You Are Being Tracked: Internal Campaigns

September 22, 2008

So you know that you are tracked by e-mails.  You are going to beat the system.  You are not even going to use a search term to get to the website because you know Google will track you along with the website.  You are going to direct load – typing the URL into the address bar – and avoid being tracked.  Almost, but no.  Chances are that the site gave you a cookie last time you were there.  Oh well, you tried.  But that is not what this post is about.  Just because you got to the site without tracking, does not mean that you will not be tracked.

Internal campaigns are exactly what they sound like.  They are campaigns that are internal to the site.  A campaign is anything that the site is doing to try to get you to buy more stuff (or whatever the conversion metric would be, such as filling out a survey or something).  E-mails are campaigns.  Billboards are campaigns.  A site or company runs advertising campaigns. You get the idea.

The banner that you see across whatever site you are on is sure to include an element that says that you clicked it – a tag.  Note that I am only talking about a banner that is on the site and for the site, not an advertisement for a different site.  The advertisement for a different site would be an external campaign for the company that bought the ad.  We are talking about an ad for another item on your site – perhaps for an LCD monitor when you are looking at computers.  I call this a real estate campaign or an internal campaign.  I call it real estate because the site is tracking based on the tag on the banner and the site knows the location of the banner, the real estate. I call it an internal campaign because it is for another product that will take the visitor somewhere else internal to the site, not push them out the door to an external site.

So you clicked the banner and were tagged.  It is in this way that the site can track how often the banner is being used (instances) as a rate of how many people saw the page it was on (page views).  This also allows the site to understand where someone is clicking on the site.  Each area of the banner could contain a different tag, thus if you clicked the t-shirt you could get tagged with a value of tshirtclick while if you clicked the jeans on the same banner you would get tagged with a value of jeansclick.

Internal campaigns are very useful for a site because they allow for a wide variety of reporting.  The site will know how many conversions they got that clicked on the banner and how much revenue is associated with it.  This also is a much easier way to track traffic from a page.  Perhaps a single page has multiple banners and the site wants to know how many people clicked the banners.  With no tagging on the banners, all the site would be able to do is look at what pages visitors went to next and add them up.  For instance if there is no way to get to the jeans page from your home page and yet 20 of the 100 visitors took that path you can assume that they must have clicked on the jeans banner.  But then to add that up with the page that took them to the t-shrits and the page that took them to the pants, and to…etc. is a huge pain. By the time you get to the number of estimated clicks (because in theory they could have the page bookmarked or something like that) you won’t care any more.

Look for more the post forthcoming about purchase influencer tagging on Thoughts From Thee Cake Scraps.


You Are Being Tracked: E-Mail Style

September 6, 2008

Most people probably already know that they are being tracked.  There are all sorts of programs and ways to do this at all sorts of levels.  For instance your ISP may track you and give (sell) your data to a company like Hitwise – privacy policy can be found here.  I actually saw this in a newscast last week.   They interviewed some guy about what popular search terms are and tried to make it sound creepy.  Amazing! People search for weird stuff on the internet like “how to make bombs” and *gasp* “porn”.  This guy must be some sort of genius!  And he looks at historical data! Brilliant!

Hopefully you know that Google keeps track of everything you have searched for.  Ever.  Anyway, the part that people probably don’t know as much about is how individual sites track you.  One way a site can track you is by tagging you when you click through on an e-mail they send you – the focus of this post.  Think of tags as dated stamps in your passport book.  Interestingly enough, some of this tagging can be easily found in the address bar of your browser.

When you see something in the address bar that looks like emid=584783 that is telling the website that your internal – meaning site specific- e-mail address ID is 584783.  This value is unique to a single e-mail address. Each e-mail sent to that e-mail address will have their unique emid attached to all links in the e-mail. This also allows a site to build a history of that e-mail address – not only for activity, but for response rate as well.  Now every time you click through an e-mail for that site they have more history.  Note that larger sites rarely look at individual behavior but instead classify a behavior and then analyze that group.  Still, the information is there.

In addition to an e-mail ID, there is usually a campaign variable such as cid=Sep08FreeShipping.  This allows the site to report on everything with Sep08FreeShipping stored in the cid variable. All of this information is contained within the link that you click from the e-mail. If you get the e-mail and directly load their site, not through the e-mail, the activity will not be tracked because in a direct load no value would have been assigned to cid.

These variables do not have to remain in the web address the entire time.  They are stored in the background after the initial click. So when you no longer see emid or cid in the address bar, but originally arrived at the site through the e-mail, you and your activity is still being tracked.

Look for at least one more installment of how you are tracked. There I will focus more on how a site tracks internal campaigns. Hope this helped give some people a better understanding of how websites track you.