The title should say, “How to Hack Around Flipbook Software,” because the short answer is to get a Google Analytics-enabled PDF catalog software like Publitas (not a sponsored mention) or something like it. Problem solved.

The Problem with PDF Link Tracking

A cataloging software may seem like a drop in the budgetary bucket, but in small business, extra costs add up. Solutions that exist but have hard costs associated with them are sometimes worth their value proposition and sometimes not.

If your business is ecommerce with a partnered mailing catalog released quarterly, a publication software would be essential. But if your needs are a single PDF flipbook with three calls to action that you would like to track, a software subscription might be a disproportionate cost. So, what are your other options? Luckily, tracking a PDF link in Google Analytics is possible and easy to set up.

Tracking a PDF Link in Google Analytics

Universal Tag Manager links, or UTM links, can help you generate trackable information from a variety of sources. Commonly used behind digital banner advertising and email marketing buttons, UTM links allow you to define the Medium (type of traffic), Source (referral source of traffic), and Campaign (purpose of traffic) of any link. The link ‘tags’ the traffic in a way that Google Analytics can incorporate into reporting.

Building a UTM link is easy and free. The trick is creating something that will generate the type of reporting you want within your Google Analytics. Let’s start with Medium, Source, and Campaign.

  • Medium, or type of traffic, is a designation in Google Analytics that separates website traffic by how it comes to you – organic traffic, paid traffic, referral traffic, etc.
  • Source, or where traffic comes from, separates traffic by the previous place a user was before coming to your site – Google, Facebook, another website, etc.
  • Campaign, or purpose of traffic, is a designation that you can use to define the separations yourself. Like based on a product launch or an omnichannel ad campaign.

The reports in Google Analytics can cross-reference these designations from UTM links. Basically, if you are running an omni-channel ad campaign for a new line of shoes for your shoe store, your UTM link parameters might be Medium=Paid, Source=Facebook/Email/YouTube/DisplaySize, and Campaign=NewShoesA.

The secret here is to align your Medium and Source with the standards in Google Analytics and leave the Campaign parameter as your wild card. If you do this, your reporting will stay clean and organized. If not, your reporting will become increasingly difficult to generate and compare over time.

The Benefits of UTM for Link Tracking

So, what does all this have to do with tracking links in a PDF? Well, if your website has PDF elements, like white papers or a catalog, Google Analytics will not be able to, by default, track clicks on the PDF the same way it would for other pages on your website.

Once a user clicks from a web page to the PDF, that user could be ‘leaving’ your website (depending on how the PDF is implemented on the site). A click in that PDF that links back to your website then might be recorded as a new session. And because PDFs don’t work the same way web pages do, that new session would typically record with no source data.

This can present problems for marketers who use a PDF version of a brochure or catalog as a feature of their website. If the clicks have no source, there’s no way to know which link from the PDF was clicked on – or which call to action is more attractive to the viewer.

UTM links provide a way for marketers to retain tracking through this pain point in Google Analytics as well as many others. Not sure how to set up UTM parameters for your campaigns? Answer Source=BadCat Digital! Contact us for the help you need.