Being a performance marketer comes with this amazing concept: your job is measured by clear key perfomrance indicators. That’s easy when you work for a fortune 500 company packed with expensive software, data scientists, and an high paid tech team. But in most cases, you are on your own, and must rely on workarounds to piece your data together.

Conversion tracking is a complex, and often misunderstood topic. And yet, without it, our tradecraft wouldn’t be called Performance Marketing. And while you don’t need to master the ins and out of tracking, understanding its fundamental concepts will definitely give you an edge. Whether you’ll spend more time doing marketing, and less tech stuff, or uncover new marketing opportunities, or automate some of your work.

That’s why I’ve put together a non-exhaustive list of essential conversion tracking concepts, in a way that will hopefully make some sense when you come across them.

Since we are marketing people, and any type of marketing flow is like a funnel, I’ve tried to build this list in a “funnel” way, so that each topic is tied to the previous one.

On-site tracking and data

One of the most complex conversion tracking concepts, relates to what happens on your website. And while it’s the easiest to implement, most marketers are often misunderstanding their data.

A funnel

As its name implies, it’s the process of going from one step to another, in a process that is meant to get the visitor closer to complete a desired action like a sale, or a registration.

When a visitor enters your funnel, the first step that will be tracked is the session.

The session

A session is a group of user interactions with your website that take place within a given time frame. For example a single session can contain multiple page views, events, social interactions, and ecommerce transactions.

Google Analytics

A session has a starting point, and will generally end when the visitor leaves your website and doesn’t return within the next 30 minutes (that’s the default setting in Google Analytics).

So when a user starts a session on your site it will trigger various interactions. These interactions are categorized under the term “events”.

Events

Events are actions taken by a visitor on your site. Events can be viewing a page, clicking on an Outbound Link, downloading an eBook, filling an optin form or completing a purchase.

Since an Event can be important or not to your business, analytics providers (like Google Analytics) offer tools to define the triggering rules for specific events.

Tracking pixels

Tracking pixels are JS Tags that are usually set on your website Head section, and that are used to track your website traffic, visitors and conversions.

Google Analytics, Facebook Pixel or Bing UET tag are some of the most popular Tracking pixels. While they track your traffic, they also set first party cookies that enable you to leverage your audience encagements to create meaningful retargeting campaigns.

Conversions

I chose not to start with Conversion topic, since it comes at a later stage of the funnel. To understand the conversions tracking concept, you need to understand where they come from, what triggers them, what is the anatomy of a conversion and what you can or should do with the conversion.

Conversion triggers

Triggers are the “rules” that will signal to your analytics provider that a specific event should be interpreted as a conversion.

Conversion trigger examples:

  • When a visitor reaches a “thank you page”.
  • When a visitor clicks on an Outbound link.
  • When a visitor downloads an ebook.
  • When a visitor completes a purchase.
  • When your AnyTrack subscription renews.
💡 What is AutoTrack?
When you add the AnyTrack Tag on your site, it will automatically send form submission events and Outbound click events to Google Analytics and your other connected Ads and Analytics pixels.

AutoTrack is part of the Redirectless Tracking Feature

*No coding or special configurations required.

In Google Analytics, you can clearly see the difference between Events and Goals.

  • The behavioral tab shoes all events
  • The Conversion tab shoes the conversion goals -and their associated values.

While you can programmatically attach a value to an event, you will probably prefer to set such value with an event triggering a conversion.

In AnyTrack, Outbound Clicks and Form Submissions automatically trigger engagement events. When these events are triggered, they are sent to Google Analytics, Facebook Conversion API, as well as the other pixels you have connected in your account. We call this function: AutoTrack.

Conversion tracking

A conversion is an action, or group of actions, a visitor or user takes on a website or mobile app. Conversion tracking is the ability to capture and report conversions completed.

Wikipedia

In the AnyTrack lingo it’s the ability to track and report an action such as a purchase done by a visitor.

Conversions can happen on your website, over the phone, or on another website or system.

Conversions that happen “away” from your website are often called: Offline Conversions.

Examples of offline conversions:

  1. Sales that are triggered over the phone.
  2. Conversions that are initially tracked in an affiliate program.
  3. Conversions that are triggered by a payment gateway – i.e. when your subscription to Netflix renews.

Yet, while knowing that a conversion happened is very important, it is meaningless if you can’t attribute it to a marketing channel or a keyword.

Conversion data

Conversion data combines every piece of data being generated, sent or received. It includes the visited URLs, the sales value, the product sold, the conversion type, and even the visitor’s browser version, and more.

The conversion data follows some standard formatting so it can be processed by different systems.

When using AnyTrack, a conversion data payload is the combination of the data sent by a conversion data source (affiliate network, ecommerce platform etc…), and the attribution data collected from the traffic sources.

The conversion data is received as a JSON payload or postback URL that includes query string parameters, also called “key value pairs”.

Conversion Attribution

The process of crediting a conversion to a marketing channel (also called traffic source), and the properties of such traffic source.

For example, if Google Ads is a traffic source, the properties might be:

  • The keyword that the user searched before reaching your site.
  • Device: What device the user was on when clicking on your ad.
  • Campaign: The campaign name or ID that the click is associated with.
  • Content: the content that triggered the conversion.
  • Placement: In display campaigns where your ad appeared.

Being able to attribute the conversion to a campaign, provides marketers the insights needed to make informed marketing, financial or product decisions.

Having said that, attribution is probably the most complex aspect surrounding conversion tracking since there are many attribution models.

Attribution models

Essentially the process of defining the rules which will handle the conversion attribution. The most common attribution models known to marketers are the Last Click and First Click attribution.

In affiliate marketing, the common attribution model is the Last Click attribution. In other words, the affiliate who is last to sent the visitor to the merchant will get credited for the conversion.

Here is an example of how the customer journey might happen:

  1. Visitor searches Google for “car insurance”
  2. Visitor reaches a blog about “How to choose a car insurance policy”
  3. At the bottom of the post, there is a table comparing several providers.
  4. Visitor hits one of the providers “AIG”. (this is the first click to the affiliate offer).
  5. Visitor check out the offer, but doesn’t sign up.
  6. Visitor goes back to Google and searches for “Car insurance policy comparison”.
  7. Clicks on a Google Ad saying: “Car insurance providers compared and reviewed”, and lands on a comparison website, reads the full AIG review, and finally clicks on the link to go and sign up for the AIG Offer.

In the “last click” attribution model, the last website to send the visitor to AIG will get credited for the conversion.

In modern marketing, the customer journey is more complex and usually involves additional “touch points”. Following the previous example, since the visitor landed on AIG site, he was probably tagged with the Facebook Pixel, and “retargeted” through Facebook Ads in Instagram, Facebook or the Facebook Audience Network.

Other Attribution models:

Google Analytics is one one of the most powerful attribution platform. Their Multi Channel Attribution feature lets marketers identify the path leading to a conversion. Such path can include organic or paid search, display ads, email marketing, and even mobile marketing.

As such, Google Analytics provides several attribution models that you can apply to your account:

  • Last Interaction
  • Last Non Direct Click
  • Last Google Ads Click
  • First Interaction
  • Linear
  • Time Decay
  • Position Based

You can read more about each of these attribution models on Google Analytics resources.

Querystring parameters

A query string parameter is the first part of the key-value pairs appearing after a “?” on a url. The most common query string parameters that marketers use are the UTM parameters used by Google Analytics (and most analytics platforms) to classify your traffic.

 https://anytrack.io?utm_source=google&utm_medium=cpc

In Affiliate Marketing the query string parameters are usually called “subid” and they are used to pass dynamic values to your offer links. Each affiliate network or software uses a different subid syntax.

Examples of affiliate programs Subid:

  • Hasoffers (Tune): aff_click_id
  • Cake: S1, S2
  • ClickBank: tid
  • Rakuten: u1
  • CJ Affiliates: sid
  • FlexOffers: fobs
 https://anytrack.io?sid=8a0sd8f0asd98f

Subid’s are used by marketers to track and attribute individual interactions, such as clicks, conversions and more.

In order to track each and every individual interaction, the marketer will use a tracking software (such as AnyTrack), which will pass a dynamic parameter into the query string token. ?sid={click_id}

Dynamic parameters

Dynamic parameters are values a tracking or ad server generates at “run time” (i.e. when visitor clicks on your ads). The dynamic parameters are injected into your destination url.

Dynamic parameters are usually injected into tracking tokens such as {keyword} or {campaignid}.

The destination URL can be your website, a landing page, partner URL, a product link, an offer link.

These values are collected and processed by analytics and tracking servers, so that the traffic can be classified and attributed.

One of the most important dynamic parameter is the Click_id which is used to identify a unique click, and attribute the subsequent actions made by the users who clicked on the product link.

In the example below, the Click ID is: xmFyvJdBaboJJ2y2PXnEJg

https://your-affiliate-link.com/aff?offer_id=1&aff_id=456&subid=xmFyvJdBaboJJ2y2PXnEJg

While the click id is unique and randomly generated by the tracking server, it is also internally stored and tied to events, sources, keyword and other traffic attributes.

Simply put, your tracking server can “decrypt” the click_id, while the affiliate platform receiving the click_id can’t.

How is the click_id used?

It is used as a key between the affiliate program and the affiliate tracking software (i.e. Anytrack) to tie conversion data to a unique user interaction.

As opposed to the keyword or offer_id values that can be aggregated into reports, a click_id value represents a single event or a serie of separate events.

The conversion data is substituted into tracking tokens {click_id}, {keyword}, by the third party platform (the affiliate network, ecommerce platform, crm) through API, Postback URL, or webhook.

Tracking tokens (or macros)

Tracking tokens also known as Parameters, Macros, are used by tracking platforms, ad networks or affiliate networks, as placeholders that will be substituted at Run Time, when traffic or conversion data is sent from one server to another.

For example, your Google Ads URL tracking template might look like:

{lpurl}?gclid={gclid}&utm_term={keyword}

At run time, Google Ads will substitute the {tokens} with real values:

https://anytrack.io?gclid=08a0sd9f8a0sd98fasd0f8&utm_term=anytrack

Tracking templates

Tracking templates helps you standardize your data collection and feed your analytics providers with clean data.

Once you set your template on your Google Ads (or other ad networks), all traffic is being tagged with the same parameters.

When visitors land on your website, the AnyTrack TAG, as well as all other tracking scripts capture the tracking parameters passed into your website URL. These parameters are then stored, processed and used for tracking and attribution.

{lpurl}?utm_source=google&utm_medium={ifsearch:cpc}{ifcontent:display}&utm_content={adgroupid}&utm_term={keyword}&campaignId={campaignid}&adGroupId={adgroupid}&feedItemId={feeditemid}&targetId={targetid}&locInterestMs={loc_interest_ms}&locPhysicalMs={loc_physical_ms}&matchType={matchtype}&network={network}&device={device}&deviceModel={devicemodel}&deviceType={ifmobile:mobile}{ifnotmobile:desktop}&campaignType={ifsearch:search}{ifcontent:display}&creativeId={creative}&keyword={keyword}&placement={placement}&category={target}&adPosition={adposition}&gclid={gclid}

We highly recommend to use the templates available for each network, as they enable you to improve your tracking and attribution.

Learn more about Google Ads tracking template here.

User data tracking

First party cookie

A first-party cookie is set by your website when a user visits your site. It allows you to collect customer data, remember various user settings such as language settings, and enable functions that help you provide a good user experience.

For example, when a user visits your website, Google Analytics will set a cookie that will enable you to measure various engagements, including conversions, and ecommerce sales.

As opposed to third party cookies, first party cookies are accessible only by your domain, and are in compliance with strict browser privacy settings.

First party data

First party data is all the data, including cookies, and personal information your site’s visitors provide you.

Based on consent given by your visitors, you can use your first party data to create custom audiences, track conversions, and run retargeting campaigns.

For example, when you enable Google Analytics event tracking, you can create custom audiences based on certain events triggered by your visitors.

Conversion tracking methods

Client-side Tracking

Events are user interactions with content other than page loads (pageviews). Downloads, link clicks, form submissions, and video plays are all examples of actions you might want to analyze as Events.

Definition by Google Analytics

Event tracking is usually implemented with JavaScript or by using tools like Google Tag Manager.

In AnyTrack, Event Tracking is automated by the AutoTrack function, and according to the type of links, and forms the visitor interacts with.

Server-side tracking

Server side tracking is when you send conversiond data from your server to another server. This tracking method is also called postback tracking, server to server tracking, and can be implemented via postback url, webhooks or API.

In AnyTrack server-side tracking is enabled through all integrations

  • Facebook Conversion API – used to send conversion data from AnyTrack to Facebook Pixel
  • Conversion sources integrations like Rakuten, Partnerstack – where conversions are sent from the conversion sources to AnyTrack.

Cross domain tracking

Cross domain tracking is the ability to pass user data across multiple domains in order to keep the user session open and be able to attribute events that happen on the secondary domain(s) to the initial touch point that happened on the first domain.

Cross domain tracking is possible using various technologies – server side and client side – which require a deep instrumentation of client-side and server-side tracking.

A cross domain tracking implementation usually involves passing tracking data when the visitor clicks on an ad, or navigates from the primary domain to the secondary domain. This is commonly called AutoTag.

For example, if you want to use Google Analytics (or an other analytics platform) along with Google Ads, you should enable the AutoTag option and Google Ads will automatically append the gclid parameter to your destination URL.

AutoTag

As it names implies, AutoTag is an automation method that enables marketers to Automatically Tag website elements at run time.

When a website carries the AnyTrack Tag, when a user clicks on a product link, tracking data will automatically be appended to the link according to the specific link requirement.

ClickBank links: ?tid=dynamictrackingdata

CJ Affiliates: sid=dynamictrackingdata

AutoTag is a very important aspect of any marketing flow, as it allows to use a common key to tie user behavior, actions, and first party data. When this common key is generated, and passed from one system to an other, it allows the marketer to track any type of conversion and implement advanced data driven marketing strategies.

Data Driven Marketing

Data driven marketing is the action of leveraging marketing and customer data to activate personalized, timely, and targeted marketing and sales strategies.

In order to implement data driven markeing tactics and strategies, marketers must collect, process, and steam data across their marketing and tech stack. This process is called Marketing Orchestration.

Marketing orchestration

Data orchestration automates data processing. It is usually implemented when marketers use various marketing chnnels, tools, and conversion sources and is required to streamline the data across the marketer’s business.

It is often assimilated to marketing automation which depends on your marketing orchestration.

For example:

In order to use Hubspot marketing automation platform, you need to update Hubspot with the data generated by your sales team, payment system, and marketing campaigns.

Or you can ask yourself:

How can I send an email to my customers when they make a purchase?

  1. Your payment system needs to notify you when a purchase occurs.
  2. You need to take the notification data and upload it to Hubspot
  3. Then you can trigger an automation according to the data uploaded to Hubspot
  4. Then you can use the notification data in your email template (product purchase, price, time etc..)

Marketing automation

As its name implies, marketing automation is the ability to automate marketing actions in order to improve customer satisfaction, acquisition, retention in a scalable and measurable way.

Conversion data takeaways:

This non-exhaustive list of conversion data concept, is key to understand the impact of your data collection, processing, and usage across your marketing. While some of them run independently, others are intimely tied to each others and can empower you with the ability to scale your business, while cutting costs, improving margins, and quickly implementing new marketing angles.

Needless to say that handling and processing customer data has become a sensitive aspect of any digital marketing operations. Whether you are a big ad agency running 10 figures monthly budget, or you run a side hustle, having your customer privacy on top of your mind is essential to avoid any troubles with Facebook, Google, and the likes.

Tips and action items:

  • Take a step back and scope your data pipelines.
  • Select the marketing tools that work with first party data only.
  • Select the marketing tools that can integrate with each others.
  • Learn about Webhooks – as they can help you connect your marketing tools and automate data pipelines.