Google Analytics Tracking Code – Making our pdfs work better

I’ve been experimenting with adding tracking code to links in pdfs, with the aim of learning more about how they are being used. Simply put – we get a better return on the money we invest in them.

Before I began working at the university I was anti Pdf for the usual reasons (it’s dull, hard to read and is usually print content, rather than scannable text. Here’s Nielsen’s thoughts on the subject) but, after interviewing students and checking out our web metrics I’ve changed my mind. When it comes to brochures and course descriptions, for example, the students are okay with pdf.

Our Master’s Brochure was viewed over 25 000 times in the last 7 months. This makes it one of the most popular documents on our website. I was stunned when I saw this, particularly as our online marketing of this has been relatively passive.

So I got to thinking (which can be dangerous). We print something like 10 000 brochures, at significant expense, but it’s an act of faith as to whether they work or not. We’ve shown them to student reference groups – who liked them – but once they are out there they drop off our radar. We don’t know how many students try to learn more about the programmes the brochure describes, how many visit the website as a result or how many begin the application process. We don’t know if the money we spend is worth the result!

With some clever tagging on the links in the pdf we can find out more about how the pdf is used. We can see how many people come back to our website and which programmes receive the most interest. We get segmentation data as we can drill down through the data to a country level. This kind of data means we not only can test how well the pdf works in encouraging people to come to our website but it also generates valuable data, about potential students, in an easy and cheap way.

Correction: 7th July 2008. Okay, I admit it. I got a bit ahead of myself. Tracking the pdf itself is one thing – and can be done – but tracking the links within the downloaded pdf is another thing entirely. One way to do it would be to give a vanity URL in the document, one which does not exist anywhere else, and track the visitors that come from that link. Here’s some stuff about tracking offline campaigns at Conversion University.

I’ll post more on this when I’ve researched it more – if you’ve any good ideas please feel free to leave a comment.

Here’s some more from GA help on tagging

Here’s the URL builder