UTM parameters allow analytics platforms, such as Google Analytics, to better recognise the traffic sources that are sending traffic to your site. This helps companies understand the effectiveness of different marketing campaigns and marketing resources.
Whether you’re doing banner advertising, or featuring a guest blog on a partner website, UTM tags (sometimes referred to as campaign parameters) deepen your understanding of what’s working in your marketing strategy. UTM parameters are particularly useful when trying to understanding where you are acquiring visitors from and, when used in conjunction with conversion data, enable you to see which of your acquisition channels (such as organic search or paid acquisition) provide the best conversion rate.
If you don’t use UTM parameters, you will find a huge amount of the traffic in your analytics just shows up as “Direct” as Google Analytics is unable to classify the traffic correctly. Direct is effectively a catch-all bucket for traffic that Google is unable to classify correctly.
What do UTM tags look like?
A tracking URL is a normal URL with a “token” attached to the end of it, for example:
What To Tag
You can use URL tags so that you know when people visit your site as a result of clicking on your:
- Landing Pages
- A Social Media Update
- A Social Media Profile Link
- Email Signatures
- Email Campaigns
- Online Advertising
- Print & Offline Advertising
- Guest Blog Posts
- A Downloadable Guide or Whitepaper
- Conference Slides
UTM Tag Structure
Campaigns tags consist of a number of parameters, these are 5 in total of which 3 (in bold) are required:
UTM Medium indicates the overall marketing medium (or channel). Keep these broad and high-level. By default, Google Analytics automatically identifies:
- Organic Search
- Paid Search
- Other Advertising
Avoid creating your own Mediums and stick to the Default Channel Definitions where possible. Taking advantage of the default channel groupings will make life much easier when organising your analytics data.
A tracking code with the Medium parameter looks like this:
UTM Source provides an additional level of detail over and above the Medium. It indicates which provider or site within the channel the traffic originated from e.g. google.com, twitter.com, facebook.com, jan_newsletter. Think about it as where the “click” is coming from. It is common practise to use the domain (.com, .co.uk etc) at the end of a source name where appropriate. The source is also known as the referrer.
Note: The utm_source parameter is required. If you only include utm_medium or utm_campaign your campaign tracking will not work.
A tracking code with both the Medium and Source parameters looks like this:
A Note On Source Information
UTM Campaign should be your actual campaign name, likely the one that matches the name in your CRM or Marketing Automation solution.
Your campaign name may span multiple mediums and sources hence using a consistent name here will ensure you can analyse and compare all of this activity across different channels, quickly and easily. For example:
Note: campaign is also a good parameter to denote geolocation (e.g. aws-partner-promotion-uk).
A tracking code with all 3 parameters (Medium, Source and Campaign) looks like this:
Consistency Is Key
The best advice we can give you for UTM tagging is to be consistent in your approach. Here are 3 simple rules we suggest clients follow:
- Use a dash sign to join words e.g. strategy-ebook. Do not use underscores, percentage signs, plus signs or the ampersand (‘&’) symbol
- Tags are case sensitive, utm_source=blog and utm_source=Blog are not the same. Always use lowercase.
- Always add all 3 parameters. Only utm_source is required but it’s easiest to get in the habit of always using all 3.
We have added some sample UTM codes below.
Sample UTM Codes
Campaign parameters tags can be added manually or via an increasing number of online URL builders:
- The Google Analytics URL builder, the most popular tool
- The Google Analytics URL Builder Chrome Extension with built-in bit.ly shortening
- The Terminus URL Builder
- Effin Amazing’s UTM Builder Chrome Extension enables you to generate UTM campaigns on the fly, from Chrome
Many 3rd party email and social media marketing tools such as HubSpot, Drip and Buffer will automatically add the correct UTM tags to content, removing the need for this to be done manually. In addition Google AdWords and Analytics have fantastic auto-tagging capabilities.
Whilst there are many tools to help with creating tags, there are far fewer that keep a history of the campaigns you have created. Companies such as Terminus provide dedicated software solutions to track tagging.
Most companies tend to rely on a simple spreadsheet that stores and catalogs all UTM parameters for consistency and reporting.
There are a number of UTM tracking spreadsheet templates:
- Rafflecopter link tagging tool
- Annie Cushing’s spreadsheet
- Buffers UTM Tagging Template
- Justin Jackson’s UTM Tracker
Include your naming convention in your tracking document along with any tagging “rules” (such as the 3 above) to ensure consistency. This ensures the marketing team, and new hires, have something that is easy to reference and ensures reporting remains reliable.
When you append a UTM tag to a URL the URL can become long and bulky. You may want to use a link shortener so that:
- people don’t feel like they’re being tracked
- they are easier to share
- readers focus on the content, not the odd looking link in the address bar
- you can add them to a plain text email, or to offline (e.g. print) marketing materials
- you can further promote your brand via a custom link shortener
There are 3 main options here that allow you to share neat, short URLs but retain your tracking information:
- Use a link shortening service such as Bitly, or Po.st. Many social networks have their own (e.g. Twitter shortens to t.co)
- Use a link shortening service with a custom short domain.
- Use a service such as Terminus which automatically shortens your UTM tracking URLs as soon as they are built
- Use a social tool such as Buffer to automatically tag and shorten your URLs
All links shared on the Moz twitter feed use the mz.cm URL which both shortens links and extends their brand.
Keep in mind that by default many social media sharing tools promote their own brand, not yours. By default Buffer change all of your links to their custom buff.ly domain.
A well-considered strategy for link tagging and sharing is one of the most efficient ways to increase the accuracy of your analytics and reporting.
For further information on more advanced UTM topics we highly recommend the Terminus blog.
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