Link tracking is one of the most underrated features in Platformly. Our software allows users to track links, but many users may not be aware of the advantages of this feature and how it can help to improve conversion rates.

That’s why we’re going to explain in this article what link tracking is, and why you need it for your marketing campaign. All online businesses can benefit from link tracking, as we'll demonstrate. This comprehensive guide will start with the basics (what are links, for example) all the way through to details such as query medium parameters and more. So, let’s get started! 🚀

1. What's a Link?

First of all, we have to distinguish between links and URLs. A URL is the actual web address for a specific resource, whereas links are a sort of pointers that you can follow by clicking on them (such as internal and external links) and they will take you to the URL.

Although these two terms are used interchangeably, they carry a different meaning. In order to understand how a link tracker can help you, read on. 📖

2. What's a URL?

In order to manage link tracking accurately, you need to know what is a URL and how it works. You need to know what makes up a URL in order to be able to edit it, which you will need to do in order to track several metrics using an analytics tool.

Looking at the picture, you can see a URL is composed of several different parts. Some of them are essential, some aren't. We'll go through what composes a URL:

  • The protocol: at the beginning of a URL, you'll find the protocol, which can be either HTTP or HTTPS. HTTPS is recommended by Google since it requires a safe connection.
  • The host: when we refer to a website's address, we usually mean the host. It includes a subdomain (optional, usually www), a domain name and a top-level domain (examples of top level domains include .com, .gov, .edu, country codes…).
  • The path: when you're linking to a specific page in a website, you have a slash “/” followed by the name of the page. This is the path.
  • The query parameters: after the path, there can be optional parameters that start with a “?”. This section informs the browser of the parameter name and the parameter value. If you use Platform.ly, then this is the bit that you can add in our link tracking tool.
  • The fragment: this bit is normally used to guide the browser to a specific section in the page, making it easier to find without having to scroll.

Now that you're aware of what composes a URL, let's dig further into how you modify a URL and its parameters. ⚓

3. How to Modify URL Parameters

Now, the only bit you're going to modify when you edit a URL for tracking is the query parameters. These can be changed to add a code in order to make your URL unique, and you can also add UTM parameters (similar, but not the same) to use on Google Analytics. This is what you should remember about search/query parameters:

  • The format is always “attribute=value” for all sites
  • Where there are multiple parameters, these should be separated with a “&” sign
  • To separate the path and the parameters, use a “?” sign
  • No matter what you add to the parameters, the original URL is always going to work.

Let's say we want to add a parameter saying the traffic source is Facebook. Therefore, the URL is going to include the “utm_source” parameter with the “facebook” value. This results in a URL like https://platform.ly?utm_source=facebook

However, if the URL already contains a parameter previously, like “id=100”, we have two parameters to include. As the rules dictate, these are separated by an ampersand (&): https://platform.ly?id=100&utm_source=facebook

Of course, if you're not sure whether your URL is correct, you can always copy and paste it in your browser to run some tests. Unless the website is in dire need of optimization, there shouldn't be any issue adding any kind of parameters to your URL. As a standard, link tracking won't break anything on your website, rest assured.

4. What's a Click?

In order to understand link tracking further, we need to understand what is a click. This is how it works. 🔥

  1. When the user clicks on a link, it signals an event.
  2. Sometimes, the link will be associated with a handler – a small bit of Javascript code that will run when that event (click) happens.
  3. In the case there is a handler, the associated code will be executed. If that's not the case, then the browser will just look for the next URL that should be opened.
  4. The browser sends a request to the URL. In the response, there is a header section. If there is a redirect there, the browser will go on to the next URL.
  5. If there is not a redirect, the browser will then load all resources needed to display the destination page: Javascript, HTML, CSS, images… therefore showing the page in the browser.

Knowing this, we can move forward into how we can track clicks in a specific link and what URL builder tools can do.

5. Three Ways to Track Link Clicks

In this section, we'll list the three ways you can track link clicks. It's quite simple:

  • Remember handlers? You can use them as an event on a website that is triggered by a link click. These are useful to track links on your website that are outgoing – that means, it will take you to another website.
  • You can also use redirects. This is what happens when you use a URL shortener: the click takes you to the first URL, which then bounces off to the final destination. The click is registered at the shortened URL. Commonly used for shared links.
  • Finally, you can track the clicks from the destination website. This uses the browser request to track the link clicks and is also the most common way of link tracking, as it is the one used when you want to track website inbound traffic. 🚗

6. What About Google Analytics?

To track click events on your website, you need to have access to the source code, either directly or using something like Google Tag Manager.

Therefore, Google Tag Manager is used to track outgoing links on your own website. To track links on Instagram, YouTube, Twitter and other social media, this method will not work.

Google Analytics is able to do this tracking by intercepting the click event, counting the click for the specific URL, and then allowing the browser to open a new page.

7. What Are Redirects & URL Shorteners?

So, when you want to use a link tracker for a URL that comes from social media, as an example, the ideal solution is to use a URL shortener. Platforms such as Bit.ly and similar allow you to shorten your URLs, which not only allows you to use more parameters but it also makes your URL look better in any context.

Using URL shorteners is useful especially on Twitter and Instagram. If you're showing a URL to your visitors, it should not be long, otherwise, it might seem suspicious. 🥷

URL shorteners work like short names for your links. Once a shortened link is clicked, the browser makes the usual request. The short URL transfers the visitor to the Bit.ly or other similar services host, which counts the click and redirects the user to the actual website. Platformly includes a short link generator, so if you're already a member, no need to sign up for another service.

However, when using this technique, your URL will only point to the same destination. It will not count where each link click comes from: it will only register that the shortened URL was clicked, no matter where it is clicked from. Also each URL only has one possible shortened version. That's where link tracking software comes in handy.

8. Using Several Tracking Links For The Same Destination

Okay, so we've explained two ways to track link clicks so far. But let's say you want to track the source of each link click on your website. If URL shorteners are all the same for the same original URL, then you need to make that URL unique. How do you do that?

The answer is simple: add a campaign query parameter. Let's say you want to know how many clicks came from your Instagram profile to your website. The way to do this is to add a parameter that says “utm_source=instagram” on this specific link, while users from other sources get a different UTM campaign tracking parameter.

By using UTM parameters, you create unique URLs. You can even drill down the URL to a user-level: using a UTM parameter such as “user”, you can attribute a code to each of your visitors from their tracking URL in real-time.

9. What Are Dynamic Redirects?

Dynamic redirects allow you to set different URLs for the visitor to be forwarded from the same source. This is commonly used for mobile apps: the URL can redirect the user to the App Store on an iPhone, or Play Store on an Android phone.

Nonetheless, if the user is accessing from another operative system, they will land on a fallback page. This type of redirect allows you to set different conditions for the destination URL, making each URL unique too.

10. What's Page Load?

Page Load is a process in which the browser connects with the destination in order to show the user the contents of the website. But what does this have to do with link tracking?

Well, when you use Google Analytics, your incoming requests are processed together as the page loads. Depending on how you implement the tracking code, it might delay the page load slightly. ⚙️

If you use Analytics, you'll be able to track UTM medium and source by checking the Acquisition menu. However, a lot of the requests will be tracked as Direct, even though they're not exactly direct traffic. What this means is that a lot of visitors might get to your website with the referrer parameter missing. When this parameter is missing, Analytics automatically assumes these visitors are direct.

This can be fixed using query parameters, and we'll explain how in the next section.

11. How to Use Query Parameters?

Now, query parameters do not have to use an exact naming scheme, but it does help to be coherent. This will make it easier for link tracking as this code will allow you to distinguish between actual direct traffic and other sources.

To analyze your incoming traffic, just use “utm_source” with the value being “facebook”, “instagram”, “twitter” and anything else that applies. We also recommend using Google's URL builder, as it will make it a lot easier. However, remember to use only query parameters that can be public. If you don't want a specific parameter to show, you shouldn't use it: all of these codes are visible to every visitor.

How Does Platformly Help?

Platformly has its own link tracking tool, and it’s quite easy to use – especially after reading this article.

First of all, click the “Tracking” menu.

Then, pick the “Tracking Links” option in the menu:

Click the “+” sign:

This will open the following menu:

You need to fill out all the fields in this form. In “Category”, pick “Your Website”.

Then, fill out the following fields.

In this case, let’s say we want to target visitors arriving to our blog: https://platform.ly/blog/. The campaign name can be chosen at random, as long as you know what it refers to. The custom link name follows the same rules. The source URL is going to be clickthis.one by default, but you can choose to use another one.

Let’s say we are trying to measure clicks from a Facebook CPC campaign. We picked CPC in the “cost type” and just need to add an average click cost to be registered on this link.

Then, let’s click “Go to Step 2”.

This is the new menu that shows then:

Going with the example we mentioned before, we’re going to fill the fields as follows:

You need to pick the according traffic source, which in this case will be “Facebook_Ads”. Then, the traffic type: Facebook. The medium, in this case, will be “ad1” and the ad identifier will be “test1”.

At the bottom, there is an option to add UTM tracking. This option allows you to create parameters that can be tracked with Google Analytics, or to just create Platformly tracking links.

Click submit and there you go: you created your first link tracking.

Once your tracking link is ready, you can add it anywhere needed. Let's imagine you want to track the results of an advertising campaign – make sure you use the tracking link to then be able to evaluate results easily.

You can also use this link on your website or blog, or in your social media posts, to analyse your traffic. The goal of link tracking is to track clicks and understand where your traffic comes from.

Other important feature of the Link Tracking ability on Platformly is the Reporting section. In this section, you can see data through different filters. The first tab is the “Campaign” tab:

In this tab, you can see the evolution of each link tracking campaign, the average conversion rate, total revenue and total profit, and other granular metrics.

Then, we have “Traffic Source”:

Of course, this report distinguishes between the different traffic sources, allowing you to see how each of them performed.

“Traffic Type” shows the performance of each traffic type. Common traffic types include social, paid (such as PPC)…

On “User Timing”, you can check what days are the best for your campaigns, and on which time of day you get more traffic from your tracked links.

And finally, the “User Location” tab shows where in the world you get traffic from. This data is divided by “Campaign”, “Source”, “Type”, “Medium” and “Identifier”.

All these options make data visualization easy, allowing you to see where do you have to improve your marketing efforts, and which links are getting you the most ROI.

If you still have any questions regarding this process, please check our help articles about link tracking and events.

Wrapping Up

Using Platformly will help you improve your link tracking abilities in an easy and simple way. Of course, this guide aims to help you use Platformly's tracking software and tools in the best way to show your campaign source. Affiliate marketers also benefit from link tracking (the so called affiliate links), and you can always use split testing to make sure your effort is valued.

If you have any questions regarding your tracking URL or any other insight we mention in this article, use the comment box below. You can also find us on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn.

About Author

Deeply passionate about writing, copy, and social media. Digital Marketing Assistant at Platformly.

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