How to Solve the 4 Most Common Challenges in Campaign Tracking

October 23, 2019 Brandon Watson

How to Solve the 4 Most Common Campaign Tracking Errors

Campaign tracking can be a muddy, messy business. 

In theory, campaign tracking is a simple relay of information—the marketer creates the email, ad or social campaign with the correct tracking, then she deploys the campaign, relying on the digital analytics solution to track performance. From there, the analytics team passes their analysis to marketing managers who can then make decisions on where to allocate resources and make improvements. 

Simple, right?

Unfortunately, often the tracking data never reaches the analytics team. At least, not all in one piece.

So who is to blame? Marketing or analytics? 

The answer? Neither. The misalignment comes down to the complexity of a single component in the exchange of data: the tracking link.

What are Campaign Tracking Links?

Campaign tracking links are URLs. Like any other URL, tracking links navigate you to a target landing page. The difference is that they carry information with them in the form of tracking parameters (metadata about the campaign source, medium, etc.) which are supposed to communicate information to your analytics solution. Tracking links look something like this:

Google Analytics example: 

https://www.example.com/search/utm_medium=email&utm_source=Responsys&utm_campaign=1234567890123&utm_content_abcdefg_2019&utm_term_abcd

Adobe Analytics example: 

http://www.example.com/products/example_example.html?cid=g:p:1234

When a web user navigates to your landing page via a tracking link, the analytics solution captures the parameters provided in the tracking link and uses those for reporting.

Marketers attach URLs (tracking links) to the campaigns to help track performance. However, for various reasons, what should be an easy handoff of data often turns into a fumble. 

For example, a marketer might misspell the campaign source “email” as “emial” in the tracking link. This simple mistake muddies the data, making it difficult to determine exactly how many conversions were the result of email campaigns. 

Mistakes happen—if you don’t have processes to protect against them. A robust campaign validation process can help protect against tracking errors.

The Campaign Validation Process

There are four areas of the tracking code creation process that companies need to master in order to prevent errors:

  • Standardization
  • Generation
  • Storage
  • Validation

Let’s dive into each area.

Note: These processes can be managed manually, however, doing so is messy business. Fortunately, there are ways to automate and streamline the process, with ObservePoint’s CampaignAssurance, for example. 

Standardization

One of the biggest challenges with campaign tracking is maintaining consistency when formatting tracking links and parameters. Say, for example, you wanted to pass a campaign ID via link parameters to your analytics vendor. There are several ways you could format the key for that parameter: 

  • Campaign_id
  • Campagin-id
  • campaignId
  • campaign-ID
  • Cid
  • cID
  • _cid
  • Etc.

Any of these are valid options. If you’re not enforcing a standard for your marketers to use when sending out campaigns, they might use one format for one campaign and another for a second. As a result, your analyst won’t be able to confidently segment based on that parameter.

Some conventions you’ll want to take into account for your parameters include:

  • Capitalization (camelCase vs. lowercase vs. uppercase)
  • Spaces (none vs. hyphen vs. underscore)
  • Abbreviations (e.g. cId vs. campaignId)

You’ll need to set similar expectations for the values inside each parameter. For example, in your campaign ID, do you expect a string or a number? Should the value be of a certain length? Defining these standards will help ensure you consistent data collection over time. 

Documentation of a marketing standard is one way to help resolve this issue, but a stronger method is through CampaignAssurance’s Marketing Standards and User Permissions.

Marketing Standards

Within CampaignAssurance, analysts can use the Marketing Standards feature to define the structure of all the tracking links for a given campaign. The analyst then hands off the template to the marketer to create the tracking links so the tracking codes are consistent.

User Permissions

The User Permissions feature allows you to manage who has access to view or create Marketing Standards. This ensures that the standards are not unnecessarily or inaccurately adjusted, and filters out noise for marketers so they can focus on specific campaigns. 

Generation

Once you’ve created a standard structure for your tracking links, there are several ways to generate those links. 

One way is to build Excel spreadsheets with complex formulas to generate and organize those tracking links (or download a template online). This method is a step in the right direction, but can be messy because it is siloed. As your company makes changes to your site or analytics strategy, you will have to update your Excel sheet—a tedious and easy-to-forget step.

The second option is to use a software-based solution to automatically generate tracking links. CampaignAssurance’s Campaign Creator relies on centralized templates, making it easy for marketers to quickly create tracking links with the most up-to-date template. A marketer or other user simply has to provide the values to go with each key and the Campaign Creator builds the link.

By using a centralized template like Campaign creator, you remove the potential for human error and streamline the generation process.

Storage

Once you’ve generated these tracking links, where do you store them so everyone has access? How do you keep track of which links have been used already? 

Static spreadsheets or even cloud-based sheets are cluttered and difficult to manage between multiple teams. 

A better option is a campaign validation solution that can store all your tracking links while only showing you the campaigns that you personally are working on. CampaignAssurance’s Campaign Library makes storage clean and accessible and eliminates the need for static spreadsheets. The Campaign Library feature also keeps track of all active or inactive campaigns, with as many tracking links as you need to build. 

Validation

The Data Handoff

We started out talking about the handoff, the moment where the baton, or tracking link, passes its data to the analytics solution for later analysis. There are several reasons why the handoff may not happen:

  • The landing page doesn’t exist (a 404 error)
  • The analytics solution (the tracking script or tag) isn’t installed on the landing page.
  • The analytics tag isn’t mapped correctly
  • The tracking link isn’t structured correctly

Let’s briefly talk about each of these issues.

The landing page doesn’t exist

A missing landing page will stop your campaign before it even gets started. If users face a 404 error, it could be that the base URL was written incorrectly or that the page was never published. Either way, this is an error you would want to solve pre-launch. 

The analytics solution isn’t installed on the page

With large websites to manage, it’s not uncommon for technology teams to forget to install their tracking technology on web pages, especially for new content. But if you don’t install tracking tech on new pages, you won’t be able to measure the results of campaigns sending traffic to those pages. 

The analytics tag isn’t mapped correctly

Custom parameters are often the culprit here in dropping the baton. By default, your analytics solution records certain parameters like campaign source and medium. But if you want to track non-standard parameters, you need to make sure to correctly configure those dimensions in your analytics solution.

For example, a custom tracking parameter called advertiser ID (advertiser_id) could help you determine which advertisers are bringing the most traffic to your site. Putting advertiser_id into your URL doesn’t automatically make for a clean handoff to your analytics solution—you have to tell your analytics tool to pick up that parameter and pass it along. 

The tracking link isn’t structured correctly

Despite all the controls you put into place to mitigate the risk of building incorrect tracking links, errors can still happen. Better to verify that each link is structured as required before launching the campaign than having to go back and do damage control if they’re not.

Check for Data Collection Before Launching the Campaign

Validating your tracking links should be a priority when walking through your pre-launch checklist. You could try approaching this process manually, but you likely have multiple variations of thousands of tracking links, making manual validation near impossible. Thankfully, CampaignAssurance can help you automate the process.

There are a couple methods for carrying out validation using CampaignAssurance: Landing Page Validation and Email Validation. 

Landing Page Validation 

Once you’ve built your library of tracking links for a campaign, the Landing Page Validation feature allows you to trigger a scan called a Web Audit. Like a real web visitor, this Web Audit navigates to each of the campaign’s landing pages using the provided tracking links. As the audit runs, it checks to see if the following statements are true:

  • The landing page exists (not a 400 status)
  • The landing page has analytics installed on the page
  • The analytics solution is capturing the data as expected

When the Web Audit is done, you receive a summary notification of what the audit discovered. If everything comes back good, you can feel comfortable launching the campaign. If not, you can address those issues before launching.

Email Validation 

Email Validation is very similar to Landing Page Validation. When you’re preparing to launch an email campaign, you can send a test email to CampaignAssurance. CampaignAssurance will grab the tracking links out of that email and test them as described in the Landing Page Validation feature.

Growing with Campaigns

Campaigns are supposed to help your business grow. By aligning marketing and analytics roles, you will be able to more successfully launch meaningful campaigns, build accurate attribution reports, and invest in the initiatives that drive top-line growth. 

CampaignAssurance can help you standardize, generate, store, and validate tracking links so that you can be confident that the handoff will go smoothly between marketing and IT because your tracking link is correct. 

Schedule a demo to see CampaignAssurance at work.

About the Author

Brandon Watson

Brandon Watson is what you would call a “jack of all trades” when it comes to product management. His specialties include UI design, strategic planning, user stories, disruptive technologies, data mining, consumer and enterprise software, and more. With his experience as a product manager for over eight years at four different companies, Brandon provides new insights and improvements that drive results over and over again.

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