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.
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:
Adobe Analytics example:
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:
Let’s dive into each area.
Note: These processes can either be managed manually (which is messy business), or through an automated campaign validation solution.
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:
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 to use a campaign solution software that includes marketing standards and user permissions features.
Analysts can use marketing standards features 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.
A 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.
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. This technology often 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 solution builds the link.
By using a centralized template, you remove the potential for human error and streamline the generation process.
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. This makes storage clean and accessible and eliminates the need for static spreadsheets.
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, you can automate the process with a software-based solution.
There are a couple methods for carrying out validation: landing page validation and email validation.
Landing Page Validation
Once you’ve built your library of tracking links for a campaign, a campaign validation solution will allow 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 is very similar to landing page validation. When you’re preparing to launch an email campaign, you can send a test email to your campaign validation solution, which will grab the tracking links out of that email and test them.
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.
A campaign standardization and validation solution 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 ObservePoint can help improve your campaign management.
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