Yesterday we spotted a big problem with our Google Adwords ads, after noticing that Google is ignoring our choice of landing page. Instead, it redirects people to our homepage.

Why is this happening? And is it happening to your ads? Read on to find out…

The problem
E-consultancy uses in-link URLs for tracking purposes, so we can measure response from different paid search campaigns / ads. This is common practice among internet marketers, or for anybody who wants to shorten a long URL.

In Adwords, Google automatically appends our URL with its own tracking code, so it too can measure response, determine ad position, and of course charge us every time somebody clicks.

But hey, we just figured out that Google’s tracking code breaks our in-link redirect.

Instead of seeing the appropriate landing page, people are unceremoniously dumped on the homepage.

This can’t be too good for our Quality Score, and certainly it has impacted badly on conversion rates, return on investment and ad positions.

Aaargh.


What’s an in-link URL?
In a nut, it is making a new URL for an existing page. It looks like this: www.e-consultancy.com/in/xyz where ‘xyz’ is text that we define, and we point that link at an existing page.

You can set up dozens of these links for the same page, to see which creative / keywords / search engines deliver the best response.

Let’s take a look at an actual example…

Our Internet Statistics Compendium URL is:
http://www.e-consultancy.com/publications/internet-stats-compendium.

For some of our Adwords ads we used an in-link that looked like this:
http://www.e-consultancy.com/in/statistics

Click that link and it will take you to the Internet Statistics page. And we will know where you came from by looking at the in-link URL.


Why use in-link tracking?
Why indeed, given that it doesn’t appear to be compatible with Adwords! The simple answer is that we wanted to measure, test and tweak ad campaigns to improve performance. Best practice, right? We thought so…

Also, we didn’t know otherwise – there’s nothing in Google’s guidelines about in-link tracking. Here’s what Google says on destination URLs:

“Your Destination URL must work properly. Check your spelling and symbols to make sure that you entered the correct URL for the page you want users to visit.”

“Your Destination URL must link to a working website. You cannot link to an email address or a file (ex. an image, audio, video or document file that requires an additional programme or application to open or run).”

Can our in-link tracking be called ‘an additional programme or application’?


Why didn’t we spot this earlier?
Naturally, we tested our links. The trouble is that these in-link URLs work perfectly fine from within the Adwords admin section – they take you to our chosen landing pages. So we reckoned upon everything being hunky dory… but this isn’t the case.

We actually needed to test the live ads to discover this problem. And so do you. It occurs once Google has added its own tracking code.

However…

Q. Who the hell clicks on their own ads?
A. Nobody! Nobody with a brain! That’s who.

If you have thousands of keywords / keyphrases – and we know some folks who manage more than a million – it would be a very costly exercise to check all of your landing pages.


Exactly how big a problem is this?
For us, it isn’t make or break, since our organic results generate most of our traffic and our paid search budget is relatively small. Nevertheless, it will have clearly affected conversion rates.

And it has always been there, presumably, which is a little bit annoying. We assume it is an Adwords bug or some incompatibility with our in-link tracking.

My question is simply whether this is affecting anybody else? You might be managing multi-million pound Adwords campaigns. It could be a massive issue for some marketers…

If you are using this sort of tracking then it is certainly worth doing some testing… and do let me know if you’re experiencing similar issues.