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Targeted Display Ads Based on the Referral URL

As a Brightfind Digital Analyst, without question, the most fun thing about my job is helping our clients enhance their product implementations by providing solutions for strategic improvement through our Experience Insight services. This often means answering the most exciting question known in our World of Web;

“Would it be possible to…?”

These types of questions usually arise after a project plan is already defined, or even launched. The client sees the new site taking form, and wonders, "What other cool stuff can we do?” Even though the answers to this question usually fall outside the project’s scope, often they result in solutions that can provide valuable information to the client, and we, along with the client, alter the project plan to implement them.

These types of scenarios are just one way that Brightfind demonstrates its flexibility, when presented with different opportunities. I find it really exciting to be a part of this type adaptability and collaboration.

Defining the Goal: Targeting via Google Analytics, Email, and Referral Ad Data

My most recent “would it be possible to” scenario involved a client who wanted to execute targeted advertising (think campaign based) on a specific page of the organization’s website, based on a referral URL. This means that on a specific page of the website, a specific ad (think banner image with the added functionality of a link to another page) would display, based on how the user entered the site.

Now, as a digital analyst, as soon as the scenario was explained, I instantly started conceiving of how clients could use this, and just as importantly, how they could track the performance of this scenario. Fellow marketers can understand the power of this kind of targeted advertising. But although it is easy to get caught up in possibilities, it’s important to remember the client’s business goal, which is the reason why this scenario presented itself. In this case, the client’s goal was to present the user with targeted ads based on marketing campaigns set up in Google Analytics, emails managed via third party application (that is, marketing email application), and referral ads.

Defining the Project Requirements 

Once we defined our goals, next we captured the following specific additional requirements to better define the project and meet the client’s business goals. Here is what we uncovered:

  • The capability for more than one referral URL to generate a particular ad on a web page.
  • The capability for the ad to link to another page
  • The capability for the campaign to be set for a specific page(s)
  • The capability for the campaign response to be generated by a UTM or other tracking URL.

Defining the Workflow for a Specific Scenario

Then, we devised the following Scenario Workflow Breakdown as one use case of the solution:

  1. The client sends out emails through an email marketing tool.

  2. Each email contains a link to the destination page.
    • The link in the email is a UTM tracking URL for tracking in Google Analytics.

  3. Based on that Tracking link (Referral URL), when users arrive on the Destination page, they see a targeted “Ad” (really just an image) specific to their referral URL.

We completed the following steps to accomplish this task.

Creating a Proof of Concept:

  1. We created an HTML Page as the destination page for the user upon clicking the CTA/Email link/, etc.
    • We created a manual alias for this page.

  2. With the help of a UTM URL builder, we created 2 UTM tracking URL’s, leveraging an alias as the destination URL (reference step 1 above).
    • I suggest using a spreadsheet that dynamically builds these out for you. This enables easier tracking as the campaigns begin to take shape.

  3. We added functionality to the HTML page to capture the unique identifier, which, in this case, is the “Campaign” reference in the referral URL (UTM URL created in the step above). Then we determined which ad to display on the page.

  4. Our next task was to generate multiple emails. Each email must include a “Call to Action” (CTA), which is basically a button that hosted the UTM tracking URL that we created in step 2. This was to simulate different URL’s taking the user to the same page; however, because the “Campaign” reference in the URL was different, the users would be presented with different ads.

  5. Once we validated that each URL was both taking users to the correct destination page, and presenting them with a unique ad specific to the referral URL, we then validated that the campaign was tracking as expected in Google Analytics.
    • The campaign reporting in Google Analytics allowed the client to view the individual performance of each campaign.
    • Cool trick: Modifying the UTM URL, by altering the “Source” reference in the URL, but keeping the “Campaign” reference the same, allowed multiple users to see the same ad, and allowed the site admin to view, at a more granular level, the individual experience of a single user.

Exploring the Possibilities with Targeted Display Ads

So, what does all this mean, and why go through this effort of providing a tailored experience to targeted users?

Enabling site authors and marketers to deliver targeted content to your specific site user types allows them to direct the next steps in a user's website journey (toward lead generating conversion points). It’s this continued effort to present users with exactly what they desire, and get them to convert, all the while, also trying to entice them to engage with more of your website. This concept, to me, is where all the fun originates.

View Brightfind's Experience Insight Services

Justin Atkinson

Written by Justin Atkinson