Measure your SEM efforts on Google Analytics by Employing These Simple URL Hacks

According to the comscore report, the search engine giant, Google, leads the U.S. explicit core search market in February 2016 with 64 percent market share. Google derives most of its profits from Google AdWords, the advertising system in which advertisers bid on certain keywords so that their clickable ads appear with those keywords.

Getting the terminology straight

For the ones who are confused by the technical jargon, here is a backdrop for discussion. There are two types of listings on search engines – Unpaid listings and Paid listings. The core product of the search engine provides “Unpaid” listings just the same way as the newspapers write stories of the reader’s interest. The other type is the “Paid ones” similar to the newspapers ads which come along with the editorial content and does not influence it. Initially, both types of listings used to be clubbed under Search Engine Marketing (SEM). But the current practices refer the acronym ‘SEM’ to “Paid ones” whereas Search Engine Optimization (SEO) covers the “Unpaid” listings. SEM and SEO are interchangeably used with “Paid Search or Pay-Per-Click” and “Organic or Natural Search” respectively.

“Search Engine Marketing is the process of gaining web traffic by purchasing ads on search engine.”

Google Analytics: URL Builder

According to W3Techs survey, Google Analytics, the web analytics service provided by Google, is used by 83.4% of all the sites they tracked. One of the interesting feature in Google Analytics is the URL builder. The URL builder, by using its parameters or tags, known as UTM parameters, helps to track custom ad campaigns. Custom ad campaigns refer to the ones where AdWords auto-tagging feature is not used. When the web users click on these URL links, their unique parameters or tags are received by Google Analytics and thus, tracked. The resulting web traffic data can be analysed to measure the effectiveness of the Ad Campaigns.

How to identify Paid Search Traffic?

The referring URL information used is the key to understanding which terms brought the web traffic to the site. The challenge when measuring Paid Search is telling the web measurement application how to differentiate between paid and unpaid Ad placements. This can be done with a single query name/value pair at the end of all incoming paid search traffic. Therefore, the data is segmented into two distinct groups: Paid vs Organic. If it can be concluded that traffic coming from organic search results is good at generating conversions, that particular term should be purchased for additional clicks and to increase the number of conversions.

The next level of granularity comes with identifying which paid search engine generated the click. The UTM parameter, utm_source identifies the source of the traffic or the entity that’s sending traffic to the site. utm_source is one of the three mandatory UTM parameters in URL builder. The other two are utm_medium and utm_campaign.

The UTM parameter, utm_medium, answers the question “How is my traffic coming to the site?” For example, a link on Facebook could be coming from a post or an ad. Some medium tags that can be used as UTM conventions so that it will be easier to report include email, blog, social, cpc (for cost-per-click advertising) and banner for display advertising.

The most actionable level of granularity is to measure the web traffic at the per-keyword level for every search engine. The utm parameter, utm_term, identifies keywords for your ad. This parameter can be ignored if Google Analytics and AdWords are connected with auto-tagging feature. Once this is set up, the only step remaining is collecting data.

What data needs to be collected for the analysis?

The data/metrics collected after the above setup must include the ones used in the calculation of Site’s Key Performance Indicators (KPIs). There is a big list of KPIs to consider but only a few are important. The choice of the KPIs depend on the business model. Some of the commonly used KPIs are response rate (click through rate), Bounce rate, Cost per click (CPC), Conversion rate and Revenue (or loss) by search engine and keyword.

Click through rate is the response rate of the customer to your ad. It gives an idea of how relevant your ad is. The better, more relevant ads get more clicks. It is a micro conversion variable as it does not ensure rest of the user experience is great. Now that we have customers on the site, we must ensure we get them to the right landing page that deliver the promise made in the ad. Bounce rate tells us whether the customers are landing on the right page or not.

Once we have all these metrics calculated, segmented by search engine and the keyword, the next step is to know which search engine the visitors came from; which keywords brought the traffic to the site; did they land on the right page; how much did it cost for a term; and if that term converted, what is the value of that conversion.

For example, Nike is conducting a Search Engine Marketing campaign on Google for bringing more web traffic for the online sales of Football Shoes. Nike bought the keywords ‘Buy Football shoes’, ‘Football Shoes online’, and ’Football Shoes’. It is ensured that the data is collected for a specific time period for all the keywords. Below is a sample analysis for the keywords.

‘Buy Football shoes’ keyword is costing most but resulting in loss whereas ‘Football Shoes’ is costing least and resulting in profits.


In order to measure the SEM efforts on Google Analytics, one should ensure that the resulting web traffic from the Search Engines should be tracked and segmented to gauge the efficiency of the Campaigns. Not every SEM campaign is tracked by Google Analytics by default even it is linked to the AdWords account. For these circumstances, URL builder comes into picture. URL builder in Google Analytics is meant to be used for custom campaigns, the ad campaigns not using AdWords auto-tagging feature. While using URL builder, UTM parameters should be used to collect data as it helps to decode “Where the web traffic is coming from?”(utm_source), “How is the web traffic coming to the site?”(utm_medium) and “why the web traffic is coming to the site?”(utm_campaign). Thus, the data collected will be more actionable.

Selection of KPIs is subjective to the type of online business. Once the KPIs are decided, it is apt to collect data used in calculation of KPIs. The data collected must be for the same time period so that the analysis can be carried on.


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