An Introduction to Website Link Tracking

Figuring out where referrals to your website are coming from is one of the first steps to getting smart about internet activities for your business. In this introduction, you’re going to learn the basics of link tracking.

I’m going to run through the following:

  • What is link tracking?
  • Why is link tracking important?
  • Ways to track website links
  • What link tracking tools are available?
  • How should I get started with link tracking?

What is Link Tracking?

Put simply, link tracking is what you do to monitor and analyse what the sources are for visits to your website. In other words, with link tracking you can get an idea where people are finding out about your content and clicking on a link to visit your site.

Think of it like this. Say you have a conversation with a potential customer for your business. For example, say they ring you up on the phone or come in and visit to see if you have a certain product or service they are looking for. During the conversation, you ask “where did you find out about us?”. To which they might reply “Oh, a friend referred me to you” or “I saw your ad in the local newspaper”. Well, link tracking is a way finding out the answer to that question for visitors of your website, i.e. “where did you find out about us?”, without having to ask the question to them directly.

Why is Link Tracking Important?

In a nutshell, link tracking helps you understand where visitors to your website are coming from. This is important for all sorts of reasons, including:

To Know if Your Marketing is Working

With well-functioning link tracking, you can find out which of your marketing activities are working and which are not.

If you use link tracking on all your marketing campaigns, you can get a picture over time about which ones bring back the most visitors to your site and which bring in the least.

To Understand What Type of Content Works

Link tracking helps you understand the types of information and content that drives people to your website. When it comes to the attributes of your internet content, there are so many variations to consider. For example, features of your content could include:

  • Titles
    • Short or long?
    • Scary or funny?
    • Shock-and-awe vs factually-accurate?
    • etc.
  • Content Type
    • Tutorial
    • News
    • Essay
    • Opinion
    • Reviews
    • Entertainment
    •  etc.
  • Format
    • Text
    • Image
    • Video
    • etc.
  • Platform
    • Email
    • Referral
    • Blog
    • Info Product
    • Directory
    • News
    • Podcast
    • Static Site
    • Education
    • Forum
    • Video
  • Etc.

Do you get the idea? There are so many techniques available out there. You’re flying blind, or shooting in the dark, if you don’t try and find out what type of content connects most with your potential customers.

To Stay Current

Over time, trends emerge and evolve. What was popular and interesting today, is so passé tomorrow. This is just as true with internet content.

You will find that some material out there on the internet increases and decreases in popularity as sure as the seasons change. Tracking your links can help you spot trends and stay current with them.

To Know Your Best Customer Types

Can you answer the following questions: what sort of potential customers are the most likely to pay attention to you? If you know the answer to that one, is it a gut-feel or are you basing the information on facts? If there is a shift in customer types paying attention to you, how and when will you know about it? Are there other types of potential customers out there that you don’t know about?

To Get More for Your Money

The more you know about the most effective sources of visitors to your website, the more you can refine your marketing and link building activities over time.

This sort of information is great since it helps you get more bang for your buck so-to-speak. You can focus on spending more resources on things that are actually working. It makes you a lot smarter in your marketing efforts. Rather than just “having a go” with random marketing efforts, you can zero-in on techniques and sources that have been giving you the best results so far.

Generating new visitors to your website takes time, effort and resources. Your goal is to get the most you can from what you have available.

How Can I Track My Website Links?

There are basically three ways you can track your links:

  1. No Link Tracking
  2. Passive Link Reviewing
  3. Active Link Tracking

No Link Tracking

I suspect that given you are reading this, ignoring link tracking isn’t something you are considering. However, this is quite a common strategy, believe it or not!

Many people out there simply blast their website links far and wide to as many locations as possible. This is equivalent to shotgun marketing, something we have also discussed here on Smart Business Guardian. While it can work in particular circumstances, it isn’t that effective for most situations.

Passive Link Reviewing

One way to move a step up from no-link-tracking is to start investigating data held by external link analysis companies about links to your website.

Most websites on the public internet are accessible for scanning and indexing. Some companies are in the business of scanning and indexing all the websites out on the internet and using the information they gather to create their own link-related information products.

Website owners can visit these companies and utilise the available services to get reports about their own website links. This is effectively passive link reviewing.

Without doing much yourself, you can find out about where links to your website exist and other such related information.

While this is a step-up from doing nothing at all about link tracking, in this scenario, you are limited to the information that these external companies have available. The knowledge you usually get using passive link reviewing is usually quite plain. It requires you to make your own guesses and interpretations about the available data.

Active Link Tracking

Active link tracking is when you take specific steps to ensure each link to your website published on the internet is identifiable in some way. Once your link tracking is established, you review your results regularly and gradually improve your content creation and sharing techniques using the plan-do-check-act cycle.

Rather than putting out a plain old standard link such as:

… you tailor the link, so it can be identified as coming from a particular source. This is done using a form of link tracking code that gets included into your link in some way, such as:

Then, back on your own website, you integrate some form of tool that recognizes these link tracking codes. Whenever someone visits your site by clicking on one of your links that includes these codes, your website takes steps to record the details for you. Usually, this is done by connecting your website to a third-party link tracking service.

You can then look up your link tracking information anytime by visiting the third-party service you have connected to your website. They usually have all sorts of reports and dashboards you can view to see information about links to your website.

What Link Tracking Tools are Available?

There is Google

The 800-pound gorilla in the link tracking industry is Google Analytics. This is the most prevalent method used for active link tracking on the internet today.

The basic premise of Google Analytics is this:

  1. You put the Google Analytics flavour of link tracking codes onto the end of your links. These are commonly known as UTM parameters.
  2. You install a component on your website that processes UTM parameters as they come in to your site.
  3. When a visitor clicks on a link to your site with the codes on the end, your website recognises this and sends the information back to Google Analytics.
  4. Google Analytics stores this information in your account and makes it available to you for analysis via their suite of reports and dashboards.

Then There Is the Rest

There are plenty of other companies out there that provide their own version of link tracking services. Here is a list of some of them:

How Do I Get Started with Link Tracking?

In an upcoming post, I take you through a step-by-step tutorial for getting started with link tracking for your business website.

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About the Author

Dan Miller

Dan Miller is an award-winning business leader and author from Canberra Australia, who loves getting new ventures off the ground. More importantly, Dan is a proud Dad and husband. With a background in technology project management, Dan's specialty is turning business ideas into real projects that are regularly delivered successfully. Dan’s experience and skills are supported by a foundation of formal education in business and technology including BEc, BIT, MSEng and MBA. Dan also spent several years teaching at the Australian National University as a Tutor and Adjunct Lecturer in both the Department of Computer Science and the College of Business & Economics. There are a few simple philosophies that Dan abides by: have fun in everything you do, continuously improve by challenging yourself to bigger and better things, learn-by-doing, help others to improve themselves, and give back at least as much as the world provides you.


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