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Tracking MSN and Yahoo! PPC in Google Analytics

Mar 1, 2010
by Eric Leuenberger

When fed the right data, Google Analytics can extract query string variables that may offer better reporting capabilities. In this article, I will talk about tracking paid search traffic channels, specifically from Yahoo! and MSN. As you will see if you use Google Analytics, this data is currently hidden among other figures, and it makes reporting on paid search from these two channels a tough task. More accurate reporting capabilities will help you make better informed decisions about what marketing channels work best for you.

We need to talk about Google Analytics setup in order to provide us with valuable decision making data. This will help you understand where to invest your time and resources to optimize a given channel, ideally that which provides a positive ROI. In case you didn't already know, if you are not segmenting PPC traffic from Yahoo! and MSN in some way, your paid search traffic from both is mixed with the organic traffic, and is listed as such within Analytics.

This is a problem. How can you make informed decisions about which paid search channel of traffic provides the biggest bang for your buck when it's mixed with organic? The answer is, you can't. Thus, to track paid search traffic from MSN and Yahoo!, you need to separate them using the link itself. The variables can then be passed to native Google Analytics. In short, you need to develop a proper URL structure to use from within your actual MSN and Yahoo! paid search ads. These links must contain information, which passes data to Google Analytics about the origin of that traffic.

This is called URL Tagging, and it could be a long and tedious task, if not for a nice tool from Google called the URL Builder. Google's URL Builder lets you build a unique URL consisting of data related to your marketing efforts. You may then use this as a destination URL in your campaigns, to track varying amounts of information you could not get at before.

Tracking Yahoo! PPC with Google Analytics.

The first thing you need to do to get Yahoo! to send the data you are after is to turn on auto-tagging from within your Yahoo! Search Marketing account, or you'll receive nothing but the keyword results (which is not that helpful on its own). To do this, you'll need to login to your YSM (Yahoo! Search Marketing) account and go to: Administration > Tracking URLs

Select the appropriate radio button to turn on tagging. Once that is complete, Yahoo! will begin to pass the desired data in the query string, and you'll be able to retrieve that data from within Google Analytics for analysis. The parameter identifiers that Yahoo! uses to pass various paid search data in the query string are:

  • {OVKEY} representing the keyword
  • {OVADID} representing the ad itself
  • {OVCAMPGID} representing the campaign itself

By inserting these parameters into the utm_term, utm_content, and utm_campaign sections of your URL, you'll be able to successfully pull into Google Analytics the keyword you bid on, the ad it came from, and the campaign that held the ad. Going back to the above example, the URL for Yahoo!, after customizing with the available parameters, would look like this:{OVKEY}&utm_content={OVADID}&utm_campaign={OVCAMPGID}

Yahoo! Parameters in Google URL Builder

Once the URL is created, simply insert it into the destination URL of your paid search campaign and let Google Analytics do the rest. Now, let's talk about how to do this same thing with MSN.

Tracking MSN PPC with Google Analytics.
Unlike both Google and Yahoo!, which require you to "flip a switch," to turn on (or off) URL tagging, MSN requires you to do nothing; it's automatically sent with each visitor that arrives at your site. All you need to know is what it sends in order to grab it.

Here's what MSN sends:

  • Query String {QueryString}. This is the raw search query that the user typed into the search box.
  • Match Type {MatchType}. Represents basic information that will tell you if the triggered keyword was broad phrase or exact matched (can help you narrow the exact keyword down).
  • OrderItemID {OrderItemID}. Represents the keyword that triggered the display of your ad.
  • AdID {AdID}. Represents the numeric ID that MSN assigns to your ad variations.

The items listed in brackets "{ }" above represent the variable data that MSN sends your way with each visitor. It is this information that you will plug back into our URL to track performance.

The two parameters that represent keywords are {OrderItemID} and {QueryString}. Depending on your preference, you may use either, in the location of utm_term in your Google Analytics-built URL. The difference is that the first one, {OrderItemID}, represents the actual keyword you bid on, and the second, {QueryString}, represents the actual raw search terms the visitor entered to get to your site.

Now, if you opt for {QueryString} as your parameter of choice, understand that the search terms might not exactly match the keyword(s) you bid on. Therefore, in this case, you may want to consider adding the {MatchType} to the URL string as well. This can help distinguish in Google Analytics, if the search string is actually the keyword itself (i.e. exact match), or a variation of it (in the case of broad match). I do not use this method myself, but wanted to point out what you need to consider if you are going one way or the other. You want data that provides valuable information.

I prefer to know the exact keywords that triggered the ad and use the {OrderItemID} as my "Campaign Term". Now, when you use these in conjunction with Google's URL Builder.

This is the best way to get data at the keyword level, ad level and campaign level, although you'll have to compare the AD ID with that in MSN Adcenter to determine which ad actually triggered the visit.

Now, another method you might want to consider is to replace the "Campaign Name" data with something like {QueryString}, to gather even more information on your visitors' actual search habits on MSN.

When would this be a viable option? Well, if you only have one campaign setup within MSN Adcenter, then you may not really feel you need that information again in analytics. After all, if you have only one campaign setup, then all traffic must originate from that. In this case, it might be beneficial to determine the search habits of your visitors in relation to the actual keyword that triggered the ad, to find out more opportunities you might be missing. Don't be afraid to use this same strategy to track all kinds of marketing activity. By using this technique, you can track email campaigns, banner advertising, and just about anything else you can imagine.

That's all there is to segmenting MSN and Yahoo! paid search traffic within Google Analytics. You now have access to tracking paid search traffic from MSN and Yahoo! within Google Analytics, and because of it, can open new doors that will help you make more informed decisions about your marketing efforts.

Eric Leuenberger is an ecommerce conversion marketing expert and author of a leading Ecommerce blog at He coaches store owners, using his online coaching system,, teaching them how to increase website sales using his proven six step process. He can be contacted at 866-602-2673.

Topic: Web Tech Tips

Related Articles: Google Analytics  PPC  online marketing  ecommerce 

Article ID: 1276

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