Manual UTM tagging vs AdWords auto-tagging

Introduction

If you have ever run a Google AdWords campaign, you may have heard of auto-tagging. Auto-tagging is an AdWords feature that makes it easy to track and optimize AdWords campaigns. However, it has its limitations when used with Convert Experiences which we will describe below.

What is auto-tagging?

UTM parameters are the most common form of link/ad tracking. You either manually add UTM parameters like utm_campaign, utm_medium, and utm_source to all of your outbound URLs, or you use a utm link builder tool to help you do this.

With AdWords, they provide a nice shortcut, Auto-tagging. Auto-tagging automatically tags URLs in all of your AdWords campaigns. It also gives you access to analytics data that is otherwise impossible to obtain through regular UTMs. Here is an example from Google’s help center.

So to summarize, auto-tagging saves you the time and effort of manually tagging URLs, makes the whole process almost completely error free, provides more detailed analytics, pushes all the data automatically to Google Analytics, and is available at the click of a button. 

What is the limitation of auto-tagging?

The limitation is that the Auto-tagging feature is completely tied into Google’s ecosystem and only works with Google Analytics. So if you want to use it with Convert Experiences that parses and reads UTMs, you won’t be able to. The reason is that when you enable auto-tagging, a "GCLID" parameter is passed at the end of the URL. Anything after the "=" sign is all of your tracking data, but encrypted. Only Google Analytics can actually translate this and have it show up as human-readable analytics data in your dashboard, hence the reason why it only works with Google Analytics.

Our Audience conditions for "UTM" and "Query Parameters" read the parameters from the URL of the visitor as string values. The "GCLID" value is an encryption that only Google Analytics can decode and read. Targeting a "GCLID" parameter will allow you to target only visitors who clicked on any AdWords campaign, but not a specific campaign.  

Solution

To get the best of both worlds - more data in GA as well as Audience targeting capability in Convert Experiences - you can use a combination of the two as described here.

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