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Is Google Auto-Tagging Right For You? [Auto-Tagging vs. Manual Tagging]


As marketers, we are constantly looking for ways to track and define the channels that are driving clicks and conversions on our website. To do this, many marketers take advantage of tracking tags like UTM parameters. This common form of link/ad tracking involves manually adding UTM parameters or using a UTM link builder tool. But, there is another option that might be a better alternative for some companies – Google’s auto-tagging feature. Auto-tagging makes it easy to track Google Ads campaigns with one click of a button. So, is auto-tagging the right option for you?

Benefits of Google Auto-Tagging

Auto-tagging is a feature in Google Ads that automatically tags the URLs in all of your campaigns. Google Analytics then collects this tracking data. It allows you to see detailed analytics data that provides insights on who is visiting your site and how. So, what are the benefits of enabling auto-tagging as opposed to manual tagging?

Reduces Human Error and Inconsistencies

Auto-tagging does exactly what the name implies- it automatically tags your URLs. This means there isn’t any chance of human error. Let’s face it, we are all human and sometimes we misspell things. It’s understandable, but it can create a real mess when it comes to manually entering UTM parameters. With Google’s auto-tagging feature, you never have to worry about human error-like misspellings.

Also, if you have multiple people working on the same Google Ads account, if there isn’t a clear process in place for tracking URLs, you might not be getting accurate data. For example, UTM parameters are case sensitive. So, if you have one person tagging a URL with utm_source=Google and another tagging it with utm_source=google, your analytics will separate these as different sources. 

You might also run into the problem of employees having different naming conventions, where one person prefers underscores (_) and another person tends to switch between underscores and dashes (_ vs. -), which will all lead to unclear data. With Google auto-tagging, you eliminate your risk for human error and inconsistencies. It does it all for you.

Saves Time and Resources

Parks and Recreation Gif

Another benefit of Google’s auto-tagging feature is that it’s a huge time saver. Manually tagging each URL isn’t difficult, but the time it takes can add up to be significant. By enabling auto-tagging, depending on the size and amount of campaigns you run, you could be saving hours of work per month. This time can then be spent on other tasks and projects. 

Offers Richer Data

One of the biggest draws of using auto-tagging is the data. Auto-taggings gives you access to analytics data that is otherwise impossible to obtain through regular UTM parameters. Manual UTM tags have five possible tags you can use, which are:

  • Campaign Source
  • Campaign Medium
  • Campaign Name
  • Campaign Term
  • Campaign Content

This gives you a fair amount of tracking information, but with Google’s auto-tagging feature, you get much more. Auto-tagging gives you insights into several additional dimensions, including:

  • Query Match Type (How your keyword was actually matched to the search query)
  • Ad Group (The ad group associated with the keyword/creative and click)
  • Final URL (Google Ads Final URL)
  • Ad Format (Text, display, or video)
  • Ad Distribution Network (Google Search)
  • Placement Domain (The domain on the content network where your ads were displayed)
  • Google Ads Customer ID (The unique three-part number that’s assigned to your Google Ads account)

Auto-tagging also gives you richer data than manual tagging in the following reports in Google Analytics:

Google Analytics and Google Ads apps on mobile device screen

  • Hour of Day
  • Placements (Where your ads on the content network were placed)
  • Keyword Positions (What position your ad appeared in on Google Search)
  • Display Targeting
  • Video Campaigns
  • Shopping Campaigns

This additional data can provide you with key insights into your customers as well as strengths and weaknesses in your strategy. 

So, with all of the benefits of Google’s auto-tagging feature, why does anyone still use manual UTM parameters?

Drawbacks of Auto-Tagging

Here’s the catch when it comes to auto-tagging: it only works in Google’s ecosystem. With Google auto-tagging, each URL is tagged with a Gclid. Gclid stands for Google Click Identifier and it’s a unique tracking parameter that Google uses to transfer information between Google Ads and Google Analytics. Each Gclid is encrypted and is only readable by Google. So, if you use any third-party CRMs or analytics tracking software, they won’t be able to decipher this Gclid. 

When Should I Use Auto-Tagging

Based on the fact that Google auto-tagging is only compatible with Google Analytics, you might now be wondering when and if you should use auto-tagging. Well, there are a few things to think about in order to decide if auto-tagging is right for you. 

For example, if you exclusively use Google Ads and Google Analytics, it’s a no brainer. You should definitely use auto-tagging. This will save you time and lead to better tracking information. You don’t even need to worry that auto-tagging doesn’t work with other platforms because you don’t use them. 

On the other hand, if you don’t use either Google Ads or Google Analytics, then obviously you will have to stick to manually tagging. You will only have access to the information provided by auto-tagging if you use both Google Ads and Analytics. 

So, what if you use Google Ads, Google Analytics, and a third-party platform? In this scenario, we recommend using a hybrid of auto-tagging and manual tagging. But, this doesn’t mean you can just enable auto-tagging and manually tag your URLs too. According to Google, “If you unintentionally mix manual and auto-tagging, you’re likely to encounter data discrepancies.” 

Instead, enable the auto-tagging override setting offered in Google Analytics. This way, if you don’t use any manual UTM parameters, auto-tagging will still automatically track your URLs. But, if you do specify manual UTM parameters in a URL, Google Analytics will override auto-tagging and use your manual tags. 

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The Best of Both Worlds

So, there you have it. Google’s auto-tagging feature can be extremely beneficial for those that know how to use it. It might not completely replace manual UTM parameters, but it can supplement them, saving you valuable time. 

If you have any questions on auto-tagging or UTM parameters, get in touch with one of our digital marketing experts. We can help you decide what is the best option for your website when it comes to tracking.