I often hear from clients concerned that their organic and paid search traffic isn’t adding up. These clients will exhaust multiple resources trying to figure out the problem causing the discrepancy. However, the issue is typically due to one simple problem: improper usage of paid search campaign tagging.

To better understand this issue, it’s helpful to give some background on how Omniture interprets search engine traffic. Search detection in SiteCatalyst relies primarily on the referring URL, which is passed into SiteCatalyst on each page view. If the referrer matches a search engine with its corresponding keyword query parameter (e.g. “http://www.google.com/search?q=web+analytics“), then the referrer and keyword are properly classified.

Search Referral Process

Because the referring URL is the same for both paid and organic click-throughs, all search engine traffic is classified as organic traffic, unless the paid search landing page URL is tagged with a campaign tracking identifier. When a paid search campaign is not tagged, or the paid search detection filters in SiteCatalyst are not setup properly, search engine traffic is not segmented correctly. As a result, organic and paid search traffic numbers will not be accurate.

Improper reporting of search traffic can cause major problems for execution, planning, and budgeting of your search marketing programs. This can often lead to the misappropriation of large (sometimes multi-million dollar) paid search campaign budgets. For this reason, paid search should be tagged and tracked like any other campaign. For more details on general campaign tracking see Adam “Omni_man” Greco’s recent post about the value of campaign tracking and how to track them effectively in SiteCatalyst.

Tagging your paid search campaigns involves just a few steps:

  • Step 1: Create paid search identifier: Decide on a scalable tracking identifier that web analysts and search marketers can both agree upon. The simpler the tracking code the better:
    • Example: http://www.yourdomain.com?kwid=widgets
  • In the example above, the “kwid” query string parameter will be used to identify paid search referrals.
  • Step 2: Setup the paid search detection filter
    • Log in to the Omniture Suite.
    • Click Admin > Report Suites
    • Select the desired report suite.
    • Click Edit Settings.
    • Select General.
    • Click Paid Search Detection. Once in this section you can setup paid search detection rules with your designated query string identifier.

Paid Search Detection setting in SiteCatalyst

  • Step 3: Deploy paid search tracking on all destination URLs: Once you’ve decided on a paid search identifier and set them up properly in SiteCatalyst, you need to deploy these tracking codes on all of your paid search landing pages (destination URLs):
    • Examples:
      • http://www.yourdomain.com?kwid=widgets
      • http://www.yourdomain.com?kwid=cranks
      • http://www.yourdomain.com?kwid=gears
  • In this example, I’ve included the paid search identifier, “kwid” followed by a basic keyword value (i.e. widgets, cranks, gears, etc…). This level of tracking can be expanding to include ad groups, text ad ids, etc… The manual process of updating destination URLs is a time-consuming yet worthwhile task that ensures SiteCatalyst can properly identify your paid search traffic. It’s important to note that SearchCenter automates this process by tagging all landing page URLs for you.
  • Step 4: Regular follow-up with Search Marketing Team: Once you’ve fully deployed your paid search tracking codes, frequently validate their maintenance with your search marketing team. Many of the problems with inaccurate paid/organic search tracking come from the mismanagement or omission of tracking codes on destination URLs. This can be easily avoided through regular follow-up.

The issue of paid search tagging may seem simple and obvious to some, but just one misstep can lead to major inaccuracies in your data. Follow these recommendations and you can sleep soundly knowing that you are properly tracking and classifying your search engine traffic.

As a senior consultant for Omniture Consulting Services, Jordan LeBaron leads SEO consulting services, providing Omniture clients guidance on site optimization strategies and leveraging their web analytics to drive their SEO efforts. Follow Jordan on Twitter or connect with him on LinkedIn.

16 comments
abid
abid

should "sa" be set as a paid detection filter as well. When I hove over ppac ads on Google I see "sa" as a variable that google seems to use for their ads

InteMarket
InteMarket

Does this paid search detection require that getqueryparam is implemented? If not, how does Sitecatalyst get the URL parameter? Also, what's this q= for Google. Never seen that before.

Jordan LeBaron
Jordan LeBaron

You will only see this login if you're an Admin user. You can speak with your Account Manager about the steps needed to make a change.

Edwin
Edwin

I do not see Admin > Report Suites under my account. Is a setting missing in my setup? Please advise.

Video Character
Video Character

I am really new with this organic and paid search detection. I know it has been out for so long but I haven't tried it yet. How can you explain it to me in simple terms. Hope you can help. Thanks!

Emily
Emily

Hi Jordan: We're having trouble with natural search terms not being picked up by Omniture if the user entered a special character in their search. Do you know of anything we can do to resolve this? Using your example above, let's say the user searched for "web analytics & omniture" and clicked on a natural search result. The following would query string would be passed: http://www.google.com/search?q=web+analytics+%26+omniture... It seems, however, that only the "web analytics" search term would show up in the Search Keywords - Natural report in SiteCatalyst. Do you have any thoughts on how to address this issue? Thanks!

marshall
marshall

I setup a kwid identifier under a Keyword category for the SAINT classifications. Now, when I select keyword from the file menu, I get kwid and the number of instances. Will it not show the actual keyword in that campaign report, just that kwid occurred the corresponding number of times that a paid keyword was detected?

Jordan LeBaron
Jordan LeBaron

Jason: If Paid Search Detection isn't setup, all traffic (Paid or Organic) will get tracked, but will get dumped into the "Search - All" traffic buckets

Jason
Jason

If the 'paid search detection' has not been activated, and someone clicks on an un-tagged Google AdWords Ad, does the click even get logged? if so, where does it go?

Jordan LeBaron
Jordan LeBaron

Melissa: you would need to write a script to detect when the referrer is a search engine and then fire off an event. We have some solutions available through Omniture Consulting and/or our Engineering Services Team that can do this, you can reach out to your Account Manager for more information

Melissa
Melissa

Hi, I would like to set up a cusom event whenever someone comes in from search (regardless paid or organic). How can I determine that a referrer is a search engine? Thank you, Melissa

Jordan LeBaron
Jordan LeBaron

Rob: from the "Search Keywords - Natural Report" you can breakdown the keyword by "Traffic Sources > Search Engine - Natural". If you have any problems you can call ClientCare to walk you through these steps.

Rob G.
Rob G.

All set-up. Now, how do I get a report that shows natural verses paid-search keywords by search engine? (Thought I'd find such a report in traffic > finding methods > all search keywords)

Jordan LeBaron
Jordan LeBaron

Hans: setting up the identifier in the Paid Search Detection menu will ensure that your Traffic Sources reports are accurate - and the results will still appear in your Campaign Reports. Adam: Organic Search reporting is enabled out-of-the-box, however, you do need to setup the Paid Search Detection identifier for your search traffic to move from the Search - All reports, to Paid and Natural reports.

Adam
Adam

Stupid question: Isn't organic search enabled out-of-the-box?

Hans
Hans

Hello, we have set up our Google Adwords Campaigns with Omniture tracking links (identifier cid=). The results appear in the Campaigns Reports. Should we set-up this identifier in the paid search detection menu? Will the referrers then still appear in the campaign reports, too?