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In Google Analytics Essential Training, Corey Koberg shows how to use the Google web analytics platform to generate and evaluate information about the visitors to a web site, including data on site traffic, user behavior, and marketing effectiveness. This course covers the out-of-the-box functionality, from account creation to reporting fundamentals, and explains how to glean insights from the vast array of data available.
Link tagging is great for banner ads and email and all the online marketing, but did you know you can use the same principles for your offline marketing as well? All you have to do is make sure that any link you publish has all the campaign variables and it will work the exact same way, just like you see here. All right! I could see it now. Somebody is going to have to explain to their boss. They'll be saying, "I'm telling you, I watched this course and the instructor got all bent out of shapes, saying we have to tag our links." And obviously, this isn't going to work. So what are we going to do then? Not tag? Nope, we're still going to tag. We're just going to do it smarter, so we don't kill the usability of our advertising in the meantime.
Let's say you're advertising your site, explorecalifornia.org, with some rack cards placed at local hotels, and you want to see how they do. The card is advertising your tours and it makes reference to a spa special. If we put the regular web address of explorecalifornia.org, any visitors to that will show up as direct traffic in our analytics, and we'll lose the ability to track. But if we put that full, super-long tagged URL, we'll lose, well, our customers. Instead, we're going to put a vanity URL with a special subdirectory. In this case, we're going to use explorecalifornia.org/tourmap.
Now that subdirectory page doesn't have to actually even exist as an HTML page. Instead, it's just going to map to that really long-tagged URL. Rather me explain in theory, let's just go to the site and actually check it out. So rather than a long- tagged URL, we're going to say explorecalifornia.org/tourmap. That's our published vanity URL. When I hit Enter, it's going to redirect me over to this page. It's my standard tours page, but I've got all my source, medium, content, and campaign names here.
So my source here was these are the hotel rack cards; my medium was a print. My content was this is the one I have with the California flag in the subdirectory. And the campaign that I'm trying to advertise here is my tours campaign. And the beauty of setting up all these vanity URLs is I'm not limited to just one. I can do lots of different versions, depending on what exactly I want to track. For example, I've got my tour map one here that went to the place we just saw, but what if I want to test a different version of the creative? In this case, I'm replacing the flag with this iconic image instead. Everything else is the same.
So we know we can use that utm_ content variable to indicate the different versions of the creative. So instead of the /tourmap vanity URL, in this case, I'm using the /touring on these particular cards, and I'm going to adjust the map long version to indicate just that. Let's go back and take a look. And the old one here, this was the /tourmap that redirected here and said this was the California flag_s. But in this new version of the vanity URL, which I call touring, everything is going to be the same, except I've changed this utm_content variable to indicate that this is the one with the bike icon.
Now again, these are both pointing to the same landing page; it's just that the information we tell Google Analytics is slightly different to indicate what was the original source. In other words, which rack card did this particular person see? Now if I were to go into Google Analytics, I could very easily compare these two ad versions to see one worked better by looking at the Ad Versions Report and simply looking for bikeicon versus California flag and seeing which one had more conversions. One important thing about vanity URLs in the associated landing pages is to make them specific to the original ad, in this case our rack card.
The first question anyone asks themselves when they land on the page is, am I in the right place? We want to keep that same look and feel and bring in graphical elements, text, and other offers that let us know, yes, we're in the right place. This is exactly what you were looking for. We also need some call to action here. We don't just want to see which creative brought more people; we want to see which one signed up for more tours. So we need to make sure we have that goal configured in our analytics and that way we can see which ad version converted on that goal better. So in this case, we want to see which people clicked on the learn more! button.
And there is a potential issue here. What if someone didn't type in the full vanity part of the domain and instead they just typed in explorecalifornia.org? Well, that's certainly a possibility and we want to try to avoid that whenever possible because we lose the ability to track this particular source. It would just get tracked as direct traffic. So the first thing we want to do is have some compelling reason for them to type it all out. In this case, if you specifically want to see tour info, then you need to type it in or you're just going to get the generic homepage. And the second is it helps to give them some more motivation: a special price, a demo, a free T-shirt, whatever-- just something that they won't get if they truncate that URL.
But what could we do to force them to type in their vanity URL, nonviolently, of course? Well, we could make the entire thing a vanity URL. In this case, the entire domain is the vanity URL, so there's no other option but to type it in. So in this case, we're using catours.org. Let's check out how that would work. If I just type in catours.org, I still get redirected back to the same page. The only issue here is you actually have to go out and register those domains.
So if we're talking about lots and lots of vanity URLs, it can be somewhat tedious to register and set up lots of different domains, much more so than it would be just to set up a simple subdirectory redirect. Let's take a look at a different one that we're using. Instead of catours, let's look explorecatours.org. Where do you suppose we're using this vanity URL? As you may have guessed up here, we're using these in radio ads because our medium is radio. When it comes to split testing this physical media, there's a lot we can learn from the direct mail folks; they've been doing it for years.
One of the most creative examples I've seen of motivating folks not to drop the vanity subdirectory is this one. Now you and I probably know that if we receive this in the mail with a web site published with our name in the URL, it's probably just a database-driven page with some customizations, maybe it has my first name in the greeting, maybe there are some things that are related to what I've purchased before, et cetera. But there's lots of people out there for who this would be quite compelling. They would be quite curious to know just exactly what is going on with this web page that's published on some web site with their name on it. And if I'm honest, I probably check it out too.
Just out of curiosity, even though I have a pretty good idea of what's going on, it's a pretty compelling thing. Certainly we're not just going to type in acmeboxcompany.com without putting your name on it. We don't want to see the homepage. I want to see what's that page with my name on it. So how do we actually do this mapping? Well, what we'll need to do is set up a 301 Redirect on our server that redirects from our vanity URL to the tagged address via this 301 Redirect on the server side. Now I promised I'd avoid code as much as possible, but this one is just too easy not to show.
If you're using the Apache server, it's as simple as creating an htacess file in your root directory with these four things. You simply have redirect 301, then the /tourmap is going to be our vanity subdirectory, and then the full tagged link. So I'll just literally type "redirect 301," your vanity URL, and then the fully tagged link, and that's it. This will redirect from here to here just as we've seen here. Now the only trick to all this is that you have to remember to always use a vanity URL that's unique per different tagged address.
Otherwise, if you're using the same vanity URL and your rack card is your radio spot, you won't be able to tell which one caused the traffic and which one worked. Tracking offline traffic right alongside your online traffic is usually valuable and usually quite illuminating, and it works just like online traffic, with one more step in between of a vanity URL.
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