What do the topological feature of spacetime and the interesting little Google Analytics variable have in common?

Both deal with travel. One just happens to deal with matter traveling through spacetime, and one deals with visitors to your website. While I am not an expert on wormholes, I do understand how the utm_nooverride variable affects your visitors, and this post is about using the utm_nooverride for those websites that feature special paths which take the user through all sorts of intergalactic mayhem.

This includes websites that send the user to third party domains, even if just for a moment. This could be due to an autoresponder, a shopping cart, a form submission, a tool for visitors to use, credit card processing, and a whole host of other possibilities to consider.

A good example of a ‘wormhole’ is PayPal. When a user clicks on a PayPal link, they travel to a new domain. On top of that, it’s a domain you can’t control. You can’t add any code to the PayPal pages or make the modifications that you would need to track things according to Google’s official instructions. But you can control the URL that brings the user back to your site. And that’s where the utm_nooverride comes in.

Here’s the thing – whenever a visitor leaves your domain, they don’t bring along the picnic basket that contains their Google Analytics cookies. What this means is that if they come back to the site (as with PayPal), a new set of cookies will be created (probably marking the user as a PayPal referral). Sometimes there is no good way to make sure that your visitors are bringing their cookies along with them, and in that case, you have to be creative. Enter the utm_nooverride variable.

So what does this do?

If you change a link so that it contains the utm_nooverride variable, then it prevents a new set of cookies from being created only if cookies for a domain already exist.

Here’s an example to illustrate:

Let’s say I visit the site www.cheesemongr.com through an AdWords ad. I get cookies created for cheesemongr.com that label me as an AdWords visitor.

If during my visit, I decide to buy some cheese using the PayPal option, I would leave the site and head over to the PayPal domain, leaving my cheesemongr cookies behind (but still in my browser).

Here’s where the utm_nooverride variable comes into play. It affects the ride home. If I do not use the utm_nooverride variable, when I get to the cheesemongr thank you page, my old cookies will be thrown away, and new cookies will be created saying that I came from PayPal, thus losing the AdWords information that was ‘on file’. It’s kind of like customs.

If, however, we use Michael’s method, the utm_nooverride variable is present in the URL when I get back to cheesemongr. Instead of creating new cookies, Google Analytics will simply use the one I already had. This means if I made a transaction (which I probably did if I came to the receipt page), it will attribute it to the appropriate source – in this case AdWords.

There are many situations where we have had to use this method. PayPal just happens to be a fairly common one. You can also use this for certain kind of shopping carts that offer you limited control (like 1shoppingcart), or for forms that feed your visitors into an autoresponder sequence before bringing them back to the site.

Here are the instructions for adding the utm_nooverride variable to your links. You can find two other reasons for using the variable at either Part 1 (Branded Keywords) or Part 2 (Email Sequences).

If your normal destination URL looks like this:

Change it to this:

If your normal destination URL looks like this:

Change it to this:

As always, there are a couple of warnings/comments/stipulations to using this method.

First, it’s always best to not have to use workarounds like this to track visitors. If you can set things up using the linking functions of Analytics, that’s almost always the best way.

Second, if you use this method, it’s not a good idea to track the third-party domain in question. In other words, if you are using this for PayPal, you aren’t tagging the PayPal pages. If you are using it with 1shoppingcart, you shouldn’t tag your 1shoppingcart pages. Basically you have to ignore the user’s navigation on the third-party domain. It’s almost as if this part didn’t happen.

Well, that just about wraps it up. If you’re into space-age websites with otherworldly architecture, then you’re probably going to need to know a few intergalactic tricks to get your tracking set up in a way that works for your business. If you find that this is all too much to handle on your own, feel free to hire your own guide through the Google Analytics galaxy.

Sorry for the analogy overload there at the end. As always, I’d love to hear your comments/suggestions for this article.