, you may have used a scatter-shot approach: posting some things to social media, and collecting email addresses to send out newsletters every couple of weeks. Hopefully, that first panicked rush of “OMG we just have to get something out there–anything!” is over. You probably have some idea of how well your marketing works, but if someone asked you for numbers to back that gut feeling up, you would feel lost. Don’t worry, every marketer feels this way at some point, and there’s a cure. Link tracking via Campaign Variables (CVs, also known as Campaign Parameters) will give you the data you need.
Link tracking can take your analytics to the next level by giving you insight into where your users find your content, how they share it, and, most importantly, where they’re hiding. While Google Analytics will give you a 10,000 ft view of which referral sources send you the most traffic and what landing pages that traffic visits, it won’t automatically tell you which parts of your campaign your audience reacts to the most.
Why Set Up links?
Setting up links allows you to look critically at your campaigns to help you repeat the things that work and cut the tactics that only make noise. It’s an easy way to get really refined data for your campaigns.
Your team is running a promotion, and you’ve made a unique landing page at www.example.com/special where customers can access your promotion. To get the word out, you run an email campaign, promote on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn, and you even have folks handing out one-pagers with QR codes to your promotion landing page at industry events. How do you know which of these traffic sources brought you the most traffic? And if you sent out several different Tweets, Facebook posts, and emails during the course of that campaign, how do you know which ones drove the most traffic, so you could recreate those posts the next time around. The answer is adding unique CVs to the end of your base URL of www.example.com/special that match where you’re going to publish each of those links.
How to Add Campaign Variables to Links
For each step in this process, I suggest you document everything. Make a spreadsheet or keep it all on a whiteboard and make sure all team members have access (and that the cleaning crew doesn’t erase the whiteboard–on second thought, just use a spreadsheet).
Plan your campaign This should be part of your larger content marketing strategy. So, for your example promotion, you set up the landing page, draft some content and social media posts, and designate each one for a social media platform. And write all of this down in your spreadsheet.
Plan your tags CVs have 5 major tags, and by adding different combinations of these tags you can get really specific about the placement of your links and which ad or post they’re connected to. Those tags are:
- Source – designates the source the link was found on, including search engines (for ads), email newsletter, or social media site name. (required)
- Medium – this is the type of media the link is found in: email, cpc (paid), social
- Name – what you call the campaign internally: spring-sale, demo-drip, marketing-newsletter
- Term – specific keywords that you target for this campaign, usually in cpc ads (if you have Adwords autotagging set up, it will define this for you.)
- Content – distinguishes between different ads or content that points to the same link. This is helpful for a/b testing your ad campaigns or the efficacy of a CTA
Only the source tag is required, but if you only use the source tag, you won’t get much more information than what you would see in your referral report anyway. The more tags you use, the more data you get. You can only use each tag once in a URL, so make it count. Oh yeah, and document which tags you’re going to use in your spreadsheet.
(shameless plug alert: Did those bullet points look familiar? They’re from our Ultimate Content Marketing Guide on Social Media. Check over there for LOTS more information about building a social media strategy.)
Build your links – Once you have the tags you want to use, you could type out each URL with its unique CVs, but why would you want to do that when technology can do it better and faster? Use a URL builder. There are lots out there, including this URL builder from Raven Tools that we like a lot.
Make a unique URL for each post, ad, email, blog post, everything. Once you build that URL, you guessed it, document it (i.e. copy and paste it) into your spreadsheet.
Shorten your links – You may have noticed that those CV-enhanced links are, well, long and ugly. They include a lot of really helpful information for you, but your actual message might get lost in all your tracking data. What’s the answer then? Use a link shortening tool.
If you’ve got that DIY itch, you could set up your own link shortener. A quick google search will present you with a lot of options. Or, if you’re too busy (or lazy) to reinvent a tool someone else has already set up, you could use one of many free and cheap link shorteners out there. Here are a few:
- Google Link Shortener [free]
- Bit.ly [total link management]
- Or, share your links through a social media management tool like Buffer or Hootsuite. These are paid social media tools that also automatically shorten your links.
Reminder: Drop each short link into your spreadsheet as you make it. It’s important that you document both the original long CV link and the new short link, just in case something gets wonky between these apps and posting. Oh, and test your links before you post or send.
Share your content – This is where the whole plan really starts to come together. Start building email blasts, social media posts, search and social ads, and supplementary content, and add your shortened CV link. Test that the shortlink takes you to the right landing page before you post, just in case.
If you’re going to use a social media tool like Buffer or Hootsuite, you can skip over shortening your links and go right to this step. Social media sharing tools give you the ability to schedule posts out in advance and track your engagement metrics, and most of these tools have built-in link shorteners. These apps are a great investment because they really help you save time and create and schedule all your social media posts at once.
What to Do With All That Link Information
Yay! You’ve shared your content, and from what you can tell folks are converting, right? Your work isn’t over yet, though. Remember why we did this in the first place: to get deep insights into how every part of your campaign performed and which content was most engaging.
Track your links. It’s the whole reason you’re doing this. You’re probably also going to need to report on the success of your campaign to someone, so let’s talk about how to visualize that data. There are two main steps here:
- Set up your tracking environment: Make sure that Google Analytics or another website analytics tool is installed and tracking on your website. Pro Tip: even if your website has really low traffic, you can check that Analytics is working by looking at the “Users Right Now” KPI in your Analytics dashboard. If it says 0, open your site in a new window. That number should change to 1 within seconds. If you don’t have Google Analytics installed, go back in time to when you set up your website and add the tracking code. Or just do it now. If you use Adwords, make sure that account and Analytics are sharing data as well.
- Build dashboards. Dashboards give everyone in the company transparency into how your campaigns are doing, without needing to switch between platforms and keep track of a bunch of passwords. Here are some widget ideas for your dashboard:
- Choose the metrics you want to track for your campaign (1,000 clicks, 10 new followers, 67 new free trials) and make those into goals that you track with a fuel-gauge widget.
- Compare campaign and referral metrics in table grid widgets where you can see clicks, impressions, page views, and time on page.
- Compare referral vs. organic traffic with bar charts, line graphs, or combination charts.
- Use two different date ranges to show relative traffic numbers like before the campaign and during the campaign.
- Connect social media platforms to your dashboard, then use a combination chart to show how likes, shares, clicks, and other engagement numbers drive traffic to the site or progress toward your goals.
The final step is to turn your dashboard into a report that you can share with clients or your boss. With TapClicks you can turn any of your custom dashboards into a report. And TapClicks can handle multiple levels of data, so you can drill down from Campaigns to show the links that brought the most traffic, conversions, or goal completes.