Measure the Impact of Your Digital Campaigns with UTM Parameters

Every marketer should understand her/his website traffic. Familiarizing yourself with your Google Analytics is key to understanding your audience. It can tell you who you’re reaching (and who you’re not reaching), where they are coming from (which of your digital advertising efforts are working), and where they are going on your site.

This knowledge can inform your marketing decisions – what to post about and where, how and where to advertise, what pages of your website should be constantly updated, and more.

The problem is, Google Analytics doesn’t always make it clear where your traffic is coming from. The program automatically tags what it can, but it’s hit or miss. To effectively track your digital marketing efforts, you can add UTM parameters, telling Google Analytics exactly how to track and label your links.

UTM stands for Urchin Tracking Module (named after the corporation that created it). UTM parameters are snippets of code you can add to the end of any URL to communicate to Google Analytics. They are the virtual label-makers of the digital advertising world. They tell Google Analytics which campaign the ad belongs to, where it ran (Google, Facebook, Twitter, etc.), what it was (ad/email/post/etc.), the keyword you were targeting (if applicable) and the content of the ad. That way, when you go into Google Analytics to see how your campaign performed, everything is neatly labeled and you know exactly how much traffic was driven by each advertising effort.

Let’s start by looking at an example. Check out the two links below. In the second link, everything after the ? is UTM code. See any words you recognize from Google Analytics? (Source, Medium, Campaign).

Here is the URL to our homepage:

Here is the URL with UTM parameters:

Creating UTM code is like filling out a form. What’s the source? Facebook. What’s the medium? Pay-per-click (CPC). What’s the campaign? Google Analytics Promotion. In fact, you can skip the code altogether and actually fill out a form using this URL builder. And, voila, you have a track-able link. Go ahead, give it a try.

There are five “labels” you can use to build your UTM links (the first two are required):
Source: This is where the traffic comes from. It might be Google, Facebook, a local news site, an influencer’s blog, etc.
Medium: This is what the traffic comes from. (Sure, it’s from Facebook, but was it an ad or a post?). Think banner ad, email, display ad (CPC), blog post, social media post, etc.
Campaign: This is how you’ll identify the marketing effort. (It’s a Facebook ad that is a part of a larger campaign to promote a series of Google Analytics tools). You might name the campaign based on the offer, the slogan, the holiday or time of year, etc.
Term: This is the targeted keyword and will be used almost exclusively for tracking Google Search Ads.
Content: This is used to differentiate between multiple ads when the source/medium/campaign are the same. You’ll use this mostly for A/B testing or multiple variations of the same ad.

It’s easier than you thought, right? Just keep in mind there are a few “rules” that will help keep things consistent. The most important thing you can do when implementing UTM parameters is create naming conventions. Consistency is key. You will thank yourself a year later when you go into Google Analytics and know exactly what to search for.

Be specific. You don’t want your source to say “social-media” and your medium to say “post” or you won’t know if the post came from Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or LinkedIn.

Avoid redundancies. Facebook is the source, not the medium. You don’t need your source to say “facebook” and your medium to say “facebook-post.” Your medium can simply say “post” or “ad.” Think through how you will label all of your marketing efforts and simplify wherever possible.

Keep everything lowercase. The UTM parameters are case sensitive, which means if you’ve named your source “Facebook” but later tag another URL with “facebook,” it will show up as two different sources. That can make the reporting process a big headache. Making it a habit to use lowercase only will prevent accidental capitalizations.

Other “rules”

  • No spaces. Use dashes.
  • Consider including the year in your campaign names for YOY comparisons.
  • Don’t share links with UTM parameters. It will appear in Google Analytics exactly as you’ve labeled it, regardless of where that link ends up.
  • Write up your naming conventions and make sure anyone on your team who will be creating UTM links knows the rules.
  • Keep every UTM link you’ve created in a spreadsheet to keep track of them and to make sure everyone on your team is following naming conventions.
  • Don’t use UTM links to track your website’s internal traffic. Google Analytics doesn’t need UTM parameters to track where users are going when they move between pages on your website.

That’s all there is to it. So bookmark that UTM builder page, whip out those naming conventions, and let your web analytics tell you exactly what you need to do to improve your digital marketing efforts. Good luck!