When it comes to marketing your e-commerce store, there is little doubt that understanding where your sales come from is key. Key to investing your marketing dollars as effectively as you can. Key to understanding what works and what doesn't (e.g. web pages, e-mail messages, etc.).
Web to sale
Google Analytics, by allowing you to integrate the e-commerce portion of your Web site into your Web statistics, does a nice job in trying to associate Web sources and sales. That is: if your shopping cart can communicate to Google Analytics that a sale occurred, you can then see which keywords entered in a search engine, for instance, turned into orders on your storefront.
This is really important information. For instance, you can focus on optimizing the landing pages that those keywords lead to in an attempt to reduce the bounce rate and increase the sales that come from those visits.
E-mail to sale
What about the large amount of visitors to your store for whom a program like Google Analytics cannot detect where they are coming from? It's typically a lot of unique visitors. What can you do to try to understand how they ended up on your Web site? Was it just word of mouth or marketing dollars you spent, for example?
Take all the e-mail marketing you do. A monthly newsletter, for instance. Or a e-mail promotion run through a third party. Many times those links simply do not contain enough information for your Web statistics program to understand where the corresponding clicks came from.
Luckily, you can rather easily add more information to the links and track them much more effectively.
Meet the URL Builder
If you - like many - use Google Analytics, one thing that you might not have heard of is the URL Builder. It's a simple Web page that helps you add meaningful, trackable information to your links.
Detailed instructions on how to use the URL Builder are available at the bottom of the page.
A tool like this can be really helpful. It can tell Google Analytics that your "April 2008 e-mail newsletter" - for example - triggered a certain amount of visits to your store. Once the traffic source is known, it's then used for all sorts of other statistics. So if any of those visits turn into a sale, Google Analytics will show it to you in the e-commerce reports.
Spend a bit more time preparing your links with a tool like the Google Analytics URL Builder whenever you send an e-mail to existing or new customers. You'll be surprised of how much more information you'll be able to learn from the clicks that originate from the mailing.