Tracking print advertising with ListingNumber and Google Analytics

A common question I get involves tracking print campaigns. It came up during my panel at Inman Connect but we didn’t have time to get into the deep how-to on print advertising tracking. This post is here to remedy that oversight by giving you some step-by-step on tracking the performance of your marketing activities.

Google Analytics is an effective tool to track the performance of marketing activities and advertising campaign. And it’s fairly easy to do: You cook up a special URL (commonly referred to as “link tagging” or “campaign tagging”) and then track how many people come to your site and do what you would like them to do. It even shows a great funnel.

Campaign-tagged web addresses are great for analytics, not so great for memory

“Campaign tagging” or “link tagging” a web address is just putting a question mark and a bunch of variables into the web address so your analytics package knows that this page is being viewed because someone has viewed an ad. Deeper in the article you’ll find a tool to make this fairly painless so don’t fret.

This tutorial is about marrying a link-shortening tool like ListingNumber with Google Analytics. The reason you want to use a link-shortening tool is because your campaign-tagged URL looks something like this:

The above example would be for my fictitious Best Web Strategist Ever campaign running in a local newspaper. In addition to being incredibly vain, the web address is sort of long to put in a short little print advertisement, right? This is where shortened links come in handy.

Making a web address easier to remember.

If you’re a Twitter user you’ve probably seen shortened links (usually by TinyURL). Link shortening just takes a long web address (like the one above) and makes it into something short like this: Lots easier to remember, which is important when someone sees your link in print and has to remember it when they get to a computer.

Vanity URLs

There’s another way to achieve the same thing. I could buy a domain name that is short and set up a redirect to my page (many single property web sites for real estate do this sort of thing). An example, from my big-headed campaign might be something like That’s called a Vanity URL: an easy to remember web address that exists only to redirect you to a harder to remember address.

Vanity URLs also have the advantage of letting you build branding power on something you own. The URL is yours, the traffic is yours, it’s all yours (insert evil-genius laughter).

Unfortunately, setting up Vanity URLs costs you time and money. You’ll pay between $8 and $25 per year for your domain plus spend time researching it plus spend time filling out the online forms to buy it plus spend time working to get the redirect in place. For fake campaign example, I bought and for $20/year and it took me about 15 minutes to get it all set up. I buy domain names and set them up all the time. If you don’t buy domains and set them up all the time then it will take you longer.

Link shortening services

If you just want to get your print tracking up and running quickly (or if you want to track your social media campaign using links that social media-ites are familiar with) then go for a link-shortening service. The TinyURL I set up above took all of two minutes and cost me nothing.

Tracking the campaign via Google Analytics is the same whether you go with Vanity URLs or Link-Shortened URLs. Quick Recap in bullet list format:

Advantages of Vanity URLS

  • Your brand
  • You control everything all the time

Advantages of Link Shortening

  • Quick
  • Low cost
  • Familiar in Social Media

For this tutorial, I’m going to be using a link shortening service called ListingNumber. This service has the potential to become a useful brand for the real estate market. If consumers become used to seeing a ListingNumber web address in the ads they see, then they’ll get used to treating those ads like real estate advertising (for better or worse).

ListingNumber also has it’s own analytics tools for those of you who don’t already use Google Analytics. Since ListingNumber is geared towards marketing, I suspect that it will be quicker to incorporate features that are useful to advertisers.

So we’ve covered the concepts of campaign tagging, vanity URLs and link shortening. Time to get to work.

The process of tracking advertising via analytics

Here’s our workflow:

  1. Generate campaign tagged URL (very long web address in a short period of time)
  2. Enter it in our link shortening service (very short web address in a short period of time)
  3. Track results in Google Analytics or ListingNumber

The first two steps will be done via forms and shouldn’t take more than 10 minutes total (not counting thinking).

Generate your URL with a Campaign Tagging Tool, for free no less

I’ve spent the afternoon playing with Google Docs to make a form-based tool so you can create your own campaign tagged links. My spreadsheet relies very very heavily on the excellent work of Justin Cutroni over at EpikOne. The main changes to his original link tagger are that I modified it for use with Google Forms so it’s slightly more automated.

Please note, this thing is totally non-secure so don’t enter anything you don’t want to share with the world into the tool. Use at your own risk. If you want your own custom implementation I recommend you either call my boss and hire me to do it or use Justin’s original.

Here’s what you need to do to generate your campaign tagged URL:

  1. Decide what your landing page is (for my fake ad campaign I’m using my Union Street bio page).
  2. Fill out this Campaign Tagging Tool form.
  3. View your result in the spreadsheet (it will be towards the bottom, sometimes takes up to five minutes to refresh)
  4. Copy your result (it should start with your landing page from step one). VERY IMPORTANT: DOUBLE CHECK THE LINK TO BE SURE IT’S YOURS. OTHERWISE YOU WILL BE SENDING PEOPLE TO SOMEONE ELSE’S PAGE.
  5. Paste that link into a browser and check the page. Is it your landing page from step one? If not, go back to step 3 and repeat. If it is yours then move along to the next section.

Use ListingNumber to generate a trackable short link

Ok, you could use TinyURL or something else. But we’re using ListingNumber because of the branding benefits (for real estate agents anyway) or because it has built-in analytics (for those who don’t use Google Analytics).

Let’s turn a very long URL into nice short URL:

  1. Paste the link we made in the previous section into the form at ListingNumber for question #3 (destination web address).
  2. Fill out the rest of the form (note in particular that question number 2 could serve as a simple version of the campaign/medium/source/content question you answered using the Campaign Tagging Tool).
  3. Test the shortened URL that ListingNumber sends you via email.

There you go, you now have a shiny new shortened URL that you can use to track ROI on your print advertising or anywhere. In case you’re curious, the ListingNumber for my Best Web Strategist Ever ultra-vanity fictitious ad campaign is:

What next?

Well you can use ListingNumber’s own analytics package to track your ROI or you can track from Google Analytics, under Traffic Sources -> Campaigns. I prefer GA because there’s a bit more flexibility for generating insights on advertising and setting filters etc. But if you don’t currently use a web traffic analysis tool then go ahead and use ListingNumbers’ analytics. I’ll do a more in-depth review of how to use their service later.

Also, if we’re really lucky, Michael Rahm (the genius behind ListingNumber) will help us skip all the stuff with my Campaign Tagging Tool by incorporating all that right into the ListingNumber creation part.

Any questions?

Hat tip to Dustin for mentioning Listing Number at Inman Connect ’08.

18 thoughts on “Tracking print advertising with ListingNumber and Google Analytics

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  2. Hi Arlene,

    I put all the warnings out there because if you use the tool I put together then everyone can see the results that are generated. It’s just a big Google Spreadsheet. So if folks are worried about that then they shouldn’t go at it.

    As you note, the tracking itself is anonymous via GA.

    Also, great article on AIDA in advertising, especially because it’s about the original incarnation of the model (for print-based individual ads).

    I hope you don’t mind that I edited your comment to include the phrase AIDA. Many of my readers are familiar with the concept from my AIDA for website marketing post.

  3. Great tutorial. Thanks!

    I’d add that a benefit to using the ListingNumber analytics is it’s simple to create a one-page, readable report for sellers that combines both off-line and online tracking in one place (sorry for the ad :-).

    I’m a huge fan of Google Analytics, but found it difficult to generate a simple report that could be shared with a seller.

    Ideally, you should use both and thanks G. for the great ideas on how to integrate the two… we’re working on it.

  4. Thank you for making the tool Michael!

    I’m absolutely with you that your analytics feature is awesome. Now that I have my fake Greatest Web Strategist Ever campaign I’ll be making a follow-up to this article on how to use the analytics you provide.

    What I think is most perfect about your system is that it’s easy to set up and a real estate pro can get started using it without having to call their web developer (don’t tell my boss! 😉 ). So it can serve as a starter for getting people to work with their web metrics.

    That and, as you mention, you can make a special report that has the numbers stripped out. Branded white-label premium option? 🙂

  5. a quick follow up on your comment:

    > Branded white-label premium option?

    We are running a couple tests with offices now on all their newspaper advertising. We are faking out an office version by running it all under one account, however, if there is interest, we’ll offer exactly that – a premium office version that could be white-labeled (if desired – the only branding is the domain – the reports are generic) and equally important – centrally administered so that an office can offer the tracking as a benefit to agents.

    I’ll keep you posted. And thanks again for the great feedback.

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  8. let us not dismiss the value of vanity telephone numbers. do not slip through the cracks. eventually people need to call and a memorable number increases the likelyhood that it will be your phone that rings.

  9. Hello—I work for Weinberg Campus, a senior living organization. A team of staff is trying to track the advertising of our competitors. Do you have a complimentary example of an advertising tracking sheet that you could share? Thank you.

    • Hello Nicole

      What kind of advertising tracking are you looking for PPC, Traffic? There are a few free utilities out there that you can use to keep an eye on your competition. Let me know and I will see what I can do.



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  11. Is there a way to “mark” the graph in GA to denote when you started a campaign?
    Lets say I sent out 20,000 post cards asking people to visit my web site on April 5 2010 & get great traffic for the following week, well I can pretty much tell that would be a result of me sending out post cards, however what happens when I look back 2 years from now & wonder “hmm, why did I have that spike in traffic the week following April 5thh 2010?”

    • Hi Kris,

      Google fairly recently added a feature to Analytics that allows you to make annotations. If you click on a data point on your graph, you’ll see a gray button labeled “Create new annotation.” Click on this and you’ll be able to enter a note. For your example, you’ll want to locate the data point for April 5, 2010, click on it, then enter a note that indicates it’s when your mailing directed people to visit your site.

      Hope this helps!

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