Google Ads Auto-tagging has been around for as long as I can remember (and I’ve been doing this since 2006). While it’s not new, many companies using Google Ads and even some PPC managers either have never heard of it or aren’t quite sure exactly what it is.
Google Ads Account Settings
The default setting in Google Ads is auto-tagging turned on. The way to find this has changed a few times. Currently, On the left side you’ll see a list that looks like this image below. It doesn’t matter where you are in the interface you can click there. When you get here you’ll want to make sure and click Account Settings on the top.
Once you are here you’ll see a full list of account level settings. One of them you’ll see is Auto-tagging and if you click in you’ll likely see the box checked off.
What Is Auto-Tagging?
Auto-tagging is designed to be used with Google Analytics. What it does is automatically append special tagging to all of your ads so that they data can be parsed out inside of Google Analytics. If you’re familiar at all with Google Analytics tagging you might be thinking about UTM tags. If you didn’t know any better you might think that if you use auto-tagging, all Google does is automatically create UTM tags for your ads. That would make sense wouldn’t it?
Look what happens when I click an ad on Google for an account that has auto-tagging enabled (we know this because it’s one of our clients)
No UTM tags are to be found in this URL. What you see instead is a gclid tag followed by a bunch of letters, numbers and symbols. Why do they use a gclid and not UTM tags? After all, UTM tags were created for Google Analytics originally.
Why Does Google Use The GCLID?
A gclid is simply a Google click ID. There are a couple reasons Google uses a special click ID (which only Google Analytics can read) and not UTM tags. For starters, they want you to use Google Analytics for all your website tracking needs. Another reason is that UTM tagging only has 5 parameters that it can pass: source, medium, campaign name, campaign term, content. Google passes dozens of other data points from their click id into Google analytics that can only be passed this very way.
If you login to your Google Analytics account, under Acquisition you’ll see an entire Google Ads section:
You’ll see shopping data, hour of day, ad group and more. None of that would be possible without the gclid. If you’re Google analytics and Google Ads accounts are linked together you’ll also see cost data. If you have auto-tagging turned off and are manually UTM tagging you’ll still see data in here, but only for what you can pass which is limited to source, medium, campaign name, keyword and content.
Using auto-tagging and linking up your Google Ads and Google analytics accounts will provide you with all sorts of new data points that you can slice and dice up to get a deeper view of your advertising and how it integrates with your other website traffic.
Why Not Auto-tag?
The limitation of auto-tagging is when you are passing data into another place outside of Google analytics. This could be Omniture, Salesforce or any other type of CRM. Only Google analytics can parse the data in a gclid so you won’t see any of this passed to other tracking platforms.
If you are doing this already, make sure and double check your data. We’ve seen all sorts of funky things happen over the years when doing this.
Can I auto-tag and manually append UTM tags?
Technically it is possible, but I would advise against this. Even if you match up all the naming perfectly, we still will typically see data issues in Google analytics. To be safe and keep your data clean we would advise against this option. The better solution would be to create something outside of UTM tags that Google analytics wouldn’t read for your other tracking platform. In some cases this is farily simple, like with Salesforce and Omniture, but other cases it isn’t like if you’re using Unbounce and want the lead data passed.
If you must use UTM tags for your other tracking sources, you are better off missing out on the extra data passed from Google Ads to Google analytics, turn off auto-tagging and use only manually created UTM tagging.
If you have any other further questions on tracking your Google ads, please message, text or call and we’ll help you out.