Expert Insights

3 reasons why spreadsheets are bad for campaign tracking codes

Still using spreadsheets? Here is why you should not use them for managing your campaign tracking codes.

Kasper Rasmussen
June 19 · 3 min 20 sec read

Using ancient spreadsheets to manage campaign tracking codes is still a common practice for many of us working with marketing campaigns. But it's 2019. Here are three ways they are affecting your reporting and bottom line.

Reason 1 - Bad for collaboration

Keeping tracking code spreadsheets up to date and sharing amongst team members is an effective way to share knowledge and collaborate if you are only a few involved. However, as soon as you are more than a handful that needs to efficiently work together across markets and departments, a more efficient solution needs to be in place. Imagine having an update that you need to implement in the spreadsheet, say you need to include a Product Category in your tracking codes, the process for doing so can be tiresome.

First, you need to make sure that you have the master sheet, in other words, you need to make sure that you have the most recent version of the spreadsheet and that no one else is making changes to the taxonomy while you’re updating at your end.

Secondly, you need to distribute the updated taxonomy in the spreadsheet to all your team members across markets and departments and make sure that everybody is up to date and can use the updated version correctly.

And we haven’t even talked about what happens if multiple employees in your organization work in the sheet simultaneously and suddenly overwrite the tracking codes you have just added. Or say you are working with agencies and want them to follow your tracking code taxonomy as well, you will need to distribute the taxonomy spreadsheet with them, keep them up to date, and make sure that they communicate the updated taxonomy internally through the updated spreadsheet and not start by creating their own tracking taxonomy.

As soon as you are more than a handful that needs to efficiently work together across markets and departments, a more efficient solution needs to be in place.
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Reason 2 - Difficult to enforce a consistent taxonomy

Spreadsheets have been here for decades and are excellent in many situations. When companies define a tracking code taxonomy and are in the first steps of enforcing consistency, the general choice is often spreadsheets. A tracking taxonomy can be more or less complex and often starts by defining a certain set of elements that needs to be present in the campaign tracking, e.g., Channel, Source, and a Campaign name. Once a company is comfortable with this type of taxonomy, they might move on to including more values, e.g., Campaign type, Product category, Segment, Market, Launch day, etc.

However, in order to enforce consistency in the values, free-text fields are not enough. Spelling mistakes, upper/lower-casing, missing values, wrong values, etc. can wreak havoc in your campaign reports. Thus, starting to use more intelligent fields, such as a predefined list of channels to choose from and then a Source field that changes possible values accordingly to the selected channel can ensure your channel reporting is accurate. We often need a degree of freedom so we can’t fully remove the need for free-texts but adding an intelligent auto-complete on top so the input free text is automatically matched with the most recent and best previously entered values can further help grouping campaigns. 

Spelling mistakes, upper/lower-casing, missing values, wrong values, etc. can wreak havoc in your campaign reports

The list goes on with date pickers, segment selectors, multiple product selection, etc. Unfortunately, this is not straight forward to implement in a spreadsheet, and the maintenance will often prove to be very time consuming, especially if we also include Reason 1 about collaboration.

Reason 3 - A lot of manual work

Say your company has solved Reason 1 & 2 and your raw tracking seems to work as expected. What happens if you decide to start using ID’s in your tracking codes and want to utilize campaign classifications?

The concept for campaign ID’s is that your tracking code is simply a unique ID, making your URLs shorter while also hiding your tracking values for your end users. However, to be able to report accurately in your analytics platform, you will need a lookup reference where the tracking ID is associated with the Channel, Source, Campaign name, etc. This is what is called 'classifications'.

If this doesn’t happen automatically, every time somebody in your organization or your external agency creates a campaign tracking code in your spreadsheet, chances are that you will quickly end up with only a subset of your campaigns being classified. The result can be severe, as a single campaign report based on a classification might only show traffic for the group of campaigns that were actually classified, leaving out a great potential percentage of unclassified campaigns.

The list goes on with date pickers, segment selectors, multiple product selection, etc. Unfortunately, this is not straight forward to implement in a spreadsheet, and the maintenance will often prove to be very time consuming, especially if we also include Reason 1 about collaboration.

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