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Not to cause panic, but the death of third-party cookies is looming, and marketers need solutions, stat. Enter UTM codes. 

For the unacquainted, UTM parameters are a simple and reliable way to track your website traffic, conversions, and revenue activity. Not only are they unaffected by changes to third-party cookies or Facebook’s pixel, but they are also typically well-integrated into different analytics platforms, whether it be Google Analytics or AdRoll’s new Cross-Channel Performance Dashboard.

Gone are the days where marketing is all about relying on your gut — now, standing out from the noise requires digging through data and making continuous optimization decisions — and that starts with understanding UTM best practices.

In this article: 
What Are UTM Codes?
9 UTM Best Practices
Getting Started With AdRoll’s Cross-Channel Performance Dashboard

What Are UTM Codes?

UTM (which stands for “Urchin Traffic Monitor”) codes are snippets of text marketers can add to the end of URLs, informing analytics tools on how to categorize incoming traffic data. Standard UTM parameters, or the “tags,” include:

  • Source: Which social network, search engine, or specific source drove the traffic to your site?
  • Medium: Which channel type (e.g., organic social, paid social, email) drove the traffic to your site?
  • Term: Are there paid keywords or key phrases that warrant a UTM tag?
  • Content: Are there different ads within a campaign? 
  • Campaign name: Every campaign should have a unique name, so you can keep track of traffic. This could be the name of a contest, sale, deal, influencer ID, or even a product name.  

By combining these UTM parameters in one URL, you can pinpoint the exact sources driving traffic to your site. 

What a link with UTM parameters typically looks like.

Want to learn more about how UTM parameters work (and explore real-life examples)? Check out this guide, which dives into everything from what they are to how marketers can use them. (Pro Tip: Don’t forget to download the super handy template at the very end that’ll get you started!) 

9 UTM Best Practices

We’re here to make sure your UTM strategy allows you to capture as many wins as possible. Read on for the nine UTM best practices to consider when developing your UTM strategy, from choosing the right campaigns to using UTM parameter builders.

1. Determine which campaigns warrant UTM parameters for tracking

One of our favorite aspects of UTMs is how ubiquitous they are — you can use them to track your marketing spanning the entire customer journey. This includes:

Email campaigns

We love email campaigns at AdRoll — they’re cheap, effective, and multifunctional. You can include UTM codes in your emails to track which links, CTAs, or images were clicked on. Over time, you’ll have a better sense of which types of emails have the best conversion rates. 

Social campaigns

Whether you’re a Facebook fan or Twitter lover, social media marketing is a huge way for ecommerce marketers to connect with their customers, grab attention, and drive sales. With so many ways to boost traffic via social media, adding UTM parameters to your URLs can provide great insight into which platforms and post types are pulling their weight. 

Digital ad campaigns

Even if your digital ad vendor provides you with a dashboard, we still recommend tracking your digital ad campaigns using UTM parameters. That’s because you’ll get a better view of the links between specific ads and conversions, as well as have an easier time comparing the performance of your digital ad campaigns with your other marketing channels. 

Affiliate campaigns

Looking to leverage influencer marketing but are unsure of how to measure how well the program is working? With UTM codes, you can assign unique links to every affiliate in your network, so you can see who’s getting you clicks. 

Offline campaigns

Similarly, if you’re unsure whether your billboards, flyers, or direct mail are actually driving traffic to your website, just include a UTM link. The key here is shortening the link to reduce the chance of typos and making them a bit memorable. (More on this later!)

2. Don’t use UTM Tags for internal links

The purpose of UTM codes is to track incoming site traffic coming from external sources, like your social media profiles or promotional emails. That’s why things can get a little messy if you start tracking internal site links, such as how much traffic one blog post directs to a landing page. These internal UTM parameters can cause tracking errors within your analytics platform. 

3. Use a UTM parameter builder

Good news: You don’t have to add UTM tracking to your URLs manually. In fact, if you ask us, that sounds like a massive headache and disaster waiting to happen. Instead, UTM parameter builders — like AdRoll’s! — can automatically attach UTMs to all the links you create with zero errors. 

4. Consistency is key

The consistency of your naming conventions can make or break your UTM strategy. Therefore, it’s super important you consider all of the possible descriptions within your various UTM parameters before you kick off your UTM process. Having just one inconsistent UTM parameter can wreck your data, making it more challenging for you to get a complete and accurate overview of how well your marketing is performing. This is especially important if you have several members on your marketing team who are tackling UTM tracking. 

To make sure everyone is on the same page, documentation is key. This means creating a master spreadsheet of UTM parameters, with clear guidelines on what rules everyone needs to follow when creating custom campaign parameters. 

For instance, the last thing you want is for one team member to use “Instagram” as the source of a Fourth of July Instagram campaign, while someone else uses “IG” for a Labor Day campaign — it’ll be much more challenging to make an apples-to-apples comparison of how well Instagram performs over these summer sales events. 

Here are some rules that you’ll want to follow when developing your UTM code naming conventions:

  • Lowercase only. Because UTM codes are case-sensitive — for example, “Facebook,” “facebook,” and “FACEBOOK” are tracked separately — you can easily run into data tracking problems when there are variations in capitalizations. 
  • Underscores are better than spaces. Similarly, spaces can easily throw a wrench in your plans. One accidental space can mean multiple codes for the same thing. We recommend underscores in lieu of spaces to keep your UTM codes clean, but some brands also prefer dashes, percentage symbols, or plus signs. 
  • Keep it simple. While making your UTM codes as descriptive as possible can result in fewer misunderstandings, it also increases the chances of someone making a mistake when creating them. UTM codes that are simple and easy to understand will always work best.

Once you’ve determined your naming convention, stick with it! That’s the only way you’ll be able to accurately compare the data over time. And remember: Shoppers can see your UTM parameters when they open or copy a link. Don’t use any terms, words, or phrases you’d prefer to keep private within the company. 

5. Review your reports regularly

Rather than checking your reports at the end of every month (or even worse, every quarter), you want to review your reports regularly in case a wonky UTM code snuck in there. While having documentation for your naming convention dramatically reduces chances of error, typos do unfortunately happen. Quickly determining that you’ve made a mistake gives you an opportunity to correct them before they snowball out of hand. 

Before you get started, make sure your site is set up on an analytics platform. This will give you a great overview of the data collected by each UTM parameter, as well as the amount of referral traffic and tracked user behavior related to every unique link that you can then check every other day.  

6. Check UTM parameters when copying and pasting internal links

Did you know that when you click “Copy Link” on an Instagram post from your web browser, Instagram will automatically generate a UTM code for you? That’s why it’s important you check for UTM codes in any link you copy and paste. In the Instagram example, you’ll want to remove “ig_web_copy_link” from the URL before pasting the link on your website so it doesn’t conflict with your own UTM code. 

utm best practices on instagram
One of the most important UTM best practices — be mindful of UTMs when copying links directly from social media platforms.

This applies to image links copied from Google, as well as content web page URLs after navigating there from an affiliate link (instead of entering the URL yourself or arriving at the page from a search engine). 

7. Use a spreadsheet to track your UTM links

As you generate more content and marketing materials — each with its own UTM code — it’s easy to feel overwhelmed by the sheer number of links that you’re tracking. 

Though analytics platforms provide a comprehensive overview of the data related to your links, we recommend creating a spreadsheet that’s accessible to the whole team in an effort to stay organized. This not only eliminates the likelihood of duplicate links but also serves as valuable documentation for the naming conventions you’ve developed. You can even include columns that lay out the metrics for each link’s performance. 

Psst: We created a template for tracking your links, which you can download here

8. Shorten links for better user experiences

When you add UTM codes to URLs, links can get overly long — very quickly. Good thing you can easily hide your parameters or shorten the links while still getting the tracking data you need. Having links that are shorter and cleaner are more attractive to the eye, especially when placed on marketing materials, like flyers or direct mail. 

utm best practices - bitly example
According to Bitly, businesses that use custom links can see a nearly 34% increase in click-through rates.

We recommend checking out bitly.com, a popular link-shortening tool that major retailers rely on. 

9. Put UTM data to use

Thanks to these UTM best practices, you’ve amassed a treasure trove of data. Now, it’s time to act on it. By tying your UTMs to marketing metrics, you can have a better sense of things like:

  • Which marketing channels are most conducive to conversions
  • Your return on investment (ROI)
  • Which ad creatives drive the most traffic to your site

In other words, UTM codes, which allow you to compare individual posts head-to-head, can be the key to your A/B testing. 

Getting Started With AdRoll’s Cross-Channel Performance Dashboard

As the third-party cookie crumbles, UTM codes are a great alternative for collecting granular data. Beyond arming you with these UTM best practices, AdRoll’s Cross-Channel Performance Dashboard is a fantastic all-in-one solution that’ll help you get started, too. 

Example of AdRoll’s Cross-Channel Performance Dashboard

Not only will you be able to see all the data related to conversions, revenues, and average order values across every one of your channels (and each campaign within those channels), but we also deduplicate them. In other words, if a customer sees an ad from multiple channels (e.g., Facebook or Instagram) and then converts, each platform will just take credit for that conversion because they’re operating in a silo from your entire customer journey. With AdRoll’s Cross-Channel Performance Dashboard, however, the data from every platform is connected, so you’ll be able to see precisely where attribution credit goes once you select which attribution model to use. It’s a lot more precise than pulling data manually from each individual marketing platform. 

It gets even better: AdRoll not only inputs UTMs into all the ads that are run on our platform automatically, but we also offer campaign optimization suggestions, from budget reallocation to tips on ways to improve campaign performance. Rich insights and in-depth reporting are just a few clicks away — all of which are integrated with your campaign set-up, reporting, and optimization dashboard. 

Run with these UTM best practices, and check out what AdRoll can do for your brand now.