A HIPPO Internet Marketing Training blog by Corey Creed

The Jungle Map, your guide through internet marketing

How to Track Print Ads Online

September 10th, 2007

This past Friday, I noticed that one of my clients was planning a series of print advertising and wanted to use a different domain name for each of the ads in order to track which ad gets the most attention.

No problem.  This is a common way to monitor the results of a print campaign.  However, if you are thinking of doing this, there are some things to keep in mind.

This became apparent to me when I started typing in the various domain names that they had chose.  You see, the person buying the domain names was simply using “masking” on the domain level. 

What is domain masking?

Let’s illustrate it.  Imagine that you owned www.OriginalSite.com and wanted to use www.ad1.com on your print ad.  (Dumb domain names, I know.  It’s just an illustration.)  “Masking” means that you would not get actual hosting for www.ad1.com.  Instead, you would mask it by telling it to show the results of www.OriginalSite.com.  Therefore, the user would think they are on www.ad1.com.  That is what would show as the URL.

There are three problems with this…

1.  Logfiles cannot tell the difference between www.OriginalSite.com and www.Ad1.com.  They list every visitor as visiting www.OriginalSite.com and therefore your tracking is out the window.

2.  If someone visits www.Ad1.com and likes it, they may link to it.  Now your link reputation is potentially spread across several domain names.

3.  If Google notices that you have two (or three, or twelve, etc) sites that are exactly the same, they may ban one of them.  (There are several ways to correct this, but it is a potential problem nonetheless.)

To avoid these problems, here is what we suggested and did…

1.  Get legitimate hosting for each domain name to be used for print ads.

2.  Create a single home page for each of these domain names.

3.  On each of these home pages, have all links direct over to the primary domain name sub-pages.

Doing this enables us to track the logfile statistics on the primary domain name.  We will now monitor which domains bring traffic and therefore which print ads brought the most qualified users.

Another option would have been to 301 redirect each of the alternate domain names.  However, this can cause problems with the logfiles as well.  Also, if the user watches his box where he typed in his domain name, he will see it switch immediately and may feel that something is wrong.