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How to track visitors to your website

I’ve had many requests to offer some advice about tracking visitors and traffic that come to a website. “How?”, they say “do we know how many people came to our site from the email blast that I sent out?” or “How do I know how many people came to my site from an online ad that I purchased on another site?”

The obvious basics

First, you need to do something that is free and simple. Get yourself setup with Google Analytics. GA is a hugely powerful (and did I mention free?) online suite of tools that can easily be installed on your website to track visitors, and pages, and keywords and all manner of sortable information that is highly useful.

To install GA you simply sign-up for an account, acquire the small line of code that they provide and then paste it into the footer of every page that you have on your site. If you’ve built your site in such a way that the footer is contained in one file (as I love to do), that will make your life even easier. At a minimum you need the code to be on your homepage. Then, after a couple hours GA will start playing big brother with your website and know more than you could ever want to know or care about. True spies would be totally jealous.

Design a great landing page

Now that you have Google Analytics up and running and watching over your site’s shoulder, the easiest thing to do is setup a custom landing page for your campaign. To keep things simple we’ll use the example of an online newsletter or any other kind of email marketing. Setting up an landing page is easy and once you have the code installed on the page, Google Analytics will be able to tell you how many people came to that specific page from your newsletter. The hard part – that’s unrelated to this discussion – is how you’re going to design an effective landing page that converts visitors to sales or subscriptions or clients. But that’s a story for another day.

Now, down to the good stuff. How do we know where people have come from? This is the big question and one that is very important if you’ve spent time and money on a marketing initiative or advertising space. We obviously want concrete proof that our efforts and big spending have paid off, right? Here’s how you do it.

Google URL Builder

Google has provided us with the perfect tool, their URL Builder. The UB Tool works directly with Google Analytics and tracks every time someone arrives from that URL. So, what you can do is build a URL for every link within your email and you’ll know exactly how many people clicked and arrived at the site. Most importantly,  you’ll know exactly which link they came from. It’s a pretty cool trick but if you use a good email marketing tool (like Sanctuary’s Subscriber Manager) you’re able to get these stats anyway. But the coolest use of the GUB tool comes when you’re advertising in someone elses email marketing campaign or on their website.

Building a custom URL

Google provides some pretty simple instructions about how to build your URL but let me give you a down and dirty rundown here. You’ll notice as you use Google Analytics that there are many “dimensions” to most of the stats that you see reported. When building a custom tracking URL there are three basic dimensions that you need to care about: Source, Medium and Name.

1) The source is where this link is located. This is where you are doing your advertising. Examples might be Google, Newsletter, Website, etc.

2) Next comes the medium which is essentially the type of advertising. Some popular mediums are pay per click, banners or static links

3) Lastly you need to give your campaign a unique name so you can refer to it in the future. So when you’re done, you’re URL will track (again in the case of email marketing) Newsletter, link, August 2009 Apple Newsletter. You might also setup a separate URL for a parallel campaign that’s something like Website, banner, Apple website Aug 09-Sept 09.

The last piece of the puzzle is to just ensure that this link is used in the proper place and you’ll have all the information that you need to know about your visitors and where they came from. Most importantly you’ll have concrete data about whether your advertising is really returning on your investment.

Need one last tip? The URL created for tracking could tend to be long and complicated, so simply visit a site like and make it nice and lean. It will take something like the URL below and turn it into the simple version you see at the bottom.



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About Chris Auman:

Chris Auman is a veteran digital marketer with over 25 years of experience in the trenches. As Sanctuary’s founder and President, Chris has successfully guided online marketing efforts for companies large and small.

Learn more about Chris.

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