Guide to tracking offline marketing campaigns

Four options for tracking offline marketing campaigns showing the method for Google Analytics

To track offline campaign effectiveness requires use of a campaign URL within offline communications like Print or TV ads.

There are several choices with which URL to use, each with their own advantages and disadvantages. Here's a quick run-through with links to more detail at the end. I'd be interested to hear about your preferences for which are most effective. Do most people ignore campaign tracking or vanity URLs so it's a waste of time or is it worthwhile?

1. The standard home page address


This is a common approach by advertisers since it's the simplest. The main disadvantage from a measurement point-of-view is that there is no way to directly track this. Although you can review an increase in direct traffic arriving at this URL through a segmented landing page report.

From a marketing point-of-view this also has the disadvantage that their is no value indicated in the URL to encourage the clickthrough

So, for a major campaign it's best to avoid this, but many marketers argue that it's their preferred method since it gets the primary URL in the prospects mind and so few remember and type the URL anyway. I would argue that it will be less effective since the design of most home pages will make it difficult for the users to find the offer, so conversion rate will drop. Campaign landing pages are more effective.

2. Static campaign specific URL


The use of a campaign URL ('CURL') is a common approach, where a promotional URLs or so-called vanity URL is used in offline Print ad, Direct Mail and TV campaigns to make it easy for the customers to fulfil the offer.

A practical tip here is to use a value offer within the campaign URL to encourage type-in and make it memorable. For example, "'freememory" for a computer retailer.


3. Redirecting campaign specific folder URL with Google Analytics tracking codes


In this case, the URL is the same as the previous two examples, but the server setup is different. A 301 redirect should be created by the server administrator so that the visitor is automatically redirected to the landing page.

The trick here to tracking is that when the redirect happens, the same campaign tracking codes format should be used as for other sources as explained in this post on online campaign tracking.

As with digital campaign tracking, offline campaign tracking should use standard codes for medium, source and campaign name.

4. Redirecting campaign-specific domain name


The approach here is similar to the third approach, but this time a completely new campaign URL is used. For example, some time ago, insurer Aviva used the URL for its campaign that redirected to a landing page on the main site. We recommend a redirection since if a new separate domain is used, it can take the search engines a long-time to include in the index meaning that searchers look for the campaign name will be forced to use the paid search ad since there isn't a natural listing. However, if the campaign page is within an existing site it should naturally be at the top of the natural listings.

Technical method for redirecting with Google Analytics campaign codes

Google Analytics uses 5 standard dimensions for a campaign which need to be incorporated into the query string of the URL for each ad placement as this example from Brian Clifton's paper shows:


The campaigns report in Google Analytics will then enable you to compare media.

The table explains each of the 5 dimensions which refers to this example:

Google Analytics campaign tag Explanation
utm_campaignRecommended The name of the marketing campaign, e.g. Spring Campaign.
utm_mediumRequired For an offline campaign this should be print, TV or direct mail
utm_sourceRequired Who are you partnering with to push your message. It will typically generic, such as "€œmagazine"€, unless you have a specific code for each publisher such as "€œForbes"€.
utm_contentOptional Not usually used in offline campaigns, but could be used for offer code.
utm_termOptional Again not usually used in offline campaigns, but could be used for offer code.

This example of the server code for a print ad is taken from Brian Clifton's whitepaper and book listed below which I recommend for delving into the details.

RewriteEngine on
RewriteCond %{HTTP_USER_AGENT} .*
RewriteRule .* [R=301,QSA]

Other sources to find out more about offline campaign tracking.

1. Brian Clifton's whitepaper on Tracking Offline marketing with Google Analytics is an adaptation of Chapter 11 from his book - AdvancedWeb Metrics with Google Analytics, second edition by Brian Clifton (Wiley 2010).

2. Offline or multichannel tracking was also explained well by Avinash in his 2008 post: Multichannel Analytics: Tracking Online Impact Of Offline Campaigns.

The core technique is to use a 301 redirect which appends a campaign code.

He describes the example of which redirects and appends a (non Google Analytics) tracking code referencing TV:

Share your thoughts

  • Adam Cunningham commented on April 13, 2013

    Good Article Dave,

    We’re addressing this with a new app for our clients – we allocate unique phone numbers, unique emails, vanity URLs and pull the data in to a central dash. This way clients can run all of their channels at the same time – online and offline and have them tracked through for easy comparison of their CPL on the channel, what their conversion rates need to be to hit their ROI targets / break even and so on…

    Analytics plays a role in helping determine the source of the traffic that drove the call / email / form etc… (when onsite / LP / blog)

    Most of our clients leave the metrics and science of marketing to us, but they want to see the bottom line of each investment into individual channels so they can re allocate their spend to maximise their offline (and online) spend. We’re also seeing great ways to look at media like radio and it’s impact online and how to map it accurately for our clients against direct spend, time of day, traffic volume, conversion volume and revenue as a direct measurment.

    Nice work again Dave. Great to see business’s like yours helping reveal ROI for clients on all fronts, not just the easy ones :o) Happy to connect with you further on this – the apps open for other agencies to leverage or clients direct.

    Cheers Dave


    • Hi Adam, thanks for the backgrounder on your app – it sounds useful.

      I’d be interested in a guest post on it from you – if you’re up for that please connect via the Contact Us.


  • Prefer 2 method. What will be the traffic source if this method is applied?

  • Taran commented on October 22, 2012

    Its a great guide for me.I really liked the article.You are doing a wonderful job by sharing a great post.

  • Some feedback from Twitter – thanks! says: Definitely worthwhile! This is the most common amongst our clients and has shown to be the most reliable method of distinguishing visitors. commented:

    Campaign URL’s are ok, but my experience, most tend to type in the URL into Google, behaviours are different. So you could end up with campaign traffic coming through as a referrer from Google but yet the kw is the campaign URL and then attribution/conversion rates become difficult to measure/calculate.

    [Good point – I find that too]

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