Use Custom URL’s In Links to Track Visitors Like the Pros.

Part I – Setting up Google Analytics and Tracking Homepage clicks.

Whether you’re a professional web designer, social media manager, or a novice struggling to get your site to behave the way you want, using custom links is great way to track the behavior of your visitors and the effectiveness of your campaigns.
Picture this: You have two links on two different places on your homepage (www.myfakeclothingstore.com/) that go to the same destination page on your site: (www.myfakeclothingstore.com/t-shirt.php). One link is in your navigation bar, and the other is in the body of the page, but the both take you to your  “t-shirt” page.  One of those links attracts 60% of the clicks, while the other attracts 40% of those clicks. If you’re not tracking which of those links is funneling the majority of your traffic to that internal “t-shirt” page  you may remove the link that’s working best to bring visitors deeper into your site. You need to have a way to differentiate between clicks on one link over clicks on the other even though the URL’s are the same in both links. Without using a custom URL in your link, your site analytics will not be able to tell the difference between them.
So you need to create two (or more) different links that go to the same place and then gather data on the who, what, and where clicking on them, but how? Here’s how:

Step 1: Get your domain name set up on Google Analytics.

The first step in making smart, data-driven decisions is to begin gathering that data. Google offers free site analytics tracking that will help reveal the amount of traffic your site receives, what pages and content are the most popular, what search terms are being used to find your site, and much more.
You may find all of this information about your site and visitors overwhelming, especially if you’re new to the data game. Don’t worry though, you don’t have to use all of this new information and I’ll do my best to give you some easy-to-find information that will be immensely valuable to make your site work.
Google Analytics will also be an essential tool in revealing which of the custom URLs we’ll be setting up is seeing the most action.
Instructions for setting up Google Analytics on your site can be found here: https://support.google.com/analytics/answer/1008080?hl=en&utm_medium=et&utm_campaign=en_us&utm_source=SetupChecklist
Instructions for setting up Google Analytics on a WordPress site can be found here:
http://www.wpbeginner.com/beginners-guide/how-to-install-google-analytics-in-wordpress/

Step 2: Create custom URLs to track clicks

Let’s say that you have a website on which you are selling clothing and this month you are having a sale on T-shirts.
On your site, you likely have a navigational menu which allows people to click on a T-shirts link which brings them to the T-shirts page. Because you are also having a sale, you likely also have some messaging (or a call to action) on the front page of your site along with a similar link that also lands your visitors on the T-shirts page.
With traditional analytics, we’ll be able to see that there is indeed increased traffic on the T-shirts page, but how do you know which links on your front page (in this scenario, your navigation menu vs. your T-shirt sale link) is getting the most response from your visitors?
Our first step, before we place links on our site, is to create our custom URLs to track those clicks.
Google has a very handy tool for creating those custom URLs. It can be found here:
https://support.google.com/analytics/answer/1033867?hl=en
Below, I will take you through the options on the Google form and how to populate the fields.

Website URL

This should be the full URL of your T-shirts page. As an example http://www.myfakeclothingstore.com/t-shirt.php
Campaign Source
In our example, we’re first going to create a custom link for our navigation menu that’s on our site. In the campaign source, I will enter:
navigation-menu

Campaign Medium

What kind of a link am I setting up? In the scenario of a navigation menu link, it’s simply a regular old href link. So I will enter:
link
Given the simplicity of this link I’m going to skip the Campaign Term and Campaign Content fields, as they aren’t required and won’t give me additional insight on these links. These fields will eventually present value in other scenarios and I’ll address those in future posts on custom URLs. For all of the links we’ll create in this example, we won’t be populating these fields.

Campaign Name

Why does this link we’re creating exist? It exists to drive traffic to our T-shirts page. For that reason, the campaign name will be:
T-shirts
Once these fields are filled in, click the Submit button. Immediately below, you will see a link that looks something like this:
http://www.myfakeclothingstore.com/t-shirt.php?utm_source=navigation-menu&utm_medium=link&utm_campaign=T-shirt
Highlight the link that the Google page has produced and copy it. On your site, paste the copied link in your navigation menu to completely replace the current “t-shirt.php” or “http://www.myfakeclothingstore.com/t-shirt.php” href link that currently exists in your source code.

Example:
In your code, your link may appear as:
<a href=”t-shirt.php”>T-Shirts</a>
You will want to replace it with the copied code to instead show something like this:
<a href=”http://www.myfakeclothingstore.com/t-shirt.php?utm_source=navigation-menu&utm_medium=link&utm_campaign=T-shirt”>T-Shirts</a>

Now it’s time to establish the link for our T-shirt sale messaging on our front page. While still on the Google URL Builder page, we will use almost all of the same information that we used to create the navigation link, but we will change the campaign source to reflect:
front-page-sale
And we will change the Campaign Name to reflect:
t-shirt sale
Click submit, copy the resulting URL and use this as the href link for your T-shirt sale call to action link on the front page of your site.

Step 3: Wait.

Now that you have setup your custom URLs link, you have to wait for visitors to come to your site and click on the links.

Step 4: Review your site in Google Analytics.

After a week or 2, you should have enough data to begin to track the effectiveness of each of the links on your front page. This information can get very complicated and you can mine all sorts of data from your analytics – but we’re going to keep it simple and find out what we really came here for; which link is getting clicked on the most.
Once you’ve signed into Google Analytics, click on the Behavior header on the left hand rail. This will reveal a submenu. Select In-Page Analytics. (In-Page analytics is a very magical piece of technology and may very well blow your mind.)
Within a couple of moments, you should see the front page of your site appear and you will see percentages next to each link on that page. This shows you the percentage of visitors who have clicked on each link. If you review your navigation menu T-shirt link, you should see that this has a different perecentage of clicks than your T-shirt sale’s call to action link. The percentage should be an immediate reference for which link is more effective for the selected time period.

Step 5: Great. Now, what?

You have data on the effectiveness of your 2 links on the front page. With this information you can begin to understand the behavior of your site visitors, know the effectiveness of your links, and analyze the effectiveness of your on-site marketing.
The important thing is that you now have information to drive decisions. You may have to speculate on why the links are effective or ineffective, but the source of the link performance is no longer a mystery.
Stay tuned for Part II of this series where we’ll take this same concept of custom URL’s to find out how well our social media marketing is working.

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