Why Tracking Links (UTM) In Offline Materials Can Be Harmful

Why Tracking Links (UTM) In Offline Materials Can Be Harmful

Tracking links is an essential part of any digital marketing campaign, and indeed bigger business set ups will track every single link using UTM parameters in order to accurately analyse the source, medium and campaign.

The fact that utilising tracking links has become so ingrained in standard procedures is a brilliant indicator of the growing necessity of digital. But sometimes companies are guilty of going one step too far which leads to false negatives and potentially harmful consequences.

What do we mean?

Well if you can track something, you would thing that you definitely should do it, right?


You can absolutely use short links in offline communications and those short links can redirect to a tracking link, but doing so is a bad idea for one main reason.

It’s not common practice for people to see a link written down and then type it in their browser letter for letter.

And because it’s not common, this means that the number of people who do it will be very small. This means that the results you get back will almost always be disappointing.

In fact, when people are inspired to read more online, the majority will simply search for the company name plus the specific topic. This is a much more efficient way to get the content you are looking for.

Flyer with link
Don’t tell me you wouldn’t just Google “Concerts at the park”!

The exception is where a company gives a discount or incentive to using that link. Say “10% off if you use this link” for example. Users are then much more likely to visit that link, but mostly you’re not looking to give out discounts left, right and centre.

The harmful impact comes when you start interpreting these results and making changes based on them.

As with all digital metrics you absolutely should use them to inform your future campaigns. With offline links you take the big risk of making changes to your campaigns based on false information. It may look like something wasn’t effective because few people visited the tracking link you used, when in fact it could have been widely successful but the traffic came under the “organic” or “direct” channel paths.

So how can I measure offline performance?

It’s very hard to measure offline performance since we lack control over everything. However, there are a few things you can do to help out.

These will give you some kind of insight but they should always be taken with a pinch of salt.

Use Google Analytics annotations

If you are to send a mailing out or have people flyering for example, these will have a specific date or period for promotion.

When you estimate the date in which the mailing lands or the flyering was done, you can make an annotation in your Google Analytics account to note that the activity occurred on this day.

Theoretically you should be annotating most activities that could have an impact on your traffic, and this is a great example of why. You can look back at the amount of traffic you received on that day or the following days and you can start to theorise that increases in organic or direct traffic were a result of the offline promotion.

These will only be crude numbers but it can give an indication.

Plan your campaigns around locations

If you have the time and resource to be able to plan your offline activities more intricately then you can promote your campaigns one location at a time.

If you were to target a mailing at people in just one city on one week then you can use your Google Analytics geo data reports to look at increases in traffic from that specific region.

This is slightly more accurate than the former recommendation because only specific geographical targeting would cause a huge uplift in only one specific region and no others.

Be creative using these principles

Of course, geography is just one of the metrics you can measure in Google Analytics. Using these principles you could theoretically use any of the metrics to help you target and measure more effectively.

You can use gender or age range for example. Take a look at the various pieces of information you are picking up about your users in Google Analytics and see how you could apply them to your offline marketing campaign.


Of course it can be incredibly frustrating that there is a huge limit on the amount of tracking you can do with anything that happens offline.

However, companies have faced this problem for decades. Not knowing how a billboard, poster or TV ad campaign accurately translated to sales is annoying but it’s the way it is. As all big brands will tell you, integrated marketing and general brand awareness has a huge unmeasurable impact on the growth of sales.

If you have a boss demanding that you track offline materials, just send them a link to this article and hopefully that will convince them and make your life a little bit easier!

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