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Utilizing AdWords ValueTrack Parameters

In a recent post, George Michie analyzed some new paid search ad position data we were able to glean by utilizing AdWords ValueTrack parameters.  While ValueTrack can provide useful insights about individual ad clicks, its functionality isn’t as well known as other AdWords reporting features.

With the addition of the {adposition} tag last month, there are currently 15 ValueTrack parameters available for advertisers to include in their ad destination URLs.  When a user clicks an ad with one or more of these tags, Google dynamically updates the URL with specific information about that click.  We can see that additional information when we review our logs of incoming traffic.

For example, in the case of the {adposition} tag, our ad destination URL may look like this in the AdWords interface:

http://www.example.com/?position={adposition}

When we check our web logs we’ll see something like this for an individual visitor:

http://www.example.com/?position=1s4

The {adposition} tag has been replaced with information indicating that the ad was shown on the first page of results, on the side of the organic listings and in position 4.  This is really getting into the very fine details of a click, but other ValueTrack parameters offer higher level and often more actionable views.

Google’s help page on ValueTrack is actually pretty robust, so we won’t dwell on the basics of each option.  Instead, we hope to help you hone in on the most useful ValueTrack parameters for your program.  Here is an overview of the current tags available and how we would classify them:

Fundamentals:

Depending on the sophistication of your AdWords account and the technology you have powering it, many of the ValueTrack parameters are likely to duplicate information you’re pulling down or monitoring through other means.

For some advertisers though, ValueTrack may be the easiest way to obtain fundamental information about each click via the {keyword}, {matchtype} and {network} tags.  This type of data can be pulled in aggregate via the adWords interface or API, but the key here is to get that information for individual clicks and ultimately to tie those clicks and their properties to your view of conversions.

Given how much the value of your traffic can vary by keyword, matchtype and network, it’s essential to know this information for every click you receive so that you can analyze, bid and segment your traffic effectively.

Having a tracking system with unique identifiers for every instance of each keyword you have running (with a database behind it that stores their attributes independently) largely supplants the need to use ValueTrack for keyword and matchtype information.  Also, information about the network on which Google served your ad can be determined from the referring domain of the click.

But even with such a system in place, another consideration is the passing of this information to another party.  For instance, a paid search agency may know all there is to know about a click without ValueTrack, but their client needs to feed that information into a separate analytics package or their own databases.  Using ValueTrack parameters can greatly simplify that process.

Second Tier Parameters:

The parameters classified here as second tier aren’t too different from those considered fundamental, in that both sets represent data that many advertisers can acquire through other means, but the information they provide is likely to be less impactful to one’s overall AdWords program.

Most advertisers will see click quality vary quite a bit depending on whether their ad is shown through Google’s Search or Display/Content network.  The advertiser should have separate campaigns for Search and Content, but if they do not have unique keyword identifiers, it may be necessary to utilize the {ifcontent:[value]} and {ifsearch:[value]} to distinguish the two.

Likewise, it’s generally a good idea to have separate campaigns for mobile traffic, but some may still need to use the {ifmobile:[value]} tag to identify mobile clicks in their logs later.  The ifmobile tag can also be useful for redirecting a user to a mobile version of your site (although be careful about Google lumping tablets and smartphones together).

The {placement} and {target} tags provide information on the domain and category of the page where Google showed your Display Network ad.  Again this is information many can see in referrer logs or through more sophisticated tracking methods, but others will find them valuable.

At RKG, we haven’t found a need to use the {random} parameter, but conceivably one could use it to generate effectively unique click identifiers for databasing or other purposes.

Important Special Cases:

Every paid search advertiser should be testing some aspect of their program at pretty much all times.  For those taking advantage of AdWords Campaign Experiments, the {aceid} tag facilitates tying your view of conversions back to either a control or test cell click.

The {copy:[name]} tag was intended to help advertisers see more information about clicks from Product Extensions and Ad Sitelinks, which can be triggered for multiple keywords and Adgroups.  An advertiser already passing identifying parameters in their keyword URLs can tell Google to pass that same information when a Sitelink or Product Extension URL is clicked.  Using this method, we can associate any resulting conversions back to the core ad.

Advanced:

Advanced AdWords users with API access and well-fitting programs can take advantage of the AdParamService to update elements within their creative quickly and automatically.  These parameters can be used, for example, to change copy associated with pricing, promotions or inventory levels.  ValueTrack allows you to pass these parameters back in your URL via the {param1} and {param2} tags.

The {adposition} tag is a new, but very promising development and we hope it’s a sign that Google will continue to offer more insights to advertisers about the traffic we’re receiving.  While we’ve previously found that conversion rate doesn’t vary significantly by position and Google has since said as much as well, it will be interesting to take another look, particularly at the top vs side piece.  Often for marketing variables, the most telling insights are found by examining their interrelationships, so each new one opens up multiple avenues for research.

Those Using Keyword Level URLs Should Use Widely:

If you are using keyword level URLs, and you probably should be, the {creative} tag is vital for assessing performance differences between multiple copy versions.  By default, advertisers can easily see click-through rate differences between two or more creatives, but a better measure of copy performance is revenue (or some other conversion metric) per impression.  Conversion data can be incorporated into AdWords through Conversion Tracking, but most will want to steer by their internal view, which should be more accurate.

Parameters We Would Love to See:

That’s the full list of currently available ValueTrack parameters, but we’d definitely like to see more.  Here are a few of the big ones, if anyone at Google is reading:

{cpc} – It’s great to be able see how much traffic we receive in various positions and then tie those clicks to conversions, but that’s only half of the story.  How much more are we paying for promoted position 1 vs promoted position 2 vs side position 1 and so on?  Google’s Top vs Side report gives a view of this data, but not in an easily parsed form or with the level of granularity we’d like.
{qs} – This will probably never happen, but it would be very useful to know Google’s view of our ad’s quality score for each individual click.  We could certainly use that information to help decrease low relevance traffic that likely isn’t delivering a good ROI and isn’t leading to a good user experience.  Everyone’s better off, right?
{location} – With Google moving more and more toward location-based results and pushing to get more local advertisers onto AdWords, national advertisers are likely to see increased differentials in traffic quality by location and it would be helpful to get Google’s view of user location for each click easily.

Any other suggestions or interesting uses for the existing tags?  Let us know!

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  • Mark Ballard
    Mark Ballard is Director of Research at RKG.
  • Comments
    6 Responses to “Utilizing AdWords ValueTrack Parameters”
    1. Hey Mark,
      Interesting article (as usual), thanks!

      I’d like to add one thing: Besides the obvious use (tracking), ValueTrack can be used for dynamic landing pages as well. A simple example would be to use {keyword} for an internal search on a website. More exiting: You can use the copy tag in sitelinks to pass information like a keyword or an adgroup ID. If you make use of that information on the website, you can redirect users to the right landing page – your campaign wide sitelinks will have keyword/adgroup specific landing pages.

      Cheers
      Martin

    2. Mark Ballard Mark Ballard says:

      Great ideas, Martin! I can definitely see it being useful to copy/pass the keyword to a Sitelink URL in order to deliver an internal search result on the keyword with additional parameters from the Sitelink like “Clearance Items,” etc. You would have to be careful about sending users to a null result though. Using the adgroup ID would help you avoid that scenario, but it gets a bit more complicated and then you might have to worry about delivering an overly generic result. Interesting stuff to test out though.

      Mark

    3. Andre Kolell says:

      Nice article.

      What I miss are ValueTrack params for Keyword ID and AdGroup ID. We use them to identify the individual keyword later on (so that we do not need to assign our own IDs and map them to Google IDs) but it’s always a big effort to get those Google IDs into the destination URLs (and keep them up to date)…

      I wonder if its possible to identify the unique keyword by solely relying on {keyword}, {matchtype} and {creative} instead!? This would require that it is possible to identify a unique AdGroup based on a Creative’s ID!?

    4. Mark Ballard Mark Ballard says:

      Andre,
      Having keyword ID and adgroup ID ValueTrack params would definitely make it easier to keep track of unique keywords in the scenario you describe. I don’t see the creative ID being a great substitute for adgroup though since it will be impermanent as copy gets updated. Multiple copy versions in the same adgroup would also be a complication. The difficulties you bring up are good reasons why one might want to have internal keyword IDs that are constant even as keywords get moved around and creative gets changed.

    5. Min Lie says:

      How about the actual Search terms used? It’s useful to fine tune our keyword list, and it’s not always available through the http_referer variable (either it’s empty or it doesn’t show the search term).

      Definitely would love to see cpc though it may be distorted by the click fraud analysis.

    6. Pete Owens says:

      Thank for writing this, your article was a great help, I am currently setting up a system to track performance.
      I can’t believe they don’t include ad group… They do now include device which is useful. CPC would be amazing.