Customize your Traffic Sources using Google's URL Builder tool

google analytics logoI first read about the Google URL Builder on Didier's blog (in French) and decided to write an English article about this very useful tool. If you are monitoring your blog or website’s traffic on Google Analytics (GA), then this article might be of great help!

For obvious reasons, one important part of web analytics is the study of your traffic sources. For those who are not familiar with the terms, here’s a quick definition of the different types of traffic you will come across:

  • Direct traffic = Users coming on your website by entering your website’s URL directly in their browser, using saved bookmarks, etc.
  • Organic traffic = Users clicking on organic (=natural) results in the search engines.
  • Referral traffic = Users on another website clicking on a link to yours.
  • Paid traffic = Users clicking on paid ads if you are running a PPC campaign (mostly via Google Adwords).

However, GA sometimes makes it a bit confusing for the following reasons.
If you are running an emailing campaign or send out a newsletter containing a link to your website, the person who clicks on that link via a webmail client such as Windows Live Mail or Gmail will show as referral traffic coming from another website. But if someone else clicks on the same link of the same newsletter via a mail client such as Outlook, Lotus Notes or Thunderbird, then the traffic will be considered as Direct Traffic. Therefore it is quite difficult to know how many people in total have come through this newsletter.

google analytics traffic sourcesThis issue can be identified in many cases. For example, if you share a link in one of your Twitter messages, people clicking on that link via the Twitter.com website will be shown as referral as if people click on that same link via third party Twitter applications such as Seesmic Desktop, Twitterfox or TweetDeck, then this traffic will be considered as direct traffic.

To make it a bit simpler, I’ve tried different techniques in the past. For example, I have used URL shorteners such as bit.ly that convert your link and offer basic analytics such as the number of clicks. If I want to share a link on both Twitter and email, you can for example include the link bit.ly/pEr1G in one but use bit.ly/13L6hH in the other (both redirect to the same page). You can therefore have a precise idea of how many clicks each link aggregated.

However, you are using Google Analytics and might as well take advantage of its full power!

This is why I will show you how to setup a link using Google’s URL Builder. You can find it in the GA Help Center.

This tool lets you append parameters at the end of your destination URL such as the support you are using (Twitter, Facebook, Email,…) or the campaign you are running (Christmas promotion, Father’s Day,…).

Let’s see how this works.
google url builder tool
Above is a screenshot of the URL Builder tool. In order to properly generate a URL, you will need to enter some basic information in the blank fields as follow:
  • Website URL: This is the URL of the destination page you want to share (I have entered the URL of a previous article I have written on my blog for example).
  • Campaign Source: Enter the source on which you will be posting your link. For example, I will share this link on Twitter and therefore included the Twitter parameter. If you want to share it on facebook, then enter facebook instead of Twitter… as simple as that!
  • Campaign Medium: In this field you will enter the medium you will be using to share the link. This can be a good way to later sort your traffic in GA. If you select social, all your links shared on social networks will be selected.
  • Campaign Term: Optional. I haven’t used this parameter before but this would let you keep track of which keyword a particular ad is working with if you are using Paid Search.
  • Campaign Content: Optional. This is not compulsory but just like the above parameter, it can be useful in PPC or display campaigns in order to identify which ad has been used.
  • Campaign Name: This is an extra parameter that lets you identify even more precisely what this link is. For example, I have entered “Article-Multitab Browsing” to make it easier for me to recognize it. Of course, you can name it the way you want (product name for example).

Once the required fields are filled, simply click on the Generate URL button and you will get a brand new one containing the parameters explained above. In my case, I end up with the URL: http://feedonthis.blogspot.com/2009/08/multi-tab-browsing-and-its-impact-on.html?utm_source=Twitter&utm_medium=Social&utm_campaign=Article-Multitab%2BBrowsing

Note that once you are more familiar to the way these parameters work, you can easily build them yourself without using the Google URL Builder tool. Just be careful not to break the syntax.

This may seem a bit too technical at first but it is quite simple in the end. A lot of people and companies have already been using this in order to track precisely their links.
Next time you receive an email from Twitter telling you someone is following you, have a look at the link inside the email:

http://twitter.com/TWITTERUSERNAME?utm_medium=email&utm_source=follow&utm_campaign=twitterID

If you get promotional emails, you will also see that most of them use this method:
http://www.jetstar.com/au/en/cheap-flights/sales.aspx?utm_source=jetmail&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=darwin_sale_20090909

I hope that little tutorial helped you. Don’t hesitate to comment!

PS: I have also noticed that traffic coming from Google images is listed as referral although it is organic in my opinion. However, there is nothing we can do about this one!

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