Link Tracking & UTM Parameters

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In Affiliate Marketing, what matters is quality traffic that converts or signs up for your offer. The goal is to find the best traffic that converts and scale or increase it. While eliminating or reducing the lower performing traffic. Because if you’re not getting people to buy the product you’re promoting – you’re not making money.

But how do you measure traffic?

The best method is to implement link tracking.

Before we discuss link tracking,  let’s define what web traffic is and other web terminology.

Traffic is the act of someone viewing an ad, reading an email, or reading a web page and clicking a link.

Clicking this link brings them to your offer pre-sales page or your website blog, etc.

The visitor has moved from one location on the web to another by clicking a link – they are traffic moving around the world wide web.

Let’s go deeper and define what a link is and what forms it can take.

A link or URL (Uniform Resource Locator) has five parts: the scheme, sub-domain, top-level domain, second-level domain, subdirectory, and UTM parameters.

For example:

https://finance.yahoo.com/quote/IBM/chart?p=IBM

Scheme: “https:\\”

This tells your browser what protocol to use when reading a file off Yahoo’s server. It also tells the server what protocol to use when returning the file to the browser. Hypertext Transfer Protocol Secure is the most commonly used scheme.

Sub-domain: “finance”

If you think of the domain (“yahoo.com”) as a “house”, requesting “yahoo.com” is coming in the front door. It’s the standard entry point for a website.

Requesting “finance.yahoo.com”, is coming in a side door and getting served financial information.

Sub-domains allow a company to use a single domain and yet separate out performance-intensive operations onto different servers.

Second-level Domain: “yahoo”

This refers to the organization that registered the domain name. In this case, the company Yahoo has registered this domain name.

Top-level Domain: “com”

This refers to the type of entity the organization has registered as on the internet. By using “.com,” the organization has registered as a commercial entity.

Subdirectory: “quote” and “IBM”

This breaks down the request being made to the hosting-server as a type=”quote” request. Normally, this would represent a subdirectory but can also tell the hosting-server to run some specific logic and return the result. There are two subdirectories first “quote” and then “IBM”.

Query String: “?p=IBM”

A query string attached to a link allows parameter values to pass from one resource to another. For this example, the user has selected a chart for IBM, the logic in the web page makes the call to the server and adds  “p=IBM”, to get quotes and chart specific to “IBM.”

Taking the Query String one step further…

UTM or Urchin Tracking Module parameters are a specific standard or use of the Query String. Marketers use the following five UTM parameters in a query string to track the effectiveness of their marketing campaigns. Google Analytics supports these UTM parameters.

UTM Parameters as described by Wikipedia.org:

ParameterPurposeExample
utm_sourceutm_source
Identifies which site sent the traffic and is a required parameter.
utm_source=Google
utm_mediumIdentifies what type of link was used, such as cost per click or email.utm_medium=cpc
utm_campaignIdentifies a specific product promotion or strategic campaign.utm_campaign=spring_sale
utm_termIdentifies search terms.utm_term=running+shoes
utm_contentIdentifies what link was specifically clicked to bring the user to the site, such as a banner ad or a text link. A/B testing and content-targeted ads often use this strategy.utm_content=logolink or utm_content=textlink

Placing the following link in your Google ad:

https://shoesforsale.com?utm_source=Google&utm_medium=cpc&utm_campaign=spring_sale&utm_term=running+shoes&utm_content=textlink

would pass the UTM parameters to your destination and that destination would then be able to “report on traffic” coming from your Google ad.

This might be a lot to comprehend but keep in mind the goal here is to understand where your traffic is coming from, the amount of traffic you’re receiving from each source, the cost of that traffic, and the Return On Investment (ROI).

Two Methods For Measuring Traffic

Link Tracking To Determine Source And Volume Of Traffic

A link tracking service is one option for determining where your traffic is coming from and how much you’re receiving. When using a link tracking service, you’re handing out unique links or URLs to each of your traffic sources.

Think of it as handing out a unique business card for each networking event you attend (and each networking event had a specific phone number on the business card). Now when people call you using the phone number that maps to a specific network event – you’d learn what events are better to attend for networking and what events to skip.

Here, you’re handing out unique links or URLs to each traffic source you’d like to track. You do this by placing a link management service in between your traffic source and destination.

Your browser requests the unique link as part of loading the new page – this passes through the link management service where it’s counted to keep a running total and then redirects to the final destination.

asic link traffic with link manager diagram

In the preceding diagram, the sequence of events are:

  1. Visitor sees Facebook ad and clicks on link “go.mysite.com/fb”.
  2. Visitor is taken to the link management service.
  3. The link management service counts the link coming in for “go.mysite.com/fb” and redirects to the Offer Pre-Sales Page on mysite.com.
  4. The visitor lands on and views the Offer Pre-Sales Page.

A report is generated for go.mysite.com to determine the number of incoming requests for each of the traffic sources (“/fb”, “/ga”, “/tw”, and “/b”).

Note: To create go.mysite.com, you have a minimum two-step process:

  1. Create a sub-domain “go.mysite.com” where “mysite.com” is registered (GoDaddy, Namecheap, etc.) that points to the link management service.
  2. In the Link Management Service, register “go.mysite.com” to your account.

Your Link Management Service will have the specifics on how to do this.

A final step required in the Link Management Service is to map “go.mysite.com/fb” to mysite.com/some-page. Doing this for each of the traffic sources enables the Link Management Service to count traffic for each source.

UTM Parameters To Determine Source And Volume of Traffic

UTM Parameters added to the single, common URL and are used to differentiate between the traffic sources. As noted previously, these UTM Parameters enable you to drill down to campaign, type of content, specific ad, etc.

Somewhere you need to capture these UTM Parameters and log them for “reporting on traffic.”

“Reporting on traffic” means tracking code (included in the web page) gets executed as the page loads.  A simple Javascript script calls out to Google or whatever tracking service you’re using and registers that your site just received the UTM Parameters included on the link that brought them to your site.

Now if you expanded this out and had more sources of traffic, you can get a more detailed and categorized report of how much and where your traffic is coming from.

basic link traffic with google diagram and affiliate program

In the preceding diagram, the sequence of events are:

  1. Visitor clicks on your link in an advertisement or blog post.
  2. Visitor is taken to your offer pre-sales page.
  3. As page is loading into the visitor’s browser, the tracking code/script executes and calls out to Google Analytics,
  4. ClickMagick or other traffic tracking services.
  5. The UTM parameters are recorded and made available for reporting and traffic analysis.
  6. Visitor reads your offer-pre-sales-page and presses the button (clicks link) to purchase. This takes the visitor to the
  7. Affiliate Program offer page to complete order form and make purchase. This link includes your affiliate id.
  8. Affiliate Program registers sale and credits commission to the Affiliate Marketer’s account associated with the affiliate id initially passed into the web page.

Data from step 3 is available to generate a report showing the number of incoming Facebook link-clicks, Twitter, etc. If a campaign is getting more traffic from Facebook than Twitter and taking into account, the cost of traffic – it may be worth suspending the Twitter campaign and increasing ad spend on Facebook campaign.

Using a link tracking service like ClickMagick also allows you to record cost and determine profit from each of your traffic sources. Here’s an example of a ClickMagick report showing UTM parameters being logged and reported along with Cost-Per-Click(CPC) results.

click magick utm parameter reporting

Google provides technical info on UTM and Campaigns here.

ClickMagick provides a free easy to read 45-page guide to link tracking here.

Retargeting (advertising) increases sales

There are cases where you have a banner ad on your web page that links to an affiliate marketer’s purchase-offer. When a visitor clicks the link to move to affiliate offer page, the only data you may get is that a click occurred.

That’s it. A click was counted, and we’re finished with that visitor.

Now your website or blog has an entire list of products and services it sells or promotes. What if you could add that person who just took action and clicked that link – into a Facebook audience you call “action takers” – and display your advertisements to them to sell more?

Meaning for every visitor on your site that clicks on your affiliate ads – you place them in a specific audience and advertise more to them.

But if you don’t control the affiliate’s offer page, you’re unable to place pixel or tracking code on that page.

Some link management services, like ClickMagick offer the ability to insert your pixel id (from Facebook, etc.) into the custom link and it will get fired as it passes through ClickMagick.

By running the link for the affiliate ad displayed on your page through ClickMagick, you’re able to insert Facebook and other ad platform’s Pixels – triggering them and building your custom audience.

The opportunity here for an affiliate marketer is that you can now market other high-ticket items of the same type to your visitor who previously purchased items advertised on your site.

Think of it this way, a visitor to your site clicks a banner ad for a Blog writing course, they get added to your custom Facebook audience for bloggers. Now you can provide Facebook ads to this blogger-audience and promote website hosting, blog themes, etc.

This is a little confusing. Here’s a diagram.

click magick processing pixel

In the preceding diagram, the sequence of events are:

  1. Visitor clicks banner ad on your website using a custom link from ClickMagick.
  2. ClickMagick fires your unique Facebook pixel id and your visitor gets added to a Facebook custom audience you’ve created.
  3. Visitor is redirected to the Affiliate Program’s purchase page.
  4. Now within Facebook, create specific ad campaigns to market products and services to this visitor’s audience.

Other features to be aware of when researching Link Management services:

Link Cloaking:

There are malicious browser plugins that will replace your affiliate id as your page loads in the browser with another affiliate id (theirs). The result is – you went through the work of creating the sales page and driving traffic – only to have a malicious entity steal your affiliate commission.

Link cloaking provides a solution to this.

The Link Management service stores your affiliate id. It is not available on the page loaded into the visitor’s browser. Clicking the product link on the page directs to the Link Management service where a new link containing affiliate id is created and used.

The result is the buyer landing on the affiliate seller’s page with your affiliate link intact.

Cross-Device Tracking:

Some of your higher-end Link Management services can even track visitors across devices. For example, they watch a webinar on their mobile device and purchase the product on their desktop computer when at home.

Conversion Tracking:

The affiliate marketer’s goal is to put their advertisements in front of the people most likely to take action, click on the ad, and purchase the product.

The ability to report on the amount of traffic that is converting (making purchases) across multiple traffic sources is a requirement. Reduce the lower performing ad-buys and increase the higher-performing ad-buys.

As they say in Affiliate Marketing, “Cut the red and grow the green!”

Conclusion

By having the best link tracking system in place, you’re able to get real-time reports where your traffic is coming from and weed out the low-performing traffic while increasing the high performing traffic.

The savings can buy more traffic and make more sales.

This is how Affiliate Marketers thrive.

For further reading on Link Tracking, here’s a free 45-page ebook from ClickMagick.

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