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Auto-tagging Adwords and URL Redirects: Please Pass the Gclid

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To pass the gclid or not to pass the gclid, that is the question. At least, if you're trying to tag your AdWords URLs in Google Analtyics it is. On the Google Analytics blog, they're talking about using auto-tagging in Adwords in order to facilitate easy viewing of info in Analytics. But problems may arise if you've got some URL redirecting going on.

Basically, auto-tagging inserts a little snippet of code into destination URLs. But if you have several redirects, the snippet could get stripped. That snippet is "gclid." What happens if the gclid gets snipped?

While Google Analytics still records the visit and the subsequent user activity, it doesn't have the information necessary to properly attribute the visit to your Google ad. As a result, some of this traffic will be included in the "direct" category while other visits may show up as "not set". Furthermore, your Adwords Campaigns report in Google Analytics may show cost metrics, but your visits columns may show zeros.

If this is happening to you, you have two options.

  1. Ask your site administrator to configure their servers to pass the glid
  2. Manually tag your Adwords

So how do you figure out if you're passing the gclid? Follow these steps:

Scenario 1 If your destination URL has no query parameters and looks something like this: www.i_will_redirect_you.com/:

1. Paste this URL in your browser's address bar, but before you press Enter, append "?gclid=test" to the end, like this: www.i_will_redirect_you.com/?gclid=test.

2. Now press Enter.

3. If the gclid is present on the final landing page URL, you're golden.

Scenario 2
If your destination URL already has query parameters and looks something like this: www.i_will_redirect_you.com/?param=a¶m2=b:

1. Paste this URL in your browser's address bar and before pressing Enter, append "&gclid=test" to the end, like this: www.i_will_redirect_you.com/?param=a¶m2=b&gclid=test.

(This is why the "?" and the "&" distinction were important to note earlier. It's a matter of URL syntax. Luckily, auto-tagging knows the difference.)

2. Press Enter.

3. If the gclid is still there, you're in good shape, and need only to enable auto-tagging.

Related Reading:
Rewriting URLs: SEO for CMS, E-Commerce, and Dynamic Sites
Tracking and Analytics 101

Google AdWords 101


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