Do you wish you could track the performance of marketing campaigns with precision? What about replacing vague metrics like clicks and impressions with actual performance data? If so, then it’s time to learn about UTM parameters.
By tagging your URLs with UTMs (Urchin Tracking Module), you can understand how visitors interact with your website. That’s why it’s important for you to know how to add UTM parameters so you can track everything.
In this article, I’ll show you how to do just that. We’ll learn what UTM parameters are, how to generate them, where to use them, and my best practices for making them as effective as possible.
What Are UTM Parameters?
UTM parameters are tags you can add to the end of a URL. You can use the tags alongside an analytics platform like Google Analytics to track how users behave after they’ve clicked on your link.
Here’s how these UTM parameters appear at the end of your URL:
So, what can these snippets of text tell you?
I’ll tell you what you can track in the next section. First, let me tell you one catch associated with them.
UTM parameters are stubborn entities that stick to your links, even when you switch to different networks and mediums.
That means if a visitor picked up your link (tagged with a UTM) from Twitter and shared it on Facebook, everyone else clicking that link would still get counted as a share from Twitter.
According to research conducted by BuzzFeed, content actually spreads across the social web in a branching tree pattern.
That means URLs appended with UTM parameters are going to be picked up and shared across different websites — and that’s going to throw off your UTM tracking.
There’s one potential solution: stripping URLs of UTM codes. You can see how video hosting platform Wistia does this with a piece of code.
But, if this clean URL then gets shared on private social media (think Email, WhatsApp, and Messenger), it appears as direct traffic in your analytics. Again, this is misleading.
With this limitation, I just wanted you to understand that UTMs aren’t the be-all and end-all solution to understanding the performance of your content.
With that said, they sure make it easier to understand the performance of your marketing campaign.
How to Generate URL Parameters With Google’s URL Builder
UTM parameters are a great way to figure out where your traffic is coming from and how users from specific sources of traffic behave on your site. So, is there a systematic way to append them to your URLs?
Say hello to Google’s URL builder. There are actually three different URL builders to choose from depending on whether you want to track data in Google Analytics, Google Play, or the Apple App Store.
We’ll look at the one inside the Google Analytics help center (looks like the screenshot below) for setting up your URLs.
There are three mandatory form fields you need to complete:
- Website URL: The full URL of your website, complete with https://
- Campaign Source: The platform (or vendor) where the traffic originates, like Facebook or your email newsletter.
- Campaign Medium: You can use this to identify the medium like Cost Per Click (CPC), social media, affiliate, or QR code.
There are also four non-mandatory field names you can choose to complete:
- Campaign ID: The ads campaign ID.
- Campaign Name: A name to identify your campaign. Like your website or specific product promotion.
- Campaign Term: You’ll use this mainly for tracking your keywords during a paid Google Ads campaign. You can also use it in your display ad campaigns to identify aspects of your audience.
- Campaign Content: If you’re A/B testing ads, then this is a useful metric that passes details about your ad. You can also use it to differentiate links that point to the same URL.
You can also use the UTM.io Google Chrome extension to create UTMs. It auto-populates the URL and saves your most used terms as presets.
I advise you to keep the number of parameters to a minimum.
For example, here’s what you see when you navigate to Traffic Sources >> Sources >> Campaigns in Google Analytics.
Then, you have to then dig into the secondary dimensions to get to the campaign term and content. So, assuming you’re not working with Google Ads, you may want to fit your details into the three required parameters for easy reporting.
It’s even more complicated to see UTM parameters in GA4. Click on Reports >> Traffic Acquisition to access the correct area. Then click on the blue + icon to add secondary dimensions to aggregated traffic data. You’ll be able to track the following parameters we’ve discussed so far:
- Manual Term
But GA4 lets you go beyond these parameters and create even more should you wish. These include:
- Utm_creative_format: the type of creative, like display or video.
- Utm_marketing_tactic: the marketing tactic you used, like retargeting
- Utm_source_platform: The buying platform that directs traffic, like Search Ads 360
Analytics aside, you should also keep in mind that UTM parameters are case-sensitive. So, if you use Google in one parameter, and google in another, they will be tracked differently. In general, you’ll want to make sure you are using the same parameters for consistency and tracking, especially when it comes to the campaign name. You don’t want to have to look in two separate areas for the same campaign, such as Website and website or Spring Sale and springsale. Figure out a format and stick with it.
UTM Parameter Best Practices
Here are six best practices I recommend you follow to improve the accuracy and effectiveness of your UTM tracking efforts.
1. Create Standard Naming Convention for UTM Parameters
UTM parameters can get very complex, very quickly. But you can avoid a lot of confusion and ensure that your UTMs are reportable if you keep your naming conventions consistent.
First, use dashes over underscores, percentage (representation for spaces inside GA), and plus signs in your URLs. Google algorithm doesn’t penalize you for using them, and they work better — just ask Matt Cutts.
Second, stay consistent with lowercase throughout all of your campaigns. For example,
utm_source=LinkedIn is different from utm_source=linkedin.
Changing to uppercase, camel case, or any other capitalization will require you to remember this convention. It’s better to stick with lowercase and not let human error creep in.
Third, keep your URLs clean, descriptive, non-redundant, and easy to read.
For example, you might mistakenly put the same values inside source and medium parameters.
Or, you can put the specific originating aspect under medium (like the example below), but still manage to confuse yourself with the double use of ‘facebook.’
The best way is to simply make the UTMs flow like a normal sentence sans any redundancy. See how easy it is to decipher your campaign details in the URL below.
The traffic source is Facebook with post as the medium and a part of the new admin dashboard 2014 April campaign.
Here is a visual summary of the points I just mentioned.
Note: Once you’ve taken sufficient time to create data-rich URLs, I recommend that you shorten them, using tools like bit.ly or Firebase Dynamic Links. A long and bulky URL does not make for a good user experience and might even come across as spammy.
Remember, UTM parameters are visible to the users in their address bars. So be transparent and don’t use values that you don’t want to be seen by the user.
2. Track Your UTM Links Inside a Spreadsheet
Keeping a record of the tagged links will ensure that your marketing team stays on the same page. You can use this free spreadsheet template by Sam Wiltshire or this free link tagging tool by Rafflecopter to get started.
Additionally, create a naming convention guide document that lays out clear instructions for tagging links. This can be an iterative and expanding guide – if you come across a new scenario, you can add the example to this document.
3. Connect Tracking Data To Your UTM System
The most important aspect for a business isn’t the number of clicks and traffic generated by various sources; it’s revenue.
So, once you know your way around UTMs, it’s useful to connect your tracking data with your CRM. It shows you a clear picture of how various online marketing channels are affecting your bottom line.
Alternatively, you can also set up goals inside GA. For example, you can measure reader loyalty and engagement using Google Analytics.
I recommend, though, that you track more concrete conversion-focused metrics, like leads generated and email signups.
4. Be Careful When Copying and Pasting Links With UTM Codes
Please don’t get carried away using URLs with UTM parameters and take particular care when copying and pasting them. It’s very easy to copy links from your own content that include UTM codes and post them elsewhere. This can cause havoc with your UTM tracking.
If you use UTM codes, you’ll have to get into the habit of making sure every URL you paste is free from tracking codes. It’s a pain, but it’s a necessary evil to ensure traffic from each URL is attributed properly.
5. Don’t Use UTM Parameters for Internal Links
You should only use UTM parameters for external links that point to your website. In other words, please don’t use UTM parameters on your internal links.
Once visitors have arrived at your site, there’s no need to alter which platform referred them. But that’s what will happen if you add UTM parameters to the internal links of your website. And this can cause a heap of problems:
- Sessions get artificially inflated because a new session is triggered every time a parameter is recognized.
- Conversions get attributed incorrectly because the external source is no longer clear.
- Average session duration will decrease because you’ll have dozens of sessions with no action.
- Bounce rate will increase as a result because multiple sessions will be cut short.
There’s no reason to use UTM parameters for internal links, either. You can use Google Analytics to track the flow of users once they land on your website under the Audience tab or create events using Google Tag Manager to record when users take a specific action.
6. Record When Links Are Built And By Who
Don’t just track UTM links in a spreadsheet. Make a note of when they were built and by whom. That way, everyone knows who to speak to when they have questions about a specific marketing campaign.
If you use a tool like UTM.io, it will auto-populate a “Created by” field with user account information, so you don’t have to store the data separately somewhere else.
Where to Use UTM Parameters
Here are five UTM parameter use cases you can implement right away.
1. Social Media
Google Analytics reports on traffic from many social networks. However, there is no way to distinguish visitors who click on links in your profile bio, your status updates, or your ads. Not unless you use UTM parameters, that is.
Suppose you want to find your highest ROI-yielding social media platform and which links on that platform perform the best, traffic-wise. UTMs can help you analyze your social media referral traffic.
For example, on Twitter, you have four options to promote your links – a regular tweet, a promoted tweet, a website field, and a profile/bio description.
Barring the profile link (since it displays the first part of the URL you enter), you can track all of these link clicks separately.
Here are example UTM parameter strings, based on Twitter with different medium values.
Similarly, on Facebook, you can create separate UTM links for promoted posts, profile contact info, posts in a group, organic posts from your page, and more.
Once you start getting data and if you create goals (as I mentioned in my third best practice above), then you’ll get an enriching GA report like the one below.
Below, I’ll explain how you can use UTM parameters on the most popular social networks.
On Twitter, you can share links in four ways:
- In the 160 characters of your profile bio / description
- In the website field
- In a regular tweet
- In a promoted tweet
You don’t have to worry about UTM URLs eating into your character limit. You can use a service like Bitly to shorten links where possible.
The only exception is the main website link on your profile. Since it displays the first part of the URL that you enter, it will show part of the UTM parameters tags. For branding purposes, you will want to use your real URL instead of your Bitly URL. So, this might be one to skip for tracking.
Example UTM parameter strings to use are the following:
On Facebook, you can share your URL in a variety of places:
- In your personal profile’s contact information
- In a status update on your personal profile
- In your page’s short description that displays below your page’s profile image
- In a post on your page’s wall
- In a promoted post on your page’s wall
- In a group description
- In a post within the group
The only acceptable place to use shortened URLs to shrink your URLs with UTM parameters is within posts. Your personal profile’s contact information, page’s short description, and group description show the full URL, so it’s best to use your normal URL. This is especially true on your page’s short description, as anything longer than 160 characters will be cut off.
Example UTM parameter strings to use are the following:
There are several ways to share a link on LinkedIn. In fact, it probably has the most places to share links:
- In your professional profile’s contact information
- In your professional profile’s Publications and Projects sections
- In a status update on your professional profile
- In a status update in a group
- In a welcome message or announcement email to group members
- In your company page’s overview section
- In your company page’s product and services section
- In a status update on your company page
Unfortunately, the only UTM trackable areas are on your professional profile. When it comes to the status updates, LinkedIn seems to strip UTM tags, regardless of whether you shorten your URLs or not. And the rest display the full URL, which means you have to either share a shortened URL or the full URL with the UTM tags.
Example UTM parameter strings to use are the following:
Unfortunately, Pinterest has two issues when you’re trying to track your links.
If you include a URL with UTM parameters, Pinterest will strip any parameters beyond the campaign source. And if you try to use a Bitly link, it will warn those who click on it that the link is suspicious and may block the referral altogether.
For the most part, this is to prevent people from sharing affiliate links on their pins and profiles, but it hurts those trying to get specific with their tracking.
2. Email Marketing
Want to understand the parameters inside your newsletter that contribute the majority of traffic to your website?
Then, appending UTMs to your URLs can help.
Let’s look at an example email by Redfin.
All of the links inside the above email share these UTM parameters:
utm_campaign : instant_listings_update
utm_medium : email
utm_source : myredfin
With that said, Redfin has correctly set up different utm_content values for all of their links (the screenshot above displays the unique values for each link). So, even when the subscribers of the myredfin list go to the same page, redfin knows the link they have clicked.
Now, let’s look at a bad example of UTM.
Here’s an email from Pinterest, recommending certain boards to follow.
As you can see, every board has an author, 5 images and a follow board CTA.
All of the above links share the following UTM parameters:
utm_campaign : weekly_wkly_130722
utm_medium : email
utm_source : sendgrid.com
Note that the utm_campaign value at 13 07 22 represents the date it was sent on (22/07/2013). It’s a useful piece of information.
But, other than that, Pinterest fails to impress with its UTM implementation. Here are the issues:
- There’s no way to find out the specific images and CTA buttons inside the email where the audience clicks. So, Pinterest doesn’t even know which of their “Follow Boards” buttons work well. The utm_content can be employed to gain this insight.
- The utm_campaign value adds a confusing overhead with double usage of ‘weekly’ and ‘wkly.’ And, sendgrid.com as utm_source does not add any value, from an analytics perspective. It’s the email service provider that Pinterest uses and they are already aware of that.
You can further implement UTM parameters inside your email signature to track if it leads visitors to your website.
Gniewko Oblicki created a company-wide signature template, appending UTM parameters. Here’s how it looks in CodeTwo Exchange Rules HTML editor.
He ran five footer campaigns in the company and found that users engaged incredibly well on their website. Here’s the GA report showing the results of 1682 sessions initiated by the five campaigns.
If you regularly perform paid marketing, then I am sure you would like to know the banner ads that perform the best.
With UTMs, you can not only find out the external website that brings the most traffic, but you can even find out the banner placement, design, size, color, and banner types that are most effective.
For example, suppose you use two banner sizes, 300px and 600px, for advertising on a third-party website, Koozai.
Here’s how the UTM might look if it is 300 px wide.
Here’s how it would look when it is 600 px wide.
Once you’ve tagged both sizes, you can easily find the one that’s more effective and double down on it.
4. Local SEO
UTM parameters make it easy to see just how much traffic your Google My Business profile is actually generating. It’s simply a case of adding UTM tags to the links on your Google My Business profile.
It’s not just your homepage link you can track, either. Menus, orders, appointments, and all of the other shortcuts GMB offers users can be tracked by UTM parameters.
Here’s how you can add UTM tags to your GMB profile.
Log in to GMB and click on the edit icon to bring up your business’s information.
Next, use one of the UTM tag generator tools discussed above to create a new URL. I recommend using the following parameters:
Campaign Source: google
Campaign Medium: organic
Campaign Name: gmb
For each link, change the Campaign Content tag to reflect the location. For example, the main URL could be “main” or “home”, the menu URL should be “menu” etc.
Click save and you’re done. It’s that easy!
5. Influencer Marketing
Influencer marketing is notoriously hard to measure, particularly when you want to understand the impact of one influencer compared to another. But UTM parameters can make this easy.
If you’re using influencers to promote your products on social media, a blog, or YouTube, you can provide them with a personalized UTM parameter link to see how much traffic they drive and how much of it converts.
Create and use UTM tags for influencers just like you would for any other marketing campaign:
- Determine relevant parameters like the influencer’s name, your specific marketing campaign and the medium.
- Create UTM tags using the tools I’ve discussed above.
- Share the UTMs with influencers and double check they are using the right URL. You can offer to reward influencers with a bonus if you think it might help.
- Track the performance of your influencer campaigns and use the data generated by UTM tags to optimize campaigns in the future.
UTM Guide FAQs
UTM is an acronym for Urchin Tracking Module. They are short pieces of code added to a URL that tracks the source of website traffic.
UTMs are parameters you can add to a link that allows you to track specific information about the link including channel, source, campaign, context, and term. Most marketers use UTMs to track traffic sources.
You can use UTM parameters to track the performance of your marketing campaigns. Specifically, you can see where traffic is coming from, which campaigns are driving the most clicks and which channels are most effective.
UTMs use a small snippet of code that provides specific information about a link. Depending on the UTM you use, it might track which campaign a click came from or how many people clicked a link in your email.
In marketing, UTMs are generally used to track marketing ROI. By placing small pieces of code in an URL, marketers can track exactly how a site visitor found their site. For example, a paid ad, Facebook post, or email campaign.
If you want to understand how effective your marketing is, yes. UTMs provide detailed information about where traffic comes from, which allows you to understand what campaigns are actually driving traffic and revenue.
UTM parameters provide extremely valuable insights into your traffic. You can uncover a goldmine of behavioral data to help boost your sales and refine your overall marketing strategy.
To recap, create UTM parameters for your links using Google’s URL builder. It’ll help you start campaign tracking. And, remember to keep the best practices in mind as you do so.
Have you ever used UTM parameters for campaign tracking? Did it lead to insights about building a custom campaign? Let me know your thoughts in the comments section below.
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