Getting Started With UTM Parameters

A UTM code is a tag added to the end of a URL which, once clicked by a user, sends data back to Google Analytics. UTM codes allow you to track which elements of your online marketing strategy are most effective, from links on an email to content shared via social media.

“UTM” stands for “Urchin Tracking Module.” Google acquired Urchin Software Corporation in 2005.

A UTM-tagged URL looks like this:

http://www.example.com/?utm_campaign=blackfriday&utm_medium=social&utm_source=twitter

In this example, the link is tagged as part of a Black Friday promotion, that is running on social media and was shared on Twitter.

UTM codes are composed of between three to five parameters. Three are required. You have the option of using two more, depending upon your campaign needs.

Required Parameters

Name. The campaign parameter enables you to track visitors tied to a specific effort or initiative. For example, you decided that you want to promote your Black Friday offer on social media, your blog and through paid search. If you used the “&utm_medium=blackfriday15,” you could track which source drove the most traffic and sales to your site from your different posts and platforms.

Medium. This parameter should answer the question, “How is my traffic coming to me?” For example, a link on Facebook could be coming from a post or an ad. It is helpful to establish UTM conventions for medium up front, so that your link-tracking process will be consistent and easier to report on. Some medium tags that you may want to consider using include email, blog, social, cpc (for cost-per-click advertising) and banner for display advertising.

Source.  Google recommends using the “source” field to describe the referrer, or the entity that’s sending traffic to your site. For social media, a simple but effective approach is to use the social platform that you’re sharing the link to as the “source” UTM. For example, if you post a link to Facebook, tag with “&utm_source=facebook.” If the same link is shared on Twitter, use the “&utm_source=twitter” parameter instead.

Optional Parameters

Term. This parameter is used for paid search. It allows Google Analytics to note the keywords were associated with an ad, if you are not already using auto tagging for your campaigns. For example: utm_term=black+friday+sale for the keyword “black friday sale.”

Content. Google recommends that utm_content be used to differentiate ads or links that point to the same URL. If you are running two different banners for your Black Friday promotion, you could use this target to track performance for the two creative types.

Generating the URLs

To implement a UTM parameter, use the Google Analytics URL builder (https://support.google.com/analytics/answer/1033867?hl=en). The form will return a URL that you can then copy and paste in your links, without manually generating or modifying the code.

It is important to remember that UTM parameters are case sensitive. If you tag a URL with ‘utm_campaign=Christmas’ and one with ‘utm_campaign=Christmas.’ These will appear as two separate campaigns within your Google Analytics account. Planning out what terms you’ll use for tagging in advance will help reduce inconsistencies in generating the URLs and within your Google Analytics reporting.

UTM parameters are also visible to users in their browser address bar. Be sure to use only public facing terms and abbreviations.

Finally, remember that UTM codes are intended to track external links pointing to your website. Every time a UTM code is click, a new visit is recorded in Google Analytics. If they are implemented incorrectly, they can inflate your visit count and skew your site data. An example of a poor use of UTMs would be to add code to your site navigation and homepage banner to track interest in your new clearance promotion. There are better ways to track links within your website, including event tracking, custom variables and virtual page views.

Reporting in Google Analytics

You can find UTM information with your Google Analytics dashboard:

Acquisition > All Traffic > Source/Medium
Acquisition > Campaigns > All Campaigns

If a URL was not clicked, you will not have traffic recorded in Google Analytics.

Wrapping Up

Although it can take some time to initially set-up, I would recommend that, where possible, every external link pointing to your website is tagged so that you can determine where your traffic is coming from and what marketing efforts are generating the best results for you online. Using UTM codes can help with budget allocation by highlighting opportunities for potential growth, and which areas you potentially scale back without adversely impacting site traffic.