How custom campaign tagging destroys data attribution

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How custom campaign tagging destroys data attribution

Hi, I’m Jon Hibbit, Data Analyst. Today I’m going to talk to you about three ways custom campaign tagging can destroy your data in Google Analytics.

What is custom campaign tagging?

I’m going to introduce to you custom campaign tagging, I know a lot of you know what this is already, but I’m going to go through it so everyone completely understands it. Then we’re going to look at the three ways, and then we’re going to also look at how we can fix these three issues that pose a threat to your data attribution in google analytics.

It’s just a link that you put into your marketing collateral that lets you track users that click that link back to your website. Let’s look at how that link is composed.

You start with the source, ETM source. Let’s imagine that we’re taking a link for Facebook, that source would be Next, you go to medium. This describes the marketing channel. So this is going to be paid social in this instance. Your third one is your campaign and that’s just details of the campaign that you’re tagging up. There’s also a couple of additional ones that you may or may not know about. Turn, often used by the pay search team. This is for your keywords. And content. This is less well known, this is just a free hit. You can basically include whatever you want in here, so it’s a great way of adding more description to your campaign tag, for example targeting or creating information.

Destroying data attribution

Let’s go into how you can destroy your data attribution in GA. We’re going to have a look at some of the well-known marketing channels that we use and we’re going to consider what happens if we just do nothing, we just don’t use custom campaign tagging. In Google AdWords, I think you can see that organic search isn’t a great description for that. It’ll come through as paid search when you tag it properly. And for Facebook Ads, if it’s coming from an app, It’ll be referred to as direct. Elsewhere it’ll be referred to as social, but that’s not great if you’re trying to separate your paid from your organic. And what about your PDFs. Those PDFs you’ve created and lovingly worked on, put the links into, they’re just going to come back as direct and really what you want to see is PDF. An affiliate will just be a referral, you’ll have no visibility of that.

Internal links

Now, what about the second thing? Tagging internal links. It doesn’t happen too often, but you never want to tag internal links. You only ever want to tag external links. So let’s imagine we want to see the future. We want to know what the football results are and we’re going to use tarot cards to do this. I’ve typed in tarot cards into Google search and I’ve come through to this lovely site, it’s well presented, it’s beautifully designed. It’s got a lovely call to action to register in it. I’m drawn to it and I click on it. Unfortunately, we’ve got campaign sagging on that link. So what does that mean?

First of all, it means that your session, your original session will end and a new session will start, so that’s two sessions. That’s not right, is it? Then you’re going to get your source and medium overwritten. So you came in from Google organic and now you’ve got a full challenge. That’s not great either. We’ve lost sight of the marketing channel that brought us there. And finally, but most significantly, all our conversion, all our event data and goal conversion data, revenue, everything is going to be attributed back to that campaign. And that, in effect, is a complete disaster. And this is not a relatively low traffic site, understand this site is quite a few sessions.

Source medium

Let’s move to our third point and this is about consistency and this one is really prevalent. So you might not see the first two, but you’ll certainly come across this. And here we’ve got a source medium of Google CPC. But we can also see that someone else has decided to call it Google PPC, then another team have decided that they want to use mixed casing.

Unfortunately what that means is, instead of having everything on one single line, it’s all been split across three row and that is a data analysts nightmare. This happens more frequently than you think. In our second example, let’s say we’ve got multiple teams working on the same campaign. Team A, they think the date should go at the beginning. However, Team B, they think that the date should go at the end. Unfortunately, that just means you’ve got two rows. Data split again, bit problem.

How can we fix this?

Let’s think about how we can get into fixing this. I like to have a process behind custom campaign tagging and we’re going to take a look into each of these elements and have a look at how they work. Because if you follow this process, I’m certain that you’re not going to get these issues.


Let’s look at planning. I think it’s really important that you consider the naming conventions you’re going to use, what kind of name types, the order that things are going to appear in those names. You also think about the mediums, which marketing channels are you going to be using. Are you going to have PDFs or are you going to have things that are not by default tracked in Google Analytics? Also your sources. For example, is it Facebook or is it It might not seem important at the time, but these nailed down is actually really critical when it comes to your data attribution in GA. And finally are there really any changes that need to happen in the tool itself? As a result of this planning process, you may come away and realize that you need to contact your data team and get them to help you out.


Documenting the work. This is another critical issue and again and again, it seems like no one’s got a handle on what the naming convention should be. No one seems to own it. There are differences between the agency tagging and there are differences in how the clients are tagging. I recommend that a shared document is the way to go with this, that includes lists of things like your medium, includes lists of things like your sources. Basically, it’s owned by someone. Ownership is really critical and this should sit with the client, ideally. I’m not recommending they have a full-time person looking after customer campaign, of course, but it should definitely sit somewhere in their marketing team because someone needs to own it and boss this.

Staying consistent

Let’s get into number three, consistency. Things that we see that critically damage your data attribution are not using auto-tagging for Bing and paid search, for example. Tagging internal links. Don’t do that. You know that is just going to kill you. I know we laugh but I’ve just shown you an example. That was a couple of days ago. Also, use lowercase tags. I mean, in terms of the recommendations, there are loads. But of them all, these are the three that are really going to help you out.


In summary, in this data led age where more and more businesses are looking at their data to drive decision and derive ROI. You just can’t ignore custom campaign tagging, as an arbitrary thing that you do. You need to be all over it because you need to make sure that the data that’s coming through in it is good. And if you don’t, it has the real potential to make it a total mess of your Google Analytics. Thanks very much