Google Analytics Tagging Demystified

Ian Lurie

Google Analytics, Omniture, WebSideStory and other major analytics packages use tagging. They’re all worth spit if you don’t take advantage of it.

This week I’ve had three clients nearly pop blood vessels over improper tagging by their teams. I thought a practical tutorial might be in order.

Why? Without tagging, the software can’t accurately track performance of paid search ads, banners and other forms of online advertising.

Some of you are already warming up your keyboard to leave me a snippy comment about how clueless I am. Google Adwords, of course, now uses auto-tagging. It’s one exception, I know about it, and you’ll have to keep reading to find a mistake. Sorry.

What’s A Tag?

In the context of web analytics, a tag is something you add to a link. When you click that link and land on your website, the tag passes additional information.
Your web analytics software then uses that tag to match the click to all sorts of things: Where you came from, whether the click was from a paid or organic search result, which specific ad you clicked, etc..

From here on, I’ll use Google Analytics. You’ll need to read the documentation for whichever analytics package you use to learn their tagging system.

Google Analytics Tagging in Action

Take a Yahoo paid search ad:
Terrible PPC Advice
Learn What Not To Do
From the PPC Villain.
In that ad, the link points at If I click that link and land on, all my analytics software knows is that I came from Yahoo! and searched for a keyword like ‘ppc’. It can’t determine which ad I came from, whether this was a paid or unpaid search, or whether this ad was part of a larger campaign.
Not very helpful.
If I add a tag, though:
Google Analytics can parse this tag and understand that: I came from Yahoo!; I came from a ppc ad, not an unpaid search result; the ad was part of the rotteneggs campaign.
That lets Analytics give me nice, detailed reports that include:

  • Which keywords generate conversions;
  • Which ads generate conversions;
  • The value of a click from a specific ad and/or keyword; and
  • The length of the average visit from that ad/keyword/campaign.

You can do even more, but I’ll let you read the Google Analytics documentation for that. Otherwise this article will become a book, and Avinash already wrote a great one.

It’s Toooooo Haaarrrdddd

Now your eyes have glazed over. You’ve persuaded yourself that it’s OK to not know how your ads are performing, since the alternative involves learning some ridiculously complex tagging system, then being institutionalized for 10 years and writing ‘UTM_SRC’ with a crayon between your toes.
Fear not! Google has their own handy tag builder. It’s right here.
You can create the URL you want in a few easy steps:

  1. Determine your criteria. What are you tracking? Medium (PPC, banner, e-mail, etc.)? Source (Google, Yahoo, Conversation Marketing)? Ad version (big, small, 1, 2)?
  2. Create a matrix, assets across, tags down:
    Google Analytics Tag Matrix
  3. Then tag each asset (fancy adspeak for ‘an ad’) into the URL Builder:
    Google Analytics URL Builder
  4. Click ‘Generate URL’ and then cut-and-paste the resulting link.

That’s it. You’re on your way to tagging glory.

It’s Not Optional

Tags are your most powerful, flexible analytics tool. With them, your analytics software delivers statistics on every ad buy, keyword, ad version and campaign.
Without them, your analytics software is stuck in 1996.
Learn how to use tags. It’s worth it.
Leave questions below…

Related Posts:
7 Internet Marketing Analytics You Must Track
Fat Free Guide to Google Analytics

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  1. Tagging your URLs is absolutely critical! Especially for us. Being a full service Internet marketing agency we are usually running multiple campaigns at the same time. We may have some banners and text ads, PPC, blog posts, etc. Basically you want to segment ALL of your advertising and reach so that you can measure the effectiveness of things like press releases, comparison shopping engines, text link ads, etc.
    My team always has to tag their campaigns!

  2. You’re right, tracking the performance of ads is so critical, it’s not optional. You can’t be profitable unless you’re weeding out the nonperforming keywords and ads.
    One thing that always mystified me was a finding a simple way to do it and I thank you so much for providing this simple guide to tagging in Analytics. DUH! Why wasn’t I doing this, like, all along?
    Jennifer aka “Internet Marketing Badger”

  3. Thanks for this. I’ve given Google URL Builder a try and written a short post on my site describing a workaround (using TinyURL) that I used for script directories that don’t allow long enough URLs.

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