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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:

By Dave Chaffey

Dave is CEO and co-founder of Smart Insights. He is editor of the 100 templates, ebooks and courses in the digital marketing resource library created by our team of 25+ Digital Marketing experts. Our resources used by our Expert members in more than 80 countries to Map, Plan and Manage their digital marketing. For my full profile, or to connect on LinkedIn or other social networks, see the About Dave Chaffey profile page on Smart Insights.

Dave is author of 5 bestselling books on digital marketing including Emarketing Excellence and Digital Marketing: Strategy, Implementation and Practice. In 2004 he was recognised by the Chartered Institute of Marketing as one of 50 marketing ‘gurus’ worldwide who have helped shape the future of marketing.

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