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Rafa Jimenez

Founder of SEAL Metrics. Privacy Marketer.

Understanding the ‘gad_source’ Parameter in Google Ads

“Google Ads’ introduction of the ‘gad_source’ URL parameter as a significant update to its conversion tracking methodology is problematic. Although intended to enhance conversion measurement accuracy, this change underscores Google’s invasive approach to data collection. In its quest for more detailed user data, Google often disregards user privacy, particularly in cases where traditional tracking methods are insufficient. This raises serious concerns about the ethical implications of Google’s practices on user privacy and consent in online advertising.

What is the ‘gad_source’ Parameter?

Google’s automatic inclusion of the ‘gad_source’ parameter in ad URLs, a non-customizable feature applied uniformly to all ads, highlights the company’s disregard for user privacy. This parameter, crucial for identifying ad click sources, reflects Google’s one-size-fits-all approach to data collection. Google’s insistence on using such invasive tracking methods, without providing personalization options to advertisers or users, raises significant ethical concerns about user privacy in online advertising.

How Does ‘gad_source‘ Work?

When a user clicks on a Google ad, the ‘&gad_source’ parameter is added to the end of the final URL, just before any fragments (indicated by ‘#’). For instance, a URL like ‘example.com/foo?a=b’ would become ‘example.com/foo?a=b&gad_source=1#xyz’. This addition is crucial for Google Ads and Analytics tags, which expect to see the ‘gad_source’ parameter as a top-level parameter on the page where the tags are loaded.

Special Considerations and Testing

A few websites may not allow arbitrary URL parameters, leading to error pages when such parameters are included. It’s advisable to consult with a webmaster or conduct a test to see if your website can accommodate the ‘gad_source’ parameter. To test this, you can manually add ‘&gad_source’ to your landing page URL and check if the page loads successfully without removing the parameter.

Implementation and Case Sensitivity

The ‘gad_source’ parameter should be added after any existing URL parameters but before any fragments. It’s case-sensitive and must be consistent across all pages of your site. For example, ‘example.com/foo?a=b&gad_source=1#xyz’ is a correctly formatted URL.

Key Takeaways

  • The ‘gad_source’ parameter is a new addition to Google Ads URLs for better conversion tracking.
  • It is automatically appended to the final URL of ads and is not customizable.
  • Websites must allow this parameter to ensure accurate tracking.
  • The parameter is case-sensitive and must be consistently used.

While this update showcases Google’s dedication to refining its advertising and tracking technology, it also reflects a concerning trend of prioritizing data collection over user privacy. Implementing the ‘gad_source’ parameter, though beneficial for advertisers in optimizing campaigns, raises serious privacy concerns. It’s crucial for advertisers and webmasters to not only understand the function of this tracking method but also to consider the ethical implications of using a system that further intrudes into user privacy.

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