How to use Google Analytics to Track Printed Media Marketing Campaigns.

The internet is filled with valuable information about how to effectively market your brand online and measure each channel’s performance. But what about when distributing printed products such as presentation folders and printed ring binders? How do you measure the return on investment for offline marketing campaigns?

This article provides invaluable hints and tips on using technologies like Variable Data Printing to track and measure the return on investment for offline print campaigns, through Google Analytics.

In today’s digital economy, determining the success of your offline marketing campaigns has become much easier to track, with tools like Google Analytics. Your printed, offline marketing campaigns can be tracked and measured with pinpoint accuracy, with the clever use of cutting-edge technologies such as Variable Data Printing and URL Tracking.

The initial set-up process is quite complex, but if it is done correctly, you will be able to track the ROI on every penny of your marketing budget spent. We will not be going into too much detail on Analytics, however for further information, there are some great articles by Avinash Kaushik – Click here.

First of all you, need to understand the technologies involved in making this happen.

First of all you need to understand the technologies involved in making this happen.

[sections] [section title=”What is Variable Data Printing:”]

Many marketers have become wary of using print because of the uncertainty of generating a positive return on investment (ROI). Determining the success of print campaign and the positive ROI has been traditionally difficult often raising more questions.


This is where the magic of digital print processes, such as variable data printing and online campaign traffic form the perfect synergy.


Variable-data printing (VDP) is a printing process that allows any elements, such as text, images and colours to be changed from one printed piece to another without slowing down the process or stopping the printing press. The data for VDP is stored in a database or CSV file. VDP has been used primarily for Customer Relationship Management (CRM), advertising, direct marketing and postcard campaigns to personalise each communication.

Variable-data printing in recent years has become more familiar to business owners and individuals due to the increased popularity of personlised business cards from companies such as “”. Moo allows business owners to vary the imagery on the back of the business card making each business card unique. This concept has been very popular amongst the photographic and creative industries as a way to showcase their work.

However, if you market your brand at conferences or exhibitions by handing out presentation folders, brochures, business cards and pamphlets or even promote on billboards and leave flyers in your local community shops, how do you track their impact, marketing results and ultimately return on investment (ROI)? Many businesses lack the knowledge to be able to track cold B2B marketing or B2B direct response marketing to calculate the ROI. This post will show you various techniques which can be applied to print that track the results online using tools like Google Analytics.

[/section] [section title=”URL Tracking:”]

A tracking Uniform Resource Locator (URL) is a custom / special URL used to track data when a is visited or clicked on. URL tracking helps to understand the conversion rates and therefore ROI of a campaign and where the clicks / visits are coming from.

Before getting into the techniques used for print it is important to understand how to track campaigns in Google Analytics. Google custom campaigns (UTM) allow you to add tracking parameters to any URL in order to collect more information about the source and medium of the referral traffic. The source of traffic is the place the visitor has come from and the medium is the method used for how to arrive.

For example you may want to track how many people visited your website at a conference from the website address printed on the presentation folder or from the business card to see which paper medium was more effective.

Custom campaigns allow you to set up advanced reports in order to measure conversions and revenue, if you have assigned a value to each goal, from each campaign.

Getting started with Google custom campaigns is simple as Google provide a URL builder to help you append URL variables to your URL: Google UTM Builder

As an example, let’s assume your business is an educational business that has a stand at a large industry conference that was promoting a buy one get one free offer (BOGOF). In order to understand how many people visit your website from your literature and offer you set up a custom campaign tracking URL:

The problem with the above URL is that people would not type the long URL in order to visit the website. However if you shorten the URL i.e. or then people are very likely to visit the URL. There are several methods that can be implemented to achieve shortened URL’s. These are vanity URL’s using 301 Permanent or 302 Temporary redirects or URL Shortening (explained later in this guide).

Kiss Metrics Guide to using UTM Parameters
Google Support – Parameter URLs
Tracking Campaigns with Kiss Metrics

[/section] [section title=”Redirects / Vanity URLs”]

Vanity URLs are domain names or URLs created to point to something which is related or indicative of the situation, product, place, person or name. The concept is very similar to personalised URLs. In business many companies use vanity URL’s to point to a specific page or microsite. Traditionally they are used to make a URL easier to remember and related as opposed to a random link.

As an example there is a small business network in the UK called 4Networking. If Showcase Creative attended 4Networking then we could create the Vanity URL:

Creating vanity URLs are achieved by creating 301 or 302 redirects. A redirect simply redirect the website visitor seamlessly from one URL to another. Below are a list of free resources to help you generate a 301 or 302 redirects:

If you are using WordPress or any other CMS there are multiple plugins that will allow you to create a 301 redirect using a GUI (Graphical User Interface). The plugin we recommend for WordPress is Pretty Links, there is also a premium version available.

In order to understand the step by step process on how to set up redirect to be tracked correctly in Google Analytics there is a helpful guide by Lane Vance: Tracking 301 redirect with Google Analytics

[/section] [section title=”Shortened URL’s”]

Using a long URL with parameter tracking on print is a good idea for two mains reasons (a) it is not memorable and (b) there is limited room for text especially on items such as business cards. Therefore, a way to make the link more digestible and printable is to shorten the URL’s.

A shortened URL is the same as a re-direct but uses a shortened domain. There are two main options hosted and self hosted. These are explained below:


These are 3rd party services that allow you to enter a URL and you are provided a shortened URL. The disadvantages to these services are that you have no control over the permalink (the text after the domain and trailing slash) and you also do not control how long the link will remain live. However, they provide a convenient solution that require no installation. Below are a few popular services that utilise hosted shortened URLs:
Google URL Shortener
Tiny URL


A self-hosted solution provides three distinct advantages. The first is that you can select your own shortened domain. As an example here at Showcase we could have purchased the URL (although this is already registered) this would allow our shortened URL to remain on brand and give continuity and familiarity to the shortened URL. The second advantage is the ability to select your own permalink. If Showcase were attending the Publishing and Media Expo we could set up a shortened URL, for example,: this again would give continuity to the context / environment in which the receiver picked up a presentation folder with an offer. Lastly, being self-hosted the link will remain live until you remove it and you can re-direct it to another URL if you want to change offers. Below is an example of our recommended service:

If you are looking for more information on which method of URL shortening to use I suggest reading this article on which URL shortening service should you use.
Search Engine Land – Which URL Shortening Service Should You Use

Creating Vanity URL’s and Shortened URL’s works well on print using VDP. It allows the same presentation folder or ring binder print template to be used across multiple events, people or franchises. This allows you to benefit from volumes of scale and larger discounts whilst tracking for each individual event of sales person.

[/section] [section title=”QR Codes”]

QR codes (Quick Response Codes) are a type of barcode with greater storage than a standard barcode that can be read quickly and efficiently. QR Codes can be read by many smart phones, a large number of which now come installed with QR readers. Effectively the smart phone uses its inbuilt camera to scan the barcode converting it into a data standard such as a URL or VCard (virtual business card). Over the few years QR codes have become increasing popular as they allow a user to simply scan and visit a URL for a specific campaign. This alleviates the need to shorten URL’s as above that could be open to human error when typing into a desktop of mobile internet browser.

In order to track QR codes through print and utilise VDP a tracking URL needs to be created. This process is exactly as described at the beginning of the article (Click here to be taken to the relevant section). Once a campaign tracking URL is created in Google Analytics or another package then simply visit one of the two free tools listed below that will then generate your QR code image.

QR code VDP opens up a lot of opportunity to track and monitor ROI of print media including presentation folders. To set up an advanced campaign for direct mail of presentation folders you would first need to segment your database into segments of similar interests, demographics or business industries. Then you would need to create multiple landing pages for each of these segments. Once created a QR code can be generated for each landing page URL and then these can be applied onto print using variable data printing.

[/section] [section title=”Landing Pages”]

One of the most effective ways to track offline promotions is to use a custom landing page that has been specifically created to support the offline marketing campaign. By using a bespoke landing page you can target the landing page to support the offer on the ad or the context where the offline marketing campaign was delivered.

For example, if you were a food manufacturer who attended a food tradeshow and you used presentation folders to support your wholesale price listing. You could have a URL that points to a bespoke landing page specifically for that conference. The landing page would support any special offers you may have presented on the day, have a contact / conversion form to request free samples and give continuity to the event where they met you thanking them for talking the time to talk to you. This continuity will lead to more conversions and ultimately more revenue.

To see how many people visited your customer landing page from your offline marketing activities in Google Analytics go to:

  • Content
  • Site Content
  • Landing Pages

There you will be able to view analytics information about the number of site visits, duration of visit and conversion. Even better, set up a tracking URL that has been redirect or shortened to monitor campaign activity. You can then use Goals (when a user completes a specific action) and onClick tracking events (onclick event occurs when the user clicks on an element) to see how many conversions you received. This will allow your business to see how many people enter the funnel and how many people leave the funnel before conversion.

Idiots Guide to Event Tracking

Google Analytics Event Tracking Guide

There are several ways to set up customer landing pages. You could either hire a designer and developer or set up a landing page template in WordPress or use an online WYSIWYG service.

Here are 4 examples of the most popular online landing page creation tools:

Below are just a few pointers when setting up your landing page to maximise conversions:
Keep the URL Short: Long URL’s are not instantly memorable, easily forgotten and therefore do not have the word of mouth advantage. To help this consider the vanity URL / Shortened URL process described above.
Use each URL once: It is important not to use the same URL for multiple purposes and events. Using it for multiple purposes means you will be unable to calculate your ROI

NoIndex tag your landing pages

It is important when measuring ROI to make sure the landing page is not contaminated with organic or paid traffic also if you are creating multiple versions of the same landing page with slightly modified content then you may be penalised for duplicate content. You can either do this in your CMS or simple add the following in to the site header < meta name=”robots” content=”no index” >.

Do not use the URL for Paid Search

Make sure any URL used for offline marketing does not have a duplicate purpose such as being used for paid search. By doing this it will not allow you to track the campaign effectively and objectionably measure the ROI.
Include trust indications: Trust indicators and social signals are important. Remember to include testimonials, images of brands you have worked with and a telephone number.

[/section] [section title=”URL Variable”]

It is possible to set up a single landing page that is customised to each niche, conference or training course that can be tracked as an independent campaign. This can be achieved through using custom URL Variables. This is where data is passed through the URL to auto populate / modify content on a page. It is therefore possible to have one URL that will pass variables giving context to the users and then use Google’s UTM (Urchin Tracking Module is the format/coding used by Google to track unique urls) Campaign tracking to separately track the campaign source. A excellent tutorial is shown below:

HTML Lesson HTML Variable Parsing

[/section] [section title=”Discount / Coupon Codes”]

Discount codes are another simple weapon in your arsenal for tracking offline marketing efforts online.. It is a tactic used by many companies in printed media such as magazines and newspapers.
As an example: Use offer code “NEWSPAPERNAME25″ for an additional 25% off your order.

Discount codes are not exclusive to e-commerce. It is usual for companies to have “reference codes” that you quote to an operator or on a contact in order to receive a discount off of a quotation. The same principal applies, by tracking these reference codes you are able to track the effectiveness of an offline marketing campaign.

Tracking of these codes can either be done in your CMS, manually or through an analytics package.
CMS Tracking – e-commerce platforms, such as Magento, and e-commerce plugins, such as WooCommerce, allow you to track the use of discount codes on an order. A simple report can be generated within the CMS to show the number of discounts and total number of orders. This metric should allow your business to measure the return on investment of the campaign.

Manual Tracking- if your business if providing bespoke quotations then it is important your sales team use a CRM that allows capture of custom data. As an example a CRM system such as Salesforce allows a custom field to be created that is a drop down of reference / discount codes. When a customer quotes a code the operator is easily able to enter the code. Once again like the CMS a report can be extracted to allow you to see the total volume and percentage of sales that used the code to work out the ROI of the offline marketing campaign.

Analytics Tracking – Google Analytics allows tracking of discount codes through custom variables. An excellent article by Justin Cutroni provides all the information you require.

[info]Below are just a few pointers on how to effectively generate and track discount codes:

  • Be memorable and relational – Make the coupon code relate to the medium or place it is being shown and to reflect the offer. It not only makes it easier for you to immediately recognise the code but also for your potential customers to remember
  • Record your discount code – Keep a record of the discount codes and where they are being used. This can be as simple as a Google Doc or text or spreadsheet document, designed so you can avoid using them elsewhere and know where they were used.
  • Set Up Google Alerts – Set up a Google Alert (more information here) for your discount code. It is quite common for discount codes to be picked up by a consumer and posted onto offer sites and forums. If you use the custom variables tracking in Google Analytics you can combine this with the referral source reporting in order to understand the source of te majority of your leads / sales and which campaign.[/info][/section][/section] [section title=”Call Tracking”]

Call tracking software records information about the source of the originating phone call but not the conversation itself. Tracking calls can therefore allow performance based advertising of print media providing the ability to track, monitor and test ROI. Call tracking for print will allow a user to track, monitor and measure the originating source of the printed media.

Below are two separate examples of how to use static call tracking in print:

Geographic conferences

It is quite common for companies to exhibit at difference conferences throughout the UK. It may not be suitable or cost effective to set up multiple landing pages. However, the company may still want to track the ROI of print media from each conference. In this example the company could set up static geographic specific numbers. Let’s say the company is exhibiting in Birmingham and London. Two tracking numbers could be set up, one with a London dialling code and one with a Birmingham dialling code. This would allow the company to have the same printed presentation folder but track each conference performance separately via telephone call statistics. This method combined with a unique tracking URL would allow the company to track exactly the conversions and ROI from each conference hand out. The other added benefit is it gives local company feel.

Segmentation of Marketing

Similar to the example above a company wants to do a direct mail to its current clients. The company could set up two (or more) tracking numbers with the same geographic dialling code but different number endings,therefore, effectively tracking the conversions and ROI of each segment.
There are a number of call tracking firms throughout the UK and rest of the world but it is important that they integrate with Google Analytics. A list of call tracking services can be found here: Google Analytics Call Tracking
Two that we recommend:
Response Tap
Infinity Call Tracking

[/section] [section title=”Conversion Rate Optimisation”]

Conversion Rate Optimisation (CRO) is a process of creating different experiences for a split number of users to measure against and control any increase or decrease in conversion rate (desired action to be taken). CRO can make a considerable difference in the ROI of a campaign and can be done both online and through offline printed media.

There are two types of conversion rate optimisation, One that utilises VDP and one that does not.

VDP Conversions Rate Optimisation

VDP (Variable Data Printing) allows a user to split test a campaign by printing different URL’s, call tracking numbers or QR codes on a split percentage of presentation folders or other printed media. It is possible to have two different offers on a folder that track to two different landing pages and telephone numbers. If you had 1000 folders you could split 50/50 and have 500 folders with each offer.

By utilising VDP for conversion rate optimisation it is possible to track both the click through per visit and also the conversion of each offer to a qualified lead. This will allow the calculation of ROI for each split test campaign / offer / call to action or design of the presentation media. The potential list of split tests are endless on printed media using VDP. One word of caution is to make sure you have a sample size large enough for statistical analysis.

Online Conversion Rate Optimisation

Online conversion rate optimisation directs a user to a specific URL to the control or page variants in order to test specific onsite changes. A small amount of Javascript installed on the website will direct a user either to a different URL (Google Experiments – Google’s split testing solution) or display a different version of a web page on load. In the past few years there have been an increase in the amount of WYSIWYG services that allow easy creation of split tests, these include Visual Website Optimizer and Optimizely. Alternatively Google Analytics have conversion rate testing build in in the form of Google Experiments, however this requires the creation of a secondary page and not a simply WYSIWYG editor from the current page.

A list of conversion rate optimisation tools:

Online conversion rate optimisation can be combined with VDP to be able the test of specific onsite call to actions or complete landing page redesigns in order to test and maximise future marketing spend.



As you can see from the above articles, there are numerous ways to effectively track print media online, through free services such as Google Analytics. These online services provide a huge opportunity for businesses to track, monitor and measure accurately their offline marketing spend and correlate a direct return on investment. It should be noted that you can also combine all the above methods and use Variable Data Printing to achieve volumes of scale and reduce the print costs. We have provided an example below of how to tie it all together.

How to put it all together:

So here is the scenario: your business is attending a large, national trade show. At the trade show, all the visitors have been given a barcode on their lanyard which allows you to scan them when they visit your stand. There are several types of print media on the stand: flyers / leaflets, white papers and presentation folders.

Each print medium has been designed for a different marketing purpose. The flyers and white papers are self-serve marketing documents that require a simple tracking URL and tracking number. If you have two different offers available at the trade show, it would allow you to track and measure the ROI of each individual offer.

However, the presentation folder and further details can be distributed to those stand visitors that your sales team has had direct interaction with. Since the visitor has an individual barcode with their information, imagine the marketing potential of being able to track the presentation folder and further media given to that individual?

Here is a step-by-step process on how to achieve this:

  1. Decide how many printed folders you will require for the trade show. This in itself is one of the most challenging decisions, however as a general rule of thumb, it is best to have too many than too few.
  2. Generate your landing page. This is key to increasing your conversion rate. Design a landing page that shows continuity in the marketing message, welcoming them from the trade show and reinforcing the offer that was presented to them at the stand.
  3. Create tracking URL’s. Visit Google UTM Campaign URL Creator for more information.
  4. Download our spreadsheet which will add a variable onto each URL.
  5. Generate QR codes from these URL’s.
  6. Create your VDP database that associated the QR codes generated with each URL.
  7. Print the presentation folders.

At the trade fair, use a scanning solution to associate the barcode of the visitor to the QR code of the presentation folder that you have handed out. Then when the stand visitor goes to your website or scans the QR code, their visit will be recorded. Therefore you can measure the conversion rate of the visitors and further track those who complete a call to action, such as calling you or completing the contact form.

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