Do you really know if your advertising is profitable?  I mean really as in proof using cold hard facts, not a gut feeling..

Or are you managing your ads more like John Wanamaker who famously said, “Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted; the trouble is I don’t know which half”?

John Wanamaker Quote

If you’re using traditional advertising like direct mail, print, TV, and radio, then chances are good you don’t really know.  That’s because it’s not as easy to track those types of ads compared to digital advertising.

The mailman isn’t going to send you stats after delivering your mailer to tell you how many were successfully delivered, opened, and read… And no magazine or newspaper is going to send you stats about how many people turned to the page with your ad, read it, and then went to your website to learn more. :)

In other words, tracking traditional (offline) advertising is not as easy as tracking digital advertising campaigns.  That’s the bad news.

The good news is that it’s not impossible!  In fact, you can use the same tool you’re likely already using to track your digital advertising – Google Analytics!


How Can Google Analytics Can Track Offline Ads?

I know what you’re thinking, how can a tool that measures your website traffic and user behavior track offline ads?  That’s a fair question and the truth is that this is not going to work for every single type of ad.  For example, if your ad does not encourage prospects to go to your website or call, then this will not work.

I’ll repeat that so we’re all on the same page.  This will only work for ads that have a call to action to visit your website or call.  For many businesses, all ads probably fit that criteria already, and if they don’t then it wouldn’t take much effort to edit them.  For example, if you’re offering a special promotion or discount coupon, then encourage prospects to go to a unique webpage to learn more and/or get the coupon.

Now it should be more clear how Google Analytics will help you track offline ads, but there’s a bit of setup work required before this will work…


You Must Label the Traffic From Each Advertisement

If I was to go directly to your website after reading one of your ads, then by default, Google Analytics would label my visit as a “Direct” visit.  That’s because I would have typed your website URL into the browser and there would be no way for Google Analytics to know which ad I read before coming to your website.

With digital advertising, this is not a big issue because Google Analytics can automatically label traffic from organic SEO, or from social media sites like Facebook or Twitter.  However, there is no way to automatically track visits that come from offline ads because all of that traffic looks the same and will be labeled as “Direct” visits in your reports.

The solution to this problem is to use the URL Builder.  The URL Builder is a form you fill out in order to label the traffic from each of your different advertisements.  Once you complete the form, then the tool will give you a new URL to use in your ads.

URL Builder

But there’s a catch…

The tracking URLs from the URL Builder are ugly and too long to include in an ad! Here’s an example tracking URL that I just created:

As you can see, there’s no way you could include that URL in a print ad or try to say that during a TV or radio ad. That’s why there’s one more step…


Now Make Your Tracking URLs Pretty

The final step is to make your tracking URLs pretty by using one of the following two methods:

  1. vanity domain
  2. URL shortener tool

The most accurate way to track is to use what’s called a vanity domain.  A vanity domain is a domain that you buy for the sole purpose of tracking your offline advertising.  For example, in my long, ugly tracking URL example above the link is for a free Google Analytics checklist.  Rather than using that long URL, I could instead purchase the domain and have that domain forward to the long, ugly tracking URL.

Did you catch that?

The vanity domain is not a new website that you create; It’s just a domain that you can purchase from GoDaddy for $12/year that then automatically forwards to the tracking URL you set up using the Google Analytics URL Builder.

Again, this is the best option, but if you don’t want to set up a vanity domain, then you can use a URL shortener tool.  For example, or or the PrettyURL WordPress plugin.  All of those will work to shorten your URL, but the first two, and will create a link that does not include your real domain.  The PrettyURL plugin will include your domain, but many people will not type in the additional letters after your domain so you’ll lose accuracy with your tracking.


What About Phone Calls?

I mentioned earlier that Google Analytics will even work to track phone calls from your offline ads.  To make this work, you’ll need to sign up and purchase a phone number from a call tracking solution like Convirza or Dialogtech.  These tools have integrations with Google Analytics so when phone calls are made to certain numbers you can trigger a Conversion (or Goal) in Google Analytics.  This allows you to track in Google Analytics how many calls were made as a result of your offline ads.


Want More Help With Google Analytics?

Click here to download my Ultimate Google Analytics Checklist