Google URL Builder: How to Separate Clickable from Forgettable Links

by 25 08/29/2013

A couple of months ago, I wanted to check on the performance of a set of sales emails I’d sent out. But when I logged in to Google Analytics, I noticed that the traffic sources for those sales were categorized as “direct.”

While I could reasonably conclude that many of those sales came from people clicking on the links within the emails, I couldn’t find the juiciest piece of information: Which links?

Was it the email’s P.S.? The first link? Or were people just clicking the link in my email signature? I wanted to know more!

What follows is a case study in how to get the data you need so you know what works and what doesn’t… and can actually repeat your best marketing wins.

It’s boils down to a simple hack

For repeat successes, you need more than analytics. You need to know which links are clickable and which ones are forgettable.

Because that’s the kind of data we wanted, my team and I implemented a simple hack that we now use every time we want to track the health of any specific link in an email.

By doing this, we were able to identify the ONE link in a recent email marketing campaign that drove 10x more conversions than any other link! (And yes, its outmatched kin all linked to the very same ULR and were even found in the very same email.)

All we needed were 3 simple (and free!) tools:

1. Google Analytics

2. Bitly

3. Google URL Builder

Say whaat?

Last May, we sent out an email sequence to promote a free webinar we produced as part of a campaign to generate leads and drive sign-ups for Social Media Marketer, our online video program that teaches small businesses how to excel at online marketing.

Here are the exact two emails that went out.

First, the teaser…

Subject: [new webinar] getting your followers onto your email list

Aloha!

We’ve gotten a lot of questions recently about how to tie together the social media marketing tips we emphasize here in the LKR community with actually making more sales for your business.

Our answer? Social Media List Building! Translation: converting your friends, fans, and followers into subscribers on your email lists, that way you can reach them more directly than on good ol’ Facebook or Twitter.

This stuff is so important that Laura’s stopping everything to give you the dish in her next webinar:

Social Media List Building: Turning “Likes” Into Leads next Friday, May 10 at 9am PST (that’s 12pm EST and 5pm GMT).

All the details are here, plus your chance to sign up AND get the free recording just in case you want to review things later on.

Got questions? You know we’ve got the answers, so let us know by responding to this email.

Talk soon!

-Team LKR

Then, the reminder…

Subject: [WEBINAR] turn those “likes” into leads!

Hey there!

A lot of our customers have the same problem. They’ve taken what they’ve learned from Social Media Marketer and put it into place, becoming really skilled at actively engaging their fans and followers.

That’s where the disconnect is: getting those fans to convert into email addresses on your email list.

Laura takes on this issue and your questions in her next webinar, Social Media List Building: Turning “Likes” Into Leads. We’ll go in-depth about:

  • the two stages of list building that create a no-touch, continuous cycle of list building – once you put the wheels in motion, you’ll sit back and literally watch your list grow
  • the proven LKR List Building method of using social media to get 500+ new email address on our lists every week
  • the 3 blink-and-you-miss-them links used to gradually herd your fans over to your opt-in form
  • the #1 factor that will make or break your list building strategy. (Hint: it’s not on Facebook!)

If you’re still struggling to grow your email list, or waiting to see that time you invest into social media pay off, list building is THE next step towards making more sales.

So register now and get it on your calendar: Social Media List Building: Turning “Likes” Into Leads tomorrow, May 10 at 9am PST/12pm EST/5pm UK.

Conflicts with your schedule? No worries! Everyone registered for the webinar will receive a homemade recording of the webinar sent directly to their inbox.

All you need is 30 minutes!

See you there. :)

- Team LKR

 ***

You can see that in these two emails, there are three links total. They all go to the same spot—a landing page to sign up for the free webinar.

While Google Analytics can track traffic coming into the site, specific data about your email campaign gets all mixed in with all the other traffic sources that Google sweeps into the pesky “direct” traffic category.

While using Bitly-shortened links allow you to see click data, when all the links are heading to the same destination, you can’t really see which link performed the best.

But when these two tools combine forces with Google URL Builder, you can create unique, trackable URLs that all direct to the same destination, thus answering the two most important questions you’d ask about your email campaign:

  • Which link was the most enticing?
  • Which link drove the highest number of sign-ups?

Sorcery? Nah, just a few UTM parameters.

See, Google URL builder asks you to enter in different pieces of identifying information (aka UTM parameters) as shown here:

Google URL builder

Here at LKR, we use these fields to identify specific email series, link placement, and linked terms. We’ve developed a standard operating procedure that goes something like this:

Website URL: That’s the URL of the site you’re sending traffic to. This’ll stay the same for the whole batch of trackable links related to the same email sequence that you’re comparing.

Campaign Source: We’ve assigned every newsletter or email series its own specific standard source name. When we whip up a batch of trackable links, we just need to reference our short list of source names to ensure we’re staying consistent:

campaign tracking worksheet

For one-offs, like this webinar sequence, we pop in a simple phrase that makes identifying the series easy.

Campaign Medium: We use this space to summarize the specific element being tested with this batch of links. The key here is to use an identifiable marker—usually, we go with a shortened version of the email subject line to differentiate this link from links within other emails in the series.

Campaign Term and Campaign Content: Here, we call out the actual words being used for text links. We only use the Campaign Content field if we need to clarify anything else about the link and its target. Within a single email, we might have a few different trackable links testing different linked phrases, all directed at the same target page. When that’s the case, the term’s the only one that we’d alter for the group.

Campaign Name: Each campaign is assigned a descriptive identifying name which stays the same for all the links associated with the group. Usually, this is pretty similar to the Campaign Medium.

However you set up your parameters, the trick here is to keep it consistent.

Come up with your own descriptive standards, but make sure to keep your sources, mediums, and campaign names the same (changing just the term or the content) for links that’ll appear within the same email.

Keep sources and campaign names the same for links that’ll appear within the same email series, altering one variable to distinguish individual emails from one another.

WARNING: don’t put punctuation into any of those fields in the URL builder; it will make Google Analytics freak out a little and stop tracking your clicks correctly.

This can get messy if you don’t develop a system early on. We keep a spreadsheet to keep our sources, mediums, names, and terms straight—feel free to download our template for your own use.

Once you hit Submit, these bits of information get appended onto your original URL in a beefy mix of plus signs and underscores that Google Analytics can interpret and track as different variables.

We like to then take those huge Frankenstein URLs into Bitly to tidy it up for easier handling.

Insert your fancy new links into your emails, and look forward to dancing around in a pile of juicy, measurable data.

Here’s the proof.

Let’s go back to the second email we sent out—our reminder email.

In that email, we included two links that sent readers to our webinar landing page. Thanks to the unique trackable links we created, we can easily see which link enticed more people to click: the linked name of the webinar or the clear “register now” call-to-action.

The quick and easy way to see which one got the most clicks? Head back to Bitly:

bitly screenshot
bitly screenshot

No doubt about it—the “register now” link wins with 618 clicks versus 365.

Checking out click data with Bitly is a great way to test out small tweaks with your email calls to action. After keeping track of groups of links within your email series for a while, you’ll likely see that your readers respond to one type of call-to-action more than others. Make a note of what excites your readers and make sure to include those elements in your future content.

Now that we know which type of link performed best to get readers to click, we can hone our future content toward similar direct calls to action.

But there’s still one Big Looming Question: what did people do once they got to the landing page?

Here’s where Google Analytics comes in. Let’s take a look at the traffic that these two emails sent us.

Open up your Google Analytics account and check out your Traffic Sources. From there, click into Overview > Sources > Campaigns:

screenshot of Analytics campaigns

 

You’ll now notice your links organized by campaign (field #6 from Google URL Builder).

screenshot of traffic

Within each campaign, you can click to drill down and see the additional parameters you assigned to each link, and to get one step closer to that magical conversion data.

We’re looking to see if visitors to this landing page signed up for the webinar, so we’ve set up a Goal in Google Analytics to track this. Located in Goal Set 2, we’ve named our goal “Likes to Leads webinar optin.”

screenshot of goal

Now, from the campaign list, all we need to do is click on Goal Set 2 to see which campaign gave us the best conversion rate:

check conversion rate

This view of Google Analytics gives us plenty to analyze.

Obviously, there were many visits (1,303 to be precise) to the webinar landing page from the first email we sent, but only 7.9% of those visits converted into sign-ups.

Meanwhile, there were only 749 visits from the reminder email (which only went to people who hadn’t signed up yet) and the conversion rate of sign-ups was a whopping 70.49%!

You can get even deeper into this information by sorting your data by keyword (from the drop-down menu when you click on Other > Adwords).

sort keywords

Here we can see that while the overall conversion rate of sign-ups for this webinar was 70.49%, the link from the reminder email that said “so register now” drove conversions at an even higher rate of 76.49%. It’s another indicator of the power of that one call-to-action.

Looking back on the emails, there are several factors that could be taken into account—subject line, time of email delivery, the specific copy within each email, and tons of other variables.

However, there are still two conclusions that I would draw:

  1. While links without a clear call to action may encourage people to get more information (at which point they may or may not sign up), a link that says REGISTER NOW tells readers to REGISTER NOW!
  2. Our reminder email landed in subscribers’ email inboxes the day before the webinar. A timely message definitely creates a greater sense of urgency, which encourages people to sign up before it’s too late.

Trackable links work anywhere you want, from your social feeds, to your email signature, to your downloadable PDFs, or anywhere else Google Analytics might be tempted to shove into that vague “direct” category.

But we always recommend using trackable links with your outgoing emails. Why? Because a whole mess of that “direct” traffic you’re seeing in Google Analytics is probably coming from your marketing emails!

And when sales emails are a HUGE part of your business, as it is with ours, think seriously about tracking and capturing that data.

Open rates and click-through rates might be helpful on the surface, but they don’t mean much if your actual conversions are coming from another source you’re not paying attention to yet.

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About 

Laura Roeder is a social media marketing expert who teaches small businesses how to become known as #1 in their field and claim their brand online. She is the creator of Creating Fame and Social Media Marketer, a small business social media community.

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25 COMMENTS

John Broadbent

Making content worth clicking on can take time and may be hard to develop, but it is important to listen to your audience so you know what they like to click on.

August 29, 2013 Reply

    Erin

    You nailed that in the head, John. Without an audience reading your content, you don’t have anything! -Erin, Team LKR

    September 3, 2013 Reply

Phil Vallender

Google URL Builder is an essential and invaluable tool that we use almost daily. I just wish Google, or someone (maybe it should be us) would make more of if than leaving it as fire-and-forget form in a buried help topic. It deserves an app all of its own where users can store and recall tagged links – then they can more easily use the tool strategically rather than just tactically.

To help get part of the way, we built and shared a tagged link strategy spreadsheet – you can find it on our blog if you look for it.

August 30, 2013 Reply

    Erin

    I agree! I wish there was an app for it. I suspect that may happen soon though :) -Erin

    August 31, 2013 Reply

      Puru Choudhary

      Phil and Erin,

      That’s exactly what Terminus is working on. You can build UTM tagged urls and shorten them with your own custom shortener. It gives you links like this -> http://term.li/17vUCJ3 which goes to the landing page of Terminus.

      We will be launching soon. Sorry about the self promotion, but it seems like that’s exactly what people are asking for here.

      Puru Choudhary
      Founder – Terminus

      September 2, 2013 Reply

        Erin

        Great, thanks for that!

        September 3, 2013 Reply

Zulhilmi Zainudin

Thanks Laura for sharing this. Now I know more about ‘Content Term’. Before this I’m using ‘Campaign Content’ to put my anchor texts in my emails as the desciption under the input field is ‘use to differentiate ads’ and I thought that ‘Content Terms’ only can be used for PPC or AdWords works.

My question here, if I want to track conversion for my site navigation, where should I put these attributes? Let say at my homepage, I have 2 CTA buttons, 1 primary menu link (in the main nav) and 1 footer link.

Use ‘Content Term’ or ‘Campaign Content’? ‘primary-nav’ for ‘Content Term’ and ‘order-page’ for ‘Campaign Content’? Like that?

August 30, 2013 Reply

Ashley @ madlemmings

Hey Laura, what a nice resource you have gotten here. That is a really great howto on using emails, Google URL builder and campaigns. I must admit I have not used it before or had the time to delve into it. Now I have a guide to show me the way!! cheers, ashley

September 1, 2013 Reply

    Erin

    Yay! Glad we can help. let us know if you have any more questions!

    September 3, 2013 Reply

Ravi Janardhan

Awesome stuff,thanks for sharing!

September 5, 2013 Reply

alia

this is just excellent, but i have been seraching for days on how to create two different bitly links that lead to the same destination? How were you able to do that? I cant seem to figure it out.

That is the most important part, if you can tell me that would really help me out

thank you

alia

October 7, 2013 Reply

    Kathryn Aragon

    Hi Alia. I’m glad you found the information useful. I’m not sure how you can get bit.ly to give you a different link to the same destination. Perhaps the key is to use different Utm parameters. So the same destination URL with a different identifyer or version.

    October 7, 2013 Reply

    Puru Choudhary

    Hi Alia,

    Can you please tell us what will these links be used for?

    Like Kathryn suggested, your utm_source could be different if you want to give a different link to different websites or utm_content could be different if they are from different parts of an email, etc.

    Best,
    Puru

    October 7, 2013 Reply

    Erin

    You’re right, you need to use different UTM parameters in order to get bitly to generate a different link. We typically adjust the Campaign Content in the URL Builder by putting the same text that we’re hyperlinking. If the first link says “click here” and the second one says “click here to register” using those phrases in the Campaign Content creates two different links you can then plug into bitly. You can then see which link gets the most clicks inside Google Analytics. Let me know if that makes sense!

    October 25, 2013 Reply

Ed Yates

Hi Laura, thanks for sharing the information about your experiences here. I just wanted to ask whether there was any noticeable difference in clickthrough rates when making flat comparisons between shortened links and the full url addresses. The reason I ask is that as a regular ninternet user (I’m a link builder by trade) I personally tend to distrust shortlinks within an email more than the full url. I just wanted to know your thoughts and whether you could share any further insight into click through behaviour here please. Keep up the good work!

December 30, 2013 Reply

Hareesh

Hi,

Excellent info. I have one querry, I am going for affiliate programs to generate leads from different deiffernt websites. I dont know the name or URL of the sites. I have been only given some state codes. Can I use these codes for my website home page with url builder to track the visits details like source/medium and campaign?

Thanks
Hareesh

February 3, 2014 Reply

Mark

Great write up. I use this for EVERYTHING that requires a link. I do not trust the analytics of certain platforms so I make sure i can get definitive numbers by tracking all of my links. Thanks for the step by step. Cheers!

June 4, 2014 Reply

    neil

    Mark, glad we could help. Thanks for reading through :)

    June 5, 2014 Reply

Mark

Hi Laura, great post. I hope you don’t mind me using one of your imagines on my site. I did give you credit of it and linked it back to this site.

Thanks … Keep up the good work..

September 19, 2014 Reply

    Kathryn Aragon

    Thanks, Mark! Glad you liked it… and thanks for linking back to us. Cheers!

    September 19, 2014 Reply

      Mark

      Kathryn, your very welcome… keep up the good work….

      September 20, 2014 Reply


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