How to measure the origin of your leads in a Pay Per Click campaign (PPC)

Mesure origin leads PPC Jul 20, 2018 - Marcel Odena

Knowing how to determine the origin of your leads in a Pay Per Click (PPC) campaign is crucial when evaluating which channels are contributing the most towards lead generation and, therefore, business generation. When a valuable contact (a lead), A.K.A a potential buyer, enters your lead management tool, you want to know precisely how and why that’s happened, right? Where did the lead come from? Once you know the origin of a lead, you can optimize your PPC campaigns to get more leads of the same type.

Even more importantly, we want to be able to answer the following question: No doubt, knowing this would be awesome because we could dedicate our advertising investments to the PPC platforms and campaigns that yield the best results in terms of generated business volume.

How is a traffic source attributed to a sale?

What can we do to determine that a specific sale – say €2,000 of recurring monthly revenue – was the result of a specific lead? For example, it could have come from Google, Linkedin, Facebook, or traffic derived from another website (a referral), etc.

Basically, you can work it out by analyzing the origin of the lead who generated the sale (which is simplifying it a bit). Picture this: a lead comes in, is evaluated, and is determined to be of high quality. The sales team gets to work and starts a conversation with this contact. After a while, imagine that the sale has been closed, that the captured lead (let’s say he’s the financial director of a company) has decided to sign a contract between your company and his company. Well, in this case, the sale would have undoubtedly been achieved thanks to the professionalism of the sales team. However, credit must also go to the professionalism of the marketing department, whose advertisement on Linkedin (or through Google Adwords) managed to not only catch the attention of the lead, but also get them to leave their contact details. If you want to see examples of campaigns that generate B2B leads, check out 5 campaigns to generate leads in Linkedin for your company..

What are UTMs? The essentials for tracking leads

UTM’s are labels that are placed at the end of a link (URL) to indicate where the visitor previously came from. UTMs are composed of 5 fields (or labels), each of which tells us about the context of the user when he accessed the URL and arrived at the web page that the link refers to.

The 5 fields that comprise a UTM are:

1) Source: utm_source

An indication of the source from which the visitor came from. For example, the visitor could have come from Google, Bing, Linkedin, or Twitter, etc. Knowing the source is elementary. However, as you’ll see in our next point, traffic from the same source can come in many different ways (mediums).

2) Medium: utm_medium

There are different ways we can capture traffic from the same source, which is why it’s so useful to use the “utm_medium” field to label this information. Typical values include:

  • organic: indicates that the visitor came from an organic search. The “utm_source” tells us which search engine the user came from.
  • cpc (or ppc): indicates that the visitor came from “cost per click” traffic (CPC), which is also referred to as “PPC” (pay per click).
  • social: indicates that the visitor came from social media advertising.

Notice there are several options here:

  • utm_source=google and utm_medium=organic: this means the user has done a Google search and has clicked on one of the organic results (SEO) which had led them to our website.
  • utm_source=google y utm_medium=cpc: this means the user has done a search on Google and has clicked on an ad of ours (which we’ve put on a search campaign with Google Adwords).

Similarly, we can get traffic from a social network such as Linkedin, Twitter or Facebook in two ways: through organic publications and through advertising (pay per click). With UTMs we can know the following:

  • utm_source=linkedin and utm_medium=social: indicates the visitor came from a click on a “social” publication, which was made in Linkedin through social media.
  • utm_source=linkedin and utm_medium=cpc: indicates the visitor came by clicking on a sponsored advertisement in Linkedin, which refers to PPC.

3) Campaign: utm_campaign

Indicates the campaign through which we have captured the visitor. In this field, we usually put a unique campaign identifier, so we can later trace the visit against the campaign they originated from.

4) Term: utm_term

This is a bit of an “all-rounder” field that traces our biggest interests. In Google Adwords, this field is used by default to track the ad group from which the visit originated. However, we could also use this field for other things, such as to specify the ad identifier or the keyword which captured the click, etc.

5) Content: utm_content

This field is also a bit of an “all-rounder”, and can be used to do whatever suits you most. Putting certain values in these fields doesn’t stop them from being a standard. Therefore, you can put anything that makes sense to you so long as you’re always clear and use the same criteria.

In Google Adwords and some platforms, it’s mandatory when using UTMs to use at least 3 of the 5 labels. Specifically, the source, medium, and campaign fields are both obligatory and recommended. The “utm_term” and “utm_content” tags are usually optional, although I also recommend using them on values that provide extra information when tracing the origin of the lead.

How the URL is generated with a UTM

You can add the UTM tags to the end of a URL in the following ways:

1. Add UTM by hand

Manually add the fields ourselves by hand with a text editor:

Ejemplo de Añadir UTMs a mano en una URL con un editor de texto

2. Add the UTMs with a tool

We can use a tool to do the work for us. Enter the UTM values that we want into the “clean” URL, and the tool compiles the URL with the UTM’s for you. One of my favorite tools for tagging URLs with UTM is Raventools. In the following image, I’ll show you how I would label the URL of the Magnetica website if I had to configure it in a payment campaign on Linkedin:

Modo uso herramienta URL Builder for GA de raventools

This would be the URL to use in the Linkedin advertisement.

Always label URLs in PPC campaigns

In order to calculate the origin of the leads of our PPC campaigns, it is imperative that every advertisement we do carries the URL labeled with the UTM fields, preferably all five. An advertiser who invests heavily in PPC can easily have 50, 100, or 300, etc. active campaigns (which could be the case for you). Therefore, when a lead comes in, you can enter them by clicking on an ad in any of those campaigns. If you’ve got 300 campaigns, how do you know which campaign the lead has come from? If we generate 600 leads in a month, how do we know which leads come from which campaign? How do we know which campaigns are generating the most leads? Well, to start off, we label the URLs with the UTM fields.

This implies that if we create a carousel advertisement in Linkedin, for example, we’ll have to label the URL with the UTM fields:

  • For the source and medium, it’s usually pretty obvious to put LinkedIn / CPC.
  • As for the rest of the fields, it depends on the circumstances.

When the user clicks on the ad, they’ll access the landing page which has the UTMs loaded into the web address. From there, we can use a tool like Google Analytics so that when the user accesses the webpage with the UTMs, all the information of their session (page views, average time on page, etc.) will be recorded together with information about the origin of the traffic (source, medium, campaign, term, content).

How can you see the traffic source in Google Analytics?

Before explaining how to see the traffic source in Google Analytics, you should know that it contains the following:

  • Metrics: measurements such as the number of page views, the number of sessions, the average time on page, etc.
  • Dimensions: which are “things” that can be measured, or in other words, calculating metrics. For example, the country or city where the user is located and the type of device are both dimensions. Luckily, in Google Analytics there are 5 UTMs which serve as dimensions.

To see the traffic source in Google Analytics, we can do the following two things:

1) Through the standard Acquisition Report

For this, we access the Google Analytics account >> Reports >> Acquisition >> Source / Medium, and we’ll see something like this:

visualizacion de UTMs en Google Analytics con una dimension secundaria

2) Through the secondary dimensions

Or, visualize the information we want and add any of the UTMs as a secondary dimension (they are within the Acquisition” and “Advertising” groups):

visualizacion de UTMs en Google Analytics con una dimension secundaria

What happens if you don’t tag the URLs with the UTM fields?

If you don’t add UTM tags to the URLs you use for the ads in your PPC campaigns, the reports you generate on traffic and lead sources won’t be accurate. Ultimately, your analysis of the traffic sources that generate the most leads and business will be biased, so much so that you’ll probably come to erroneous conclusions and make bad decisions when planning your investments in each PPC platform..

For example, what would happen if we didn’t tag the ads on Linkedin? When the user clicks on the ad and goes to our landing page, the URL will load in their browser without any UTMs. Luckily, Google Analytics is pretty smart so there’s a good chance it’ll be able to detect that the lead came from LinkedIn. However, it certainly won’t recognize that it came from a paid advertisement on LinkedIn. Therefore, Google Analytics would be right about the source (LinkedIn) but wrong about the medium (CPC), and all the metrics would be inaccurate or erroneous.

In terms of the attribution of our original lead, it really depends on how you’ve done the technical implementation of the 5 UTMs regarding the specific lead. However, if we don’t label the URL, the lead will almost certainly appear as if it’d come from direct traffic, which refers to when the user manually types in a URL.

How to measure the origin of the leads?

I’ve previously shown you how you can see the traffic source through Google Analytics. However, to determine which advertising sources generate the most business, we have to reach the lead attribution level. For example, it isn’t enough to say we’ve generated 2,069 user sessions through paid traffic on Linkedin because we have to be able to say what source, medium, campaign, term, and content we’ve generated for each of the leads we’ve captured. This implies that the UTM’s variables have to “propagate” up to the lead level.

How to pass UTM values onto a lead?

At the technical level, there are several ways to do this, although it will depend to a large extent on the options offered by your lead management software of choice. In my opinion, the most thorough conceptual level steps are:

  1. Create the forms for capturing leads using a marketing automation tool. For example, if we work with Hubspot, we can generate forms to download content, and we’ll put a code that shows the form on the webpage (embedded code in the form).
  2. We add 5 hidden fields, which will be where we’ll store the UTM information of the URL.

At the execution level, the sequence is as follows:

  1. The user sees one of our ads and clicks on it.
  2. They access the landing page through the URL labeled with the UTMs. This way, our landing page is loaded in the browser together with the UTMs.
  3. At the code level on our website, we have to capture the UTMs of the URL and assign these values to the hidden fields of the form (the UTM fields of the form).
  4. The user reads the landing page and decides they want to download the content, so they fill in the form (name, surname, email, etc.) and hit the send button.
  5. The lead enters our lead management system; thus we now have:
    • The fields that the user has filled in (name, surname, email, etc.)
    • The UTM fields, which have been recorded in the hidden fields of the form with the values that were in the URL, without the user knowing.

What do you think of this method? It seems a little bizarre, right? But believe me when I tell you that this is the level of maturity of digital marketing today. When I started in this industry, I thought all this would be more advanced, that it wouldn’t be necessary to label the URLs of the ads, etc. I was surprised to see this wasn’t the case.

Upon talking to colleagues in the sector, they’ve told me that some companies are using a specific landing page per channel, and are cloning the landing page for each channel. This way, a particular landing page only gets traffic from a specific channel. In this case, they can find out the source and the medium because it is a fixed value that is configured independently. But to know the campaign and the keyword, etc. some type of parameterization is required. The solution could just be a temporary workaround, but one of the issues I can think of is that if the user exits the landing without any UTMs page and goes to the home page (which is quite common) and then converts. In this situation, we’ll surely lose the traceability of the lead. Furthermore, we’ll be back to where we were – if a tracking system isn’t reliable, it inevitably won’t be beneficial because the data we analyze will be inaccurate or deceptive.

Use Hubspot to capture the UTMs and learn the origin of the lead

To achieve what I’ve explained in the previous point, it’s necessary to do a small development with the code (depending on what your website is programmed for). But there is an alternative that does practically what I have explained, which is called Hubspot. Hubspot is a marketing automation tool and one of its many features is that it allows you to determine the origin of the lead. It works with three fields to attribute the origin of the lead, which are:

  • Original source type
  • Original source data 1
  • Original source data 2

campos de Hubspot para trackear el origen del lead

There are 5 UTMs fields, but Hubspot only has 3?

If you’ve asked yourself this question, you’ve already discovered the limitation of using the standard Hubspot system. Hubspot interprets the UTMs of the URLs, but when it comes to storing the source of the lead, it only uses three fields.

If you want more information about how Hubspot attributes the origin of the lead, I recommend you read a super in-depth article called: “How does HubSpot categorize sessions, contacts, and customers in the sources report?“. From this article, I think it’s important to note that Hubspot also uses the de facto standard of the UTM to create the attribution of the origin of the lead. And to do this, you have some defined rules, which are applied in order of appearance. The first rule implies that specific values are assigned to the origin of the lead:

reglas que usa Hubspot para asignar el origen del lead

So, do you see now why it’s so important to label the URLs we use in marketing with the correct UTM values?

Complexities when tracking a lead

I am aware this is all quite technical, which is because this kind of marketing is highly specialized. But let me finish the article by pointing out that all the above does is tell us the origin with which the lead was captured to a certain degree of accuracy. Allow me to list a few issues:

  • Multi-device: What happens if a user first accesses the site from his mobile through an advertisement and then accesses it and completes the form on his computer? The lead will be recorded as direct traffic, when in fact it was a pay-per-click channel that captured the user’s attention.
  • Multi-attribution:: What happens if the user accesses our website several times, each time through a different channel? For example, first, they access it via an ad on Linkedin, then through an ad on Facebook, and finally through an ad with Adroll. When we look at the lead in our system, what source will it say has captured the lead? In Hubspot, it will credit the first one. But if we do what I mentioned earlier, we can model the attribution system as we wish. We could even record the attributions of all the clicks a user has made.
  • Multi-funnel: Well, once we have a lead in the system, what happens if they download another piece of content through another channel after 5 days? And after 3 more days, they ask for a demo through another source/medium/ campaign? Note that in order to answer the question at the beginning of the article, from which sources generate more business we need to know both how the lead was first captured as well as knowing through which channels we have managed the user to progress different levels in the funnel until buying. In the case of the standard implementation of Hubspot, this part stays incomplete, instead, with the implementation that I explained, you could get to have the vision of all the user interaction as it progresses in the funnel.

Let’s track the leads!

Well, I hope this article will help you to know how to measure the origin of leads in pay per click (PPC) campaigns, and in fact, this same theory can be extended to other traffic channels that are not PPC, as may be email marketing, organic traffic or other sources.

Do you want to share how you do it? Or how have you seen it done in some companies? It would be great, just share your comments at the end of this article.

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