I am helping a friend build his Seinfeld trivia game. It's working and the Seinfeld-zealots on reddit seem to like it a lot, but we need to advertise it. The issue of tracking our traffic sources has arisen. We need to generate traffic and want to know where our traffic is coming from so we can effectively assess where the tiny marketing budget would be be spent. We will be installing Google Analytics to track user behavior, etc.
NOTE: the project runs Node+MongoDB server side (not my choice as I can help very little there) and the ability to implement logic server-side will be quite limited.
I've seen widespread use of query strings in links by/to the giant websites (e.g., fb, twitter, google, etc.). E.g., a recent search for "krakatoa" on google yields a twitter result with appended query string elements clearly intended to identify the traffic source:
Facebook also appends ?fbclid=<SOME-LONG-STRING> to any url that you post there, where <SOME-LONG-STRING> is either cryptic base64-encoded data or, more likely, some uniqid for tracking purposes.
Clearly they are tracking user behavior using query strings rather than hashtags and this got me wondering how they reconcile this with SEO imperatives. I learned from past experience that having many different urls linking to a single page of content (e.g., query strings that specify sorting or something) can really badly penalize your search engine rankings. Two obvious possible reasons come to mind: 1) folks sharing links to your site are not using the same url, which spreads your page rank score across many different urls and 2) Search engines may be penalizing you for spamming the content, etc.
I do see that one can specify rel=canonical attributes in one's own links, but this doesn't help for traffic from external sources. A 301 redirect also seems bad because you could surely redirect to your canonical url but you wouldn't be able to load any Google Analytics first, which would defeat your use of the query strings for tracking. A header sounds good, as does a sitemap.
So my question is a rather broad one, and my knowledge of marketing & tracking techniques is woefully inadequate. What are the cool folks doing to track sources of traffic to better steer marketing dollars? Any tips specific to Google Analytics would be much appreciated, as that will likely be our primary analytics tool.