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Tracking Magazine Advertising Impact Using Google Analytics

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Why Would I Want to Track My Magazine Advertising Impact?

Advertising has been around for a long time, however we haven’t always been able to accurately track it’s value.  A lot of people now use ROI (return on investment) as a way of measuring how valuable a piece of advertising was:

    • Did it achieve its goals?
    • Did it pay for itself?
    • Did it generate more sales/customers/awareness?
    • Was it actually worth it?
Whilst it is very easy to track online advertising impact through the likes of AdWords, we can also track “offline” advertising too.  This is where vanity URL’s come in.

What is a Vanity URL?

A vanity URL is a website address that is created for a particular purpose.  For example if a company were to offer a 25% discount, a URL might be created, such as:  This can then either direct users to a dedicated discount page, or redirect them to another relevant page on the website.

Why use a Vanity URL?

When creating offline marketing campaigns (newspaper/magazine/TV, etc), it is useful to  provide readers/viewers with a website link to go to.  However, in order to track campaigns, Google Analytics requires a unique tracking code to be appended to the end of your URL, which looks something like this:

Now, I don’t know about you, but I can’t imagine quoting the above URL in a magazine or TV advert.  Who is going to remember it or even bother typing it all in?

Putting a vanity URL with a redirect to the “tracking” page allows your users to have an “easy to remember” web address, and still allows Google Analytics to track the campaign URL. Everybody wins.


So with the understanding of why we create vanity URLs, let’s see how we create them.  First, consider what the link relates to, for example is relevant to an offer that relates to 2 for the price of 1, but isn’t really appropriate for a free lipstick with every 4 bagels purchased.

Once you’ve picked your vanity URL, it is necessary to direct that URL to the real page that you would like the visitor to see.  To do this it is necessary to modify the .htaccess file (for Apache servers).

The full process on how to set up, create and track a vanity URL is as follows:

Using Google to Create Custom Campaign URLs

Having determined the vanity URL that will be used for the page, it is then essential to create a custom campaign URL that will assign the relevant values to Google Analytics.  To generate the correct URL it is recommended to use the Google URL Builder tool, which can be found here:

Google URL Builder

Google Analytics URL Builder

Use this tool to generate the correct tracking URL needed by Analytics.

It is recommended that for paid print campaigns:

    • Campaign Source value =  ‘print’
    • Campaign Medium value = ‘cpc’
    • Campaign Term should be left blank, and normally Campaign Content also
    • Campaign Name should be set to something specific to this campaign.  For example ‘mens_fitness_summer_promo’

Be aware that the values are case sensitive, so that cpc is not the same as CPC or cPc.  We would recommend to always use lowercase for all entries.

Creating Redirects


Using the Redirection plugin ( it is possible to set a permanent redirect (301) from the vanity URL to the Custom Campaign URL generated by the Google URL Builder.


You can use the Akeeba Admin Tools extension to add values directly into the .htaccess file at the file root.  The structure of the code should be:

‘redirect 301 /vanity_url custom_campaign_url’

  • /vanity_url is replaced with the vanity URL defined previously
  •  custom_campaign_url is replaced with the output from the Google URL Builder page.  The .htaccess file should then be saved.

Non CMS Website

If you’re not using WordPress or Joomla, you can add redirects by doing the following:

  1. Create a file called .htaccess
  2. Pop this file in the root of your website (i.e. the public_html folder)
  3. For each redirect you wish to make, put the below line of code in your .htaccess file, replacing the vanity_url and Custom campaign URL (the bold bits below) with your own URL’s.  Save and test that your redirect works:

redirect 301 /vanity_url

Using the Results

When logged into Google Analytics for the account that has the vanity URL added and the Custom Campaign URL redirect implemented it will be possible to see how many people have visited your vanity URL (and therefore show how valuable your advertising campaign was).

Visit Content -> Site Content -> All Pages

Below the graph, select Other as the Primary Dimension and choose either Source, Medium or Campaign.  It will then be possible to drilldown further on any of these values to get more information

Sara Thornton

Sara is WebHolism's SEO Guide and Trainer. She's the one you'll see in all our YouTube videos, and helping folks out with their SEO queries on social media. She runs the fabulous SEO Clarity Club which teaches women how to do their own SEO. In her spare time she loves board games, and splashing around in the sea.


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