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Measuring Offline Advertising in Google Analytics

Google Analytics does a great job of helping you measure online advertising. Not only does it integrate with AdWords, but you can use it to measure any kind of internet marketing, such as banner ads, email marketing, etc. The Campaign reports then give you all kind of data about your marketing, like bounce rates and conversion rates by campaign, by medium, or by source.

Google Analytics Campaign Report

Google Analytics Campaign Report

This helps you decide where you’re being effective in spending your advertising budget and where you’re pouring money down the drain on people who never visit the site, who bounce once they do, or who never convert.

The Challenge of Offline Advertising for Your Website

But what if you have offline advertising that’s intended to drive people to your website — a brochure, a traditional newsletter, or for that matter some guy in a sandwich board you hired to parade up and down the street? You might just include the URL of your home page, because it’s easy to remember and type in. But then you don’t know anything about the connection between your advertising and how it drove someone to your site.

You could, of course, use campaign codes in your offline advertising, just like you do with online advertising. But here’s an example of a campaign-coded URL (broken across lines for clarity):

     http://example.com/destination?utm_source=brochure
          &utm_medium=print&utm_campaign=fall08

Remember, this is in print. So a user has to type all that in? I don’t think so.

The Solution: Vanity URLs

You need nice, short, easy-to-remember URLs in print, because someone’s going to have to type them in. So you want something like:

     http://example.com/ad

or

     http://ad.example.com

or even simply

     http://mypromotion.com

These kind of short, catchy URLs are known as “vanity URLs.” They’re pretty names for pages that actually live somewhere on your site — maybe just your homepage, or even better, a dedicated landing page for the promotion.

So suppose your vanity URL is http://example.com/ad, and you would really like it to point to http://example.com/promotion/landingpage. (We’ll do this with a technique called “redirects” that we’ll talk about in a minute.) But if you’re already pointing your short URL at a longer URL, why not go all the way and include campaign codes? Start with

     http://example.com/ad

which is nice and short and easy to type. Send it to (broken across lines for clarity)

     http://example.com/promotion/landingpage?utm_source=brochure
          &utm_medium=print&utm_campaign=fall08

This does two things: (1) it goes to the landing page you want, and (2) it uses campaign codes to track that this is part of your “Fall 08” campaign, the medium was “print”, and the source was “brochure.” All that will show up in your Campaign reports, right alongside your online advertising. Awesome!

How to Do It: 301 Redirects

There are a number of ways to point URL A to URL B; this is called “redirection.” I’m not going to go into gory details about different methods, but what I will say is this: the kind of redirect you want to use is called a “301 redirect.” There are lots of reasons this is better than various other ways to redirect URLs, including being good for your search engine optimization.

A 301 redirect is called “301” after the HTTP status code that is returned when a browser requests the URL. (You’re familiar with other status codes like “404” for a page that can’t be found.) All the redirect does is say “The page you were looking for at this URL? It’s at this other URL instead. Go there.#8221; And your browser automatically does.

A 301 redirect occurs on your web server. Depending on what web server you’re using and how your site is architected, there are a number of ways to accomplish this. I’m not going to cover every one in detail, but here are some links to popular ways you might accomplish this.

  • If you’re using the Apache web server, you can use the mod_rewrite engine
  • If you’re using the IIS web server, you can use the ISAPI_rewrite engine
  • Depending on your site, you may also use a custom scripting solution for rewriting URLs, such as one based on PHP or ASP.NET

There are lots of options here, and you should think about how they fit with the way your site currently works behind the scenes, as well as how you’ll maintain the list of vanity URLs and campaign-coded destination links as you add to them in the future.

So, go ahead and start tracking your offline advertising!

-Jonathan

Jonathan Weber

About Jonathan Weber

Jonathan Weber is the Data Evangelist at LunaMetrics. He spreads the principles of analytics through our training seminars all over the East coast. The next seminar he'll be leading will be a Google Analytics training in Boston. Before he caught the analytics bug, he worked in information architecture. He holds a Master’s degree from the University of Pittsburgh School of Information Sciences. Jonathan’s breadth of knowledge – from statistics to analysis to library science – is somewhat overwhelming.

http://www.lunametrics.com/blog/2008/09/05/measuring-offline-advertising-google-analytics/

9 Responses to “Measuring Offline Advertising in Google Analytics”

Chris says:

Jonathan. Good post, and in my experience something that most marketers don’t do due to a lack of tools or internal technical resources. What types of responses do you see in your analytics accounts from offline advertising. In past projects, I saw fairly low response rates to my vanity URLs, but it was interesting to tie it back into overall traffic volume.

A project I’ve been working on is something designed to generate, organize, and keep track of campaign tracking codes: including those generated by Google. One thing we built into the product was the ability to generate ModRewrite files or the other solutions you mentioned to handle the vanity url redirect rules. More than happy to share with anyone who is interested. chris dot walsh at trackmymarketing.com

jacksen says:

Google Analytics is a free web analytics application that is quickly becoming one of the most widely used web analytics tools around. A common misconception that many people have is that GA can only be used to track Google AdWords. That’s simply not true. GA can be used to track any online marketing activity. And not only will Google Analytics track online marketing, it will also identify the conversion events that your online marketing creates.
—————-
jacksen
SEO

Adrian says:

Great post! Hoping you could help with a problem though. My web designer recently tried this and we keep getting an error. From my understanding, a 301 redirect will show up as direct traffic in Analytics. Well, we wanted oldsite.com to show up as a referral in the Analytics for newsite.com, so we tried to do this in the htaccess file:

redirect 301 / http://www.newsite.com/?utm_source=oldsite.com/utm_medium=referral/utm_campaign=oct08

but we’ve been getting an error; it looks like the server is trying to find a specific directory, but because there is no folder in our new site labeled /?utm_source=oldsite.com/ it doesn’t work… at least this is what we suspect is going wrong.
Here’s the issue: this was a test to see if we could do the kind of offline advertising you wrote about in this post. Do you have any pointers or conjectures of where we’re doing wrong, and how we could fix it? It’d be much appreciated to get our offline advertising tracked!

Thanks!

Jonathan says:

Adrian — You just have a little problem with the syntax. Instead of slashes between each parameter, you want an ampersand, like this:

http://www.newsite.com/?utm_source=oldsite.com&utm_medium=referral&utm_campaign=oct08

DD says:

Just a quick question: Does GA track the referral of the redirected page correctly, or will the referral of the second page be the first page (site.com as referral of http://www.site.com)?

Jonathan says:

DD – Using the campaign code specifies the source, medium, and campaign. So unless you specify the medium as “referral” and the source as “site.com” in the campaign parameters in the URL, no.

However, if your question is more generally about redirects and Google Analytics — yes, redirects can sometimes be the source of self-referrals (where your site shows up as a referrer to itself), depending on how you’re doing the redirection. 301 redirects are always the best because they occur on the server side before any page is sent to the browser. Other methods, such as using the meta-refresh header, using frames, or using JavaScript-based redirects are more likely to cause problems.

Hot Pictures says:

Does GA track the referral of the redirected page correctly, or will the referral of the second page be the first page (site.com as referral of http://www.site.com)? really?

I never do something like this happened! but it’s great, thanks for sharing the tip.

Roman says:

I solved the problem with javascript help. Wrote guide how to do it: http://pilotaz.blogspot.com/2013/06/tracking-redirects-with-google-analytics.html