30 Oct 2015
Reading time: 6 mins.

Display Ad Placement analysis using Google Analytics and Tag Manager

The added value of tagging advertising campaign links through Google Analytics UTM parameters is clear: visit and conversion attribution to sources, mediums, campaigns, contents and keywords.

Besides, it is possible to name and structure all these parameters logically (medium, campaigns, etc) to create advertising campaign schemes, maps or hierarchies. For instance:

  • Visitor
    • Encourage first purchase
    • Register
  • Costumer
    • Encourage recurrent purchases
    • Increase the average order value
    • Upgrade service
    • Recommend to friends

Advertising traffic can be classified and assessed up to this point. We can even resort to custom Channel Grouping to segment our campaigns into different groups in terms of UTM parameters and tags. For example: customer vs non-customer campaigns, branding vs sale.


Picture: Google URL builder. Manually tagging links with 5 parameters.

By default, Google Analytics campaign tracking uses the document.referrer property to determine the referrer URL. However, tagging links with UTM values overrides this predefined acquisition data (Source/Medium/Referral Path/etc.) and generates non-existent Referral Paths.

This is particularly noticeable in the case of advertisers which resort to different ad networks and tag links according to them (instead of real placements). Of course, it is impossible to tag links manually for every URL which displays the banner, as it is to anticipate where banner ads will be displayed most of the times. So, we tag at a top level- an aggregate level – for the network.

For example: we will see AOD/display as Source/Medium instead of the actual placements where AOD network generates impressions and clicks. A lot of indeterminate referral sites will still remain as another disaggregation level to which we don’t have access.

Display Ad Placement analysis using Google Analytics

Nowadays digital advertising- Remarketing, RTB, Display ads- is quite complex. It is tending to be much more goal-oriented and focused on user retargeting again, leaving branding strategies aside. Furthermore, marketers must deal with much more variables (Supply Side Platforms, AdServers, Demand Side Platforms…) and a long list of intermediaries (Adconion, Amnet, Zanox, Himedia, Aod, Doubleclick, Google AdWords, Yahoo, AdRoll, Sizmek, Coguan, ADPV…). It will look like this:

Compra programática de publicidad online

marketplace adexchange


Besides, on Google Analytics it would be nice to have more information about the traffic source, apart from the one provided by UTM tagging. Undoubtedly, having information about ad placements and their behavior would be a big asset.

Aukera has developed a method to partially obtain this information. We will proceed to explain the procedure step by step. Considering its level of complexity, we will provide downloadable setting to add it to your Google Tag Manager contents and Google Analytics properties.

We have two goals:

  • Find out the real source (the display ad placement hostname where the ad was clicked).
  • Maintain Google Analytics tagging data available (for instance, Source: Yahoo, Adconion, amnet,etc./ Medium: banner) to group ad placements and evaluate their ad network performance.

IMPORTANT! We need to create a new Google Analytics content group named External Referrer to achieve it. We don’t use custom dimensions in this case as content groups offer more options when configuring the report (landing content group, exit content group, previous, etc). The same rules apply to Security URL and Referrer content groups. You can learn here how to create content groups with Tag Manager.

external referrer


Our aim is to register the session´s referral source or origin URL whether it comes from a link tagged or not. In this sense, we need to keep each session’s external referrer – the first referrer -.

We can resort to Google Tag Manager to extract this external referrer using Variables.

1. Create {{Referrer Hostname}} variable:

Referrer Hostname Google Tag Manager

Set up to get just the domain name which generates the hit. You’d better check “Strip www.” to avoid potential hostname duplicities with or without www.

2. Create {{External Referrer}} variable:

First, we need to set up {{Referrer Hostname}} variable in order that it just return data when the referrer domain is different to ours. In other words, when it is an external {{Referrer Hostname}} and does not match our own Hostname (or {{Page Hostname}} variable in GTM).

External referrer Google Tag Manager

It is possible to define {{External Referrer}} generically only if we have an unique {{Page Hostname}}.

In this situation, it does not mind if we use {{Page Hostname}} variable or the domain name without “www.” (i.e. mydomain.com) directly. We prefer the variable, as it’s generic and downloadable.

Provided that we wish to apply this Lookup Table for cross domain and subdomain tracking, we should insert as many rows-with output adjustments- as domains and subdomains are included in the tracking procedure (without www).


What does the Lookup Table do?

{{Referrer Hostname}} sends data if its value is different to our domain. If {{Referrer Hostname}} and {{Page Hostname}} do not match, “set default value” is applied and {{Referrer Hostname}} is sent as {{External Referrer}}.

Nevertheless, when the {{Referer Hostname}} table entry variable matches {{Page Hostname}}, because of internal navigation, {{External Referrer}} is sent empty. That’s why Output field is empty in this case.

As a result, we will manage to keep the first Referrer-external and different to ours- in each Content Group.


How do we send data to Google Analytics?

Last but not least, after creating the required variables, configure {{External Referrer}} as content group to sent data about Universal Analytics Pageview tags to Google Analytics:


*Imagine we activated the group content in the first index within Google Analytics:


This is the last step: review data and PUBLISH.


If you wish to have a look at Google Analytics data, here you have Aukera Display Ad Placements custom report ready to import 🙂

Custom Report: Display Ad Placement (by Aukera Marketing)

Display Ad Placement in Google Analytics, custom report by Aukera Marketing

In this report, the landing content group that works as External Referrer will be used as first dimension. We select landing page as we wish to cross this content group with conversion data and hit session metrics: sessions, new users, goal conversion, average time on site, Pages/session…

NOTE: Crossing with goal data is the most difficult in some cases. Ad Servers often use redirections to take the user to the site after clicking on the ad. This means losing the Referrer. At least, the pixel URL (i.e. pixel.mathtag.com, ams1.lb.adnxs.com, etc). is kept. Nowadays it is possible to check:

  • The best performing sites and invest on them.
  • Whether we appear on inappropriate sites.


Here you can download the Tag Manager Container which includes all we have already explained:

GTM CONTAINER: Display Ad Placement (by Aukera Marketing)


  • Referrer Hostname Variable
  • External Referrer Variable
  • Universal Analytics basic tag with the configured custom dimension
  • ID Analytics Variable (that must be filled out with your real UA)