The ROI Revolution Blog

Tracking Secondary Sources and Autoresponders Using Site Search

February 22, 2008

gold.pngOne of the many challenges when using any web analytics application is making sure that it meets your business needs. Many different sales cycles exist in the online market – some opt for a direct-to-sales approach, while others employ a model that takes advantage of autoresponders, teleseminars, webinars, and all sorts of creative methods for drawing potential and return customers back to the website.

Most web analytics applications allow you to track your marketing campaigns using a variety of different methods, usually involving adding some query parameters to your campaign URLs. The problem with this method is that most of these systems will allow you to measure the success of your original sources (like the AdWords ad that first caught a users eye), but lack the ability to simultaneously track the effectiveness of your secondary methods like email blasts, teleseminars and their siblings.

Google Analytics is no different. Out-of-the-box, it is a system designed to match each visit to a single source – the most recent source, so that it’s very easy to lose sight of what brought the visitor to the website in the first place. In short, you could easily track either the effectiveness of your keywords to the final goal or your autoresponders to the ultimate goal, but not both.

That’s not to say there haven’t been attempts to get around this. One method was to make sure that each secondary source brought the user to a unique landing page. For example, teleseminars would use www.site.com/offera, while an online webinar would use www.site.com/offerb. Email autoresponders would also follow this system, with each email in the sequence using its own unique landing page.

If this seems like a lot of work, it is. Making a unique landing page for each type of secondary source can be time-consuming, confusing, and downright impossible to maintain. Adding a simple email to a sequence can turn into a real pain. To top it all off, finding the information you are looking for based on landing pages can get a little sticky if you’re not a Google Analytics expert. Other existing methods use the User Defined variable creatively (which I like to reserve for Michael’s awesome exact keyword tool), or get creative with custom tracking codes, neither of which is a particularly easy method to implement.

Why am I telling you this? Because I believe we’ve found a way out of this particular quagmire.


Salvation in this case comes at the hands of Google’s great new addition to the Google Analytics toolset: Site Search. If you haven’t heard about Site Search yet, you’re really missing the boat big time. It’s designed to let you see what users are searching for on your website, while at the same time allowing you to see how effective your search is at delivering your users to the content they desire. It is one simple way to get that difficult-to-find qualitative data directly from your users. I’m not going to go much further into Site Search than that – and we’ll be using it in an entirely different way altogether.

The idea is simple – you can use your own little tracking system to keep track of your secondary sources, without overwriting the source that originally brought a user to the site. Whether you have a single landing page for all secondary sources, or you have 10 different landing pages, it doesn’t matter, the implementation is the same:

Step 1: Choose a query parameter you will use to track secondary sources.

This is easy. Simply pick a variable that you’ll use to differentiate between secondary sources. You can use s, ref, source, or anything you want, as long as it’s the same for all secondary sources. Heck – you can even use two or three different variables if you want to, but I’ll try and keep it as simple as possible. For the purposes of this example, I’ll use the variable ref.

Step 2: Find out if you are already using Site Search.

Why? Well, if you are, then you’ll want to exclude the variable from Step 1 in your main Google Analytics profile (ref in my example). This will prevent your actual Site Search data from being muddled with the new data. You’ll want to create a duplicate profile that you can use exclusively for tracking secondary sources. If you aren’t using Site Search, then you can ignore this step, and simply include the secondary source information in your main profile.

Step 3: Turn on Site Search in the appropriate Google Analytics profile.

If you are using Site Search already, this means turning on Site Search in a new profile. Otherwise, it means turning on Site Search in your existing profile. Simply, click ‘Yes’, and then enter in your unique variable from Step 1 (ref in this case). That’s all there is to it – you’re done configuring Google Analytics.

Step 4: Tag your secondary sources.

What? More tagging? It’s ok, this tagging is pretty simple. Tagging a secondary source requires two parts – the utm_nooverride variable, which is versatile enough that it needed its own blog series, and your own tracking variable from Step 1.

For HTML emails, this is easy. All you have to do is change the links in the email.

For example, in email #1, if the current link points to

http://www.site.com/landingpage.htm, change it to

http://www.site.com/landingpage.htm?utm_nooverride=1&ref=email1.

The utm_nooverride part keeps the original source information from being overwritten (unless the original visit was a direct visit), and the ref part tells you which email the user came from.

What about teleseminars, webinars, and text emails where you don’t want to give users big, ugly URLs to remember?

Well, you can use a simple 301 or other server-side redirect to accomplish the tagging. For example, on the phone, I could say ‘go to www.site.com/freeoffer’, but the user would be redirected to

http://www.site.com/landingpage.htm?utm_nooverride=1&ref=telesem0108.

301 redirects work perfectly in this regard, and are pretty easy to set up. Be careful using other kinds of redirects for this.

That’s it. Make sure each source corresponds to a different ref value – it can be whatever makes sense to you. The landing page is irrelevant – the method is the same even if you use multiple landing pages.

Step 5: Reap the Rewards!

So you’ve finished Steps 1-4. Now what? Well, now you’ll get to see what all the trouble was for. Using a single report, you’ll be able to see the effectiveness of your secondary sources, and even be able to segment the secondary sources by original source, keyword, landing page, ad, and a host of other things. You’ll see how your secondary sources and original sources are working together to help (or hurt) your online business.

What report do you use? Why, the Site Search report! This report can be found under the Content section of Google Analytics. Here’s an example:


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