It's one thing to track activity on your site, but how do you relate it to the external campaigns that you run? Knowing how the visitor landed on your site can help you understand what marketing initiatives are best for your business.
Introducing UTM parameters. Here's the full rundown on UTM parameters are and some learnings I got through making tons of mistakes over the past year. You'll run into a lot of human error, but don't worry. Over time, you'll get past it and knock it out of the park.
What are UTM Parameters?
Well, let’s ask why it’s called UTM in the first place, such a strange acronym right? UTM stands for “Urchin tracking module,” which was a product of the Urchin Software Corporation acquired by Google. They provided the software that laid the foundation of what is known as Google Analytics today.
UTM parameters are a set of keywords categorized into different dimensions to tell Google Analytics which link referred a user to your website. The parameters are added to the end of each link you want to track, which doesn’t affect the actual content itself. Instead, it allows you to keep track of where your users are coming from, and which links or campaigns bring you the most value, aka conversions.
Standard UTM parameters
Whenever you manually add a set of UTM parameters to a URL, Google requires you to identify the source, medium, and campaign. There are two additional options you can use for more granular reporting (if needed) which are term and content. Let’s take a brief look at all of them.
Source: the website domain that the link is placed on
Medium: the channel grouping that the website domain belongs to, ie Paid Search, Social, Email, and more
Campaign: the unique identifier of the promotion or content you’re running on these external sites
Term: the specific audience target group or paid search keyword you’re bidding for
Content: the type of creative or copy that you’ve associated the link with
You’ll notice that my definitions aren’t just focused on paid ads. You can customize your UTM parameters to pretty much anything that’s not your website. If you want to get deeper into any external, referring link, just add some UTM codes and you can dive into it later with Google Analytics.
Why use UTM Parameters?
UTM Parameters are important in helping you track all your marketing initiatives that live on other websites. Especially when you’re paying for them, you’ll know if you’re getting valuable traffic and can weed out the weak campaigns. Most ad platforms like Facebook Ads and Google Ads (by default) will tell you everything up until the click starting from the impression. But what happens after? Did the user do anything?
This is where UTM parameters come in to give you the rest of the story, post-click activity. The rest of the story is pushed to Google Analytics, so you can learn about what they did after and if they even made a purchase.
UTM parameters also allow you to label specifically what each link is, and piece together what worked best in attracting a user to click. With 5 different parameters, the labeling options give you a holistic view of the campaign you ran.
Best Practices for Creating Custom UTM Parameters
When you’re setting up your values, you’ll need to follow a few rules to make sure your Google Analytics data is easy to use.
- Use consistent naming conventions, and double check your spelling if added manually!
- Make sure you use the default keywords for utm_medium given by Google here or follow your customized channel grouping settings.
- Avoid using spaces, but rather underscores if needed. Google will automatically put a % to make the URL flow, which may affect your data and is harder to pull through reports.
- Keep UTM parameter values as simple as possible. You don’t want a 10,000 character URL that gets cut off in reports.
- Do not use UTM parameters all the time! There are times when you want Google to auto-fill who the referrer is because an influencer can post the same link in 500 places.
- UTM parameter values are case-sensitive, so stick with lowercase to maintain easy consistency.
Two Methods You Can Use to Create Your Own URL Tagging
The most common use case for UTM parameters is Google Ads, and luckily they offer an auto-tagging feature to get you the post-click data seamlessly. You’ll know when auto-tagging is enabled when you see the “gclid” keyword being appended to your URL.
3 Steps on How to Enable Auto-Tagging for Google Ads
- Navigate to the left-side menu and click on Settings.
- Click on Account Settings.
- Click into the Auto-Tagging section and select “Tag the URL that people click through my ad.” And save.
Note: Make sure to only use one method at a time as manual tagging may override your auto-tagging.
To set manual tagging to override all auto-tagging (including Google Ads), navigate to your Google Analytics account’s Admin Settings. Then, find your Property Settings and select “Allow manual tagging (UTM values) to override auto-tagging.”
Remember, the override will only happen if you enter in the utm_source or else auto-tagging will apply to the data instead, including the source. Whichever additional parameter you don’t specify, Google Analytics will pull the auto-tagging parameters.
View the benefits of using Auto-tagging and Manual tagging here.
Manual tagging your UTM parameters will help push the data from other platforms into Google Analytics that don’t have auto-tagging ie Facebook Ads. You can use a mixture of manual tagging and auto-tagging for Google Ads for rare cases, but it may cause some discrepancy in your data.
For manual tagging, just make sure you have the appropriate medium or spelling of the domain to ensure the right Channel Grouping. Here’s a great reference here for utm_medium.
How to Check Your UTMs in Google Analytics
Now that all your links are set up, it’s time for the fun part and check how your campaigns and links are doing in Google Analytics. It’s important to note that UTM parameters will not show up until a user has actually clicked through. So you can safely assume if there are no results for a target campaign, then it’s not attracting users at all. It’s a sign to start changing up your campaign.
Head over to the Acquisition tab and click into the “Campaigns” report. This is the hub where all your UTM parameters are entering into. The Primary Dimension will default to utm_campaign values, but you can add a Secondary Dimension to view in the same report. You can select from any dimension available in Google Analytics. But for this campaign exercise, find out which version of the same campaign did best with the 4 other UTM parameters
Source/Medium will be grouped together as a dimension option, so it’s great to put that as a Secondary Dimension for include a 3rd bonus dimension.
Finding Term or Content Reports
Out of the Primary Dimensions links above the Campaign report table, you won’t see Term or Content. So how do you find it?
There are two ways.
1. Click into the “Other” link in the Primary Dimension row and find “Term” or “Content”
2. Click into the Secondary Dimension button and add it from the drop down.
Even though Google Analytics doesn’t show these UTM parameters as default dimensions, it doesn’t mean you can’t drag a dimension in. Just takes you an extra few steps.