December 3, 2016

Yes, You Can Track Print Advertising Using Google Analytics

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In digital marketing we understand the importance of tracking. We spend money getting people to our site with hopes they’ll do what we desire them to do and that we’ll learn something about how to improve our digital marketing efforts. While we’ve seen a consistent trend of print spend be allocated to digital spend, we often forget that print advertising is still a channel worth understanding.

In fact, one study shows that print ads are more likely to engage users and prompt action. This begs the question, if print can be a strong channel, why don’t companies invest in it?

The answer is likely because companies are now used to understanding what their dollars are doing. When print, TV and billboards were the primary ad spots, attribution was not an easy task. But today, companies have built a habit of understanding how much revenue is generated by their ad spend dollars thanks to the Internet and Google Analytics.

Currently when print ads list the website on the actual ad in the hopes that users will check out the company at home on their desktop, users usually do just that—they’re likely to type it into their browser. This would then mean that the traffic is classified as Direct, which is not a fun traffic source to analyze or understand in Analytics.

Or maybe the user does a Google search for the brand and clicks on one of their pages in the search results, which would classify the traffic as Organic Search. Unfortunately, both of these metrics are wrong. The print ad should get the credit for bringing the user to the site. So how can we track print advertising digitally?

To help make sure you can track print advertising digitally in Google Analytics so that you can better analyze the success of your ads, below is an easy four-step process.

How to Track Print Advertising

Decide on a vanity URL

Most print ads include a domain name or URL, but if you want to know which website visitors saw this ad you’ll need a vanity URL. Vanity URL’s are unique, short and/or simple URL that demonstrates the brand or ad campaign. For example if the company EntoBento, a San Diego based dog treat company, ran a promotional ad in Time Magazine, the vanity URL might be “entobento.com/time.”

Create and apply UTM parameters to the landing page URL for the ad

UTM parameters are tracking codes appended to the end of a URL that allow you to customize your tracking sources. You can use the Google UTM builder to create the tracking URL for the ad in just a few minutes.

Continuing with the previous example, the tracking URL for EntoBento’s ad might look like:

entobento.com/?utm_source=time%20magazine&utm_medium=print&utm_campaign=promo

We got this URL by using the UTM builder mentioned above. We simply plugged in the URL of our website and the tool generated this new URL with UTM parameters for us.

Redirect the vanity URL to a URL with custom UTM parameters

This part is a little technical.  A developer will have to create a redirect to send traffic from your vanity URL to the tracking URL. This means, taking the example from above once again:entobento.com/time would redirect to entobento.com/?utm_source=time%20magazine&utm_medium=print&utm_campaign=promo).

Check Google Analytics real-time reports

After the redirect is setup, paste your vanity URL into the browser to test the redirect and that the UTM is working properly.  Open Google Analytics and navigate to Real-Time reports on the left side. Select traffic sources to confirm you see the tracking. Below is a screenshot of what the report looks like:

track print advertising

Why It Matters: The Benefit of Tracking Print Ads Via Google Analytics

By implementing print ad tracking you’re reducing the amount of traffic that is wrongly classified as Direct or Organic search and gaining insight into how your different print efforts are working. With this practice you will be beyond most companies who do print advertising with little understanding of how their ad performs.

Extra: This same process can be applied on your business cards, handouts, fliers, billboards, stickers, or your banner at an event / tradeshow. Wouldn’t that be interesting to see how much handout traffic you get? Or what the bounce rate is on your business cards? Get creative. If your business is using print, don’t be scared to track it digitally.

Do you have experience with tracking print ads through Google Analytics? Let us know if you have any questions or thoughts in the comment section below.

Image: Google

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HigherVisibility HigherVisibility is part of the Small Business Trends Publisher Channel, offering a full range of professional interactive marketing services. The mission of HigherVisibility is to provide clients “Valuable Solutions with Visible Results.” HigherVisibility works with companies of all sizes, offering advice on topics ranging from keyword research to algorithm updates.

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7 Reactions

  1. The more insight you can get into the results of your advertising efforts, whether online or offline, the better informed you’ll be about what is working and what isn’t working. Then you can adjust budgets to optimize profit as well as negotiate more desirable rates in future advertising purchases because you’ll be armed with real data.

  2. Welcome to 2002 with your hip, cutting-edge methods!

  3. It’s getting really, really way too trackable and scaleable these days. LOVE IT!

    Makes it easier to make prompt decisions and see things as they happen. 🙂

  4. For someone who knows little about online tracking and is just getting started your articles have been very helpful and easy to understand.
    Thanks !

  5. Why would you redirect the vanity URL to a URL with custom UTM parameters? Why not just look at the stats of how many people have viewed the vanity URL?

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