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The Ultimate Guide to UTM Tagging

Introduction

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.

Why “UTM”?

UTM stands for “Urchin tracking module.” Urchin Software Corporation was acquired by Google in 2005, and their software laid the groundwork for what we now know as Google Analytics.

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:

www.digitalelite.co.uk?utm_campaign=summer-promo

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
  • Newsletter
  • 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:

  1. Medium
  2. Source
  3. Campaign
  4. Content
  5. Term

Medium (utm_medium)

UTM Medium indicates the overall marketing medium (or channel). Keep these broad and high-level. By default, Google Analytics automatically identifies:

  • Direct
  • Organic Search
  • Social
  • Email
  • Affiliates
  • Referral
  • Paid Search
  • Other Advertising
  • Display

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:

www.digitalelite.co.uk/offer?utm_medium=social 

Source (utm_source)

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:

www.digitalelite.co.uk/offer?utm_medium=social&utm_source=linkedin

A Note On Source Information

When determining the source of a visit, most analytics tools will prioritise a tracking URL over referrer data that is sent in the header of the web request.

In addition, not using UTM parameters and relying on referral source information is often unreliable. For example, a traffic source of twitter.com is only shown for people who use the Twitter web interface. Without UTM tagging people that use a twitter client or mobile app will show up in Google Analytics as direct traffic.

Campaign (utm_campaign)

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:

  • aws-partner-promotion
  • google-partner-promotion
  • cyber-strategy-ebook
  • newsletter-signup-campaign

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:

www.digitalelite.co.uk/offer?utm_medium=social&utm_source=linkedin&utm_campaign=aws-partner-promotion-uk

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:

  1. Use a dash sign to join words e.g. strategy-ebook. Do not use underscores, percentage signs, plus signs or the ampersand (‘&’) symbol
  2. Tags are case sensitive, utm_source=blog and utm_source=Blog are not the same. Always use lowercase.
  3. 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
  • www.yoursite.com/?utm_medium=social&utm_source=facebook&utm_campaign=partner+promotion
  • www.yoursite.com/?utm_medium=social&utm_source=adroll&utm_campaign=q1-promotion
  • www.yoursite.com/?utm_medium=email&utm_source=mailchimp&utm_campaign=newsletter-subscribe
  • www.yoursite.com/?utm_medium=social&utm_source=twitter.com&utm_campaign=amazon-discount
  • www.yoursite.com/offer?utm_source=linkedin&utm_medium=social&utm_campaign=strategy-ebook-uk

UTM Builders

Campaign parameters tags can be added manually or via an increasing number of online URL builders:

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.

Keeping Track

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:

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.

Link Shortening

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:

  1. Use a link shortening service such as Bitly, or Po.st. Many social networks have their own (e.g. Twitter shortens to t.co)
  2. Use a link shortening service with a custom short domain.
  3. Use a service such as Terminus which automatically shortens your UTM tracking URLs as soon as they are built
  4. 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.

Conclusion

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.

Stuart Brameld

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