Google Analytics: a beginners guide to campaign tracking

With the never ending options and diversity inherent to Google Analytics, it is easy for experienced analytics users – and even easier for newbies – to become overwhelmed. Today’s blog post is NOT for those veterans, but instead, we are stepping back to campaign tracking basics to help our analytics novices make sense of all that fun and flexible data!

Custom campaign tracking 

Campaign tracking enables website managers to identify how traffic is getting to their websites. This is especially important when it comes to online advertising. If you pay for a banner ad on an external website, it is imperative that you measure whether or not that ad is worth your investment. Are people clicking on it and landing on your website? Campaign tracking will tell you.

Let’s pretend: you are working with ABC Partner to generate buzz for an upcoming event. You have many marketing efforts ongoing with ABC Partner; press releases, editorials, paid banner ads, and more. All of these efforts include links to your website for more information about the event. Recently, you posted a banner ad on ABC Partner’s website directing people to your site. You want to measure the traffic quality of the banner ad separately, to see if it is worth your marketing spend. By setting up a custom campaign and tagging the banner ad with tracking parameters, you can measure the amount of traffic originating with people clicking your banner ad separately from the referral traffic coming from your other ABC Partner marketing efforts.

Where do I start?

Web traffic is tracked in Google Analytics by breaking down its origins, referred to as “traffic dimensions.” By adding custom tracking codes (parameters) to your marketing URLs, specifying traffic dimensions, you can track the traffic coming from your marketing efforts to your website. Keep in mind, Google Analytics tracking is case sensitive, so whether you choose lowercase or capital letters in your parameters, you must be consistent in order to cohesively track your marketing effort. We recommend sticking with lowercase analytics codes across the board, so you are never scratching your head to remember the exact tracking convention you set up.

The parameters “pairs” (parameter and your keyword) are utm_source, utm_medium, utm_campaign, utm_term, and utm_content, all corresponding to the traffic dimensions, except utm_term, which refers to paid search keywords. Google recommends including the parameters utm_source, utm_medium, and utm_campaign for every link you own to keep track of your referral traffic, and addingutm_term and utm_content to track additional information.

Our traffic dimension guide can help you: 

Putting it into practice

In our example, we are tracking our banner ad separately from our other marketing activities. To track the traffic accurately, we fill in the chart, above, like this:

  • Source = abcpartner
  • Medium =  banner
  • Campaign =  attendourgreatevent
  • Content = bannerad1

We are skipping ‘term’, because this isn’t a paid keyword campaign.

Stringing it all together

To build out your marketing URL you simply add the parameter pairs to the end of your URL. Parameters can be added to a URL in any order, but they are case sensitive.

For our example, our customer tracking code would be:

How the tracking code shows up in your Google Analytics Reports:

To demonstrate where to track the custom code in your Google Analytics report, we followed the steps listed above and created the same custom tracking link on We clicked it a few times, and voila! The tracking code was added to our Google Analytics Campaigns report (Standard reports-Acquisitions-Campaigns).


And now, a shortcut

Now that you understand how the parameters work, we’ll teach you the shortcut!  Google’s trusty URL campaign builder makes custom campaign tracking super easy, just fill in your keywords in each of the fields you are trying to track. It doesn’t get much easier!


Custom Campaign Tracking for Improved Results

Custom campaign tracking provides a measurable viewpoint of how traffic ends up on your site and can be used to track and tweak your efforts. The more you understand the way people are interacting with your website and other marketing efforts, the better you can replicate attempts that are working, terminate those that are not, and refocus your efforts to consistently improve results.