Columnist Dianna Huff shares her experience on how to measure the digital impact of real-world event marketing efforts.

Tradeshows play an important role for a company when it comes to meeting marketing and sales objectives, but for smaller manufacturing firms, they’re often critical. Participating in a major show will possibly be the only real marketing tactic and can be life-changing for such a small company, taking into account its budget, logistics and so on.

For business owners, participating in a tradeshow will be essential for reaching out to customers and prospects, finding suppliers, learning about industry trends etc.  

As part of their participation in the show, manufacturers will often purchase ads in publications. And a question that bothers them is – how can they actually track their print ads?

Here, I will talk about how companies, by using two free tools — Google Analytics and the Google URL builder — can track two marketing tactics associated with industrial tradeshows: print ads and landing pages.

But firstly, I will provide some background.

IMTS: International Manufacturing Technology Show

IMTS, held September 12-17, 2016 in Chicago, was one huge manufacturing show: it featured over 2,000 exhibitors, 1.3 million net square feet of exhibit space, and 115,000+ participants from over 112 countries. Although the shows was mainly meant to attract bigger manufacturers with their huge exhibits, small companies were also participating

Mostly, trade publications create problems for the bigger shows and exhibitions, and IMTS has the same issue.

Measuring the ROI generated from print ads is a question I am asked often, especially by smaller manufacturers, because a print ad can be a huge addition to the already big show expenses: a full-page ad, for example, can cost over $7,000; a quarter-page ad can be over $2,000.

Can a print ad be tracked or measured? No…and yes.

Of course, it is impossible to track the number of views a print ad had.

Nevertheless, it is possible to measure the response of the customers to the offer a print ad had. And, of course, you can track response to certain landing pages that carry an offer.

Something companies usually do, is sending potential customers from the print ad to their web page. This practice also includes big companies.

For the sake of this article, I analyzed many ads in the August 2016 print issue of Manufacturing Engineering — the pre-show issue for IMTS. The image below shows a typical ad (a print ad from Manufacturing Engineering, August 2016), which includes a company URL for the business’ homepage.


The reason why I think of this  as a mistake is because it’s more difficult to track this traffic in Google Analytics, as the traffic will simply appear as “Direct.”

The image below shows where that traffic would get lumped (the Acquisition / All Traffic / Channels report in Google Analytics).


Hack 1: Use a URL you can track


Bitly is the URL shortener that shows you real-time data for clicked links, and although it is being used mostly for things like shortening URLs in social media posts, you can also use Bitly URLs in print ads.

The problem with Bitly URL though, from my client’s experience, is that very few people actually typed in the URL. We got all of seven visits from the ad to the website. We had no idea if the ad was dud or if people were just conscious of the non-traditional URL.

Additionally, Bitly URLs are hard to remember or share.

Vanity URLs

A vanity URL is a custom-branded URL that you often hear on the radio. They are very easy to remember and to share.

Mostly, vanity URLs go to certain landing pages, where the offer is located. You can also use vanity URLs in print ads to send people to specific landing pages. A vanity URL gives you the opportunity to measure the response to your print ad.

At IMTS, two exhibitors – Hurco Companies and UnionChemnitz, used their respective print ads to send readers to show-specific landing pages. For Hurco’s ad, you can see the prominent call-out for the URL in the image below.


Hack 2: Create an event landing page with call to action

Independent of the size of the company, creating a show-specific landing page is an effective, cost-efficient and easy way of giving people lots of show-related information, without having to modify the entire website.

And what is the best about this is that you can track conversions for the page using various reports in Google Analytics.

Hurco’s landing page (shown in the image below) carries lots of information about the company’s IMTS special events. It also has a map, showing where to find the company’s booth at the show, and calls to action by advising the potential customers to schedule an appointment while at the show.


Hack 3: Track campaign components with the Google URL Builder

The Hurco print ad URL redirected me to this link upon visiting:

From there, it did something that no other company did – added campaign parameters.

Campaign parameters give you the opportunity of adding information to a URL to help you identify, in Google Analytics, the marketing campaign components that referred traffic. For this, you can simply use Google’s handy URL builder.

You can see the full redirected Hurco URL, with parameters in italics after the question mark:   utm_campaign=IMTS2016&utm_medium=VanityURL&utm_source=TypedURL&content=RaceToProfitability

Here’s how they breakdown:

  • Campaign name: IMTS2016
  • Medium: VanityURL
  • Campaign Source: TypedURL
  • Campaign Content: RacetoProfitability

By adding parameters, Hurco is able to track the landing page in Google Analytics and its referral source. Hurc is also able to use Google’s URL builder to change the parameters for its other show campaign components.

For instance, Hurco promotes its participation in IMTS  by directing viewers to the event landing page via its vanity URL.

By using Google’s URL builder they can change the source and medium parameters, and the new tracking code for the URL might look like this:

Now, the campaign parameters break down this way:

  • Source: august-newsletter-2016
  • Medium: email
  • Content: RacetoProfitability
  • Campaign: IMTS 2016

The campaign Source/Medium parameters now appear in various Google Analytics reports. Now the URL tracking information would appear in Google Analytics for the Channels report (see image below).


The “medium” parameter is the campaign component. By adding specific parameters to campaign URLs, you can use Analytics to track the various emails you send out leading up to a tradeshow and then use the data to improve conversions or ROI on future campaigns (see image below).


By adding campaign parameters to a landing page URL you can see whether or not your email campaign leads to involvement — for example, how many people purchased something from the page, etc.

This is how it works: firstly, you send out the email with the vanity URL and its tracking code. A user receives the email, clicks on the URL, explores the landing page, and, hopefully, returns in order to book an appointment, per say. If you have set an Analytics goal for “booked appointment,” the email campaign then appears as an assisted conversion (see image below).

Screen Shot 2016-12-02 at 15.36.18

In conclusion…

If getting higher ROI from your tradeshow print ads is your goal, it is definitely more efficient to send potential customers to an event-related landing page.

Add campaign parameters to your URL by using Google’s URL builder, then analyze the data in order to improve your campaign.

In a nutshell, you should always be sending your prospects to specific landing pages from a print, radio, or podcast ad.