Nowadays, marketing is less of an art and more of a science. While marketers used to rely on their instincts to gauge what was and wasn’t working, they now swear by data measurement for success. So, what’s the best way to measure the impact of your work, and how do you accurately attribute success to your marketing campaigns? The answer lies in the special codes added to the end of your URLs. Let’s explore the definition of UTM parameters, how to use them, and best practices to consider.
(Psst — use our template at the end to help you keep track of your UTM links!).
What Are UTM Codes?
“UTM” is short 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.”
UTM codes are a UTM term that refers to the snippets of text that you add to the end of your links to tell Google Analytics — and other analytics tools — how to sort your incoming traffic. Adding these lines of code doesn’t affect anything on the webpage — it just allows your analytics program to know that someone has arrived through a specific source.
UTM codes should help you answer the following questions about your web traffic:
- Where is the traffic coming from?
- How is it getting to you?
- Why is it coming to you?
While the way UTM codes are built depends on which analytics program you’re using, Google’s Campaign URL builder is a great way to generate quick links.
What Are UTM Parameters?
To answer the above questions, you’ll need to determine what UTM parameters (or tags) you’ll use. UTM parameters are five tags you can add to the end of the URLs of your marketing or promotional efforts. They can be customized, but Google Analytics usually works off the following for every tagged URL:
- Source: The source tells you which website is sending you traffic.
- Medium: The medium informs you of the channel name your tracked link is featured in — examples include email or social media.
- Term: The term identifies the keywords you’ve paid for in a pay-per-click (PPC) ad.
- Content (optional): If you have multiple links in the same campaign, the “content” field helps you distinguish the versions of the ad you’re running.
- Campaign: The campaign refers to a particular promotion. For example, if you’re running a “Fall Sale” promo, all the links of this campaign would use a tag like, “FallSalePromo.”
Note that you can use a combination of these tags — it all depends on how specific you want to get with your tracking. However, the bare minimum has to include the medium, source, and campaign.
Example of a UTM Link
In the case of the example above, you can tell that Facebook is sending you traffic (source) and that your tracked link is featured on social media channels (medium). You can also see that the type of content featured is a blog post (campaign).
Why Are UTM Parameters Important?
If you’re running more than one marketing campaign, you’re probably publishing many new links per day. UTM parameters enable you to track the performance of these links across different mediums, messages, and channels. This allows you to make strategic data-decisions, rather than relying on intuition and luck. With UTM parameters, you have the power to double down on the methods that produce results and shut down the efforts that aren’t working.
UTM Tracking Best Practices for a Custom Campaign
UTM tracking is extremely valuable… when done correctly. Once you have a custom campaign you want to track via UTM parameters, be sure to follow these four best practices to see the greatest results.
1. Determine (and stick to) a Consistent Naming Convention
When using UTM parameters, one of the biggest things to be mindful of is consistent tagging, especially with the medium and the source. This is so that when you’re measuring, you can accurately see which campaigns are driving people to take certain actions.
For example, if you sometimes tag the medium for paid traffic as “promoted,” and other times as “paid,” it’s extremely difficult to see how your campaign is actually performing because the data isn’t aggregated correctly. Make sure that the tags you use always mean the same thing. Also, UTM tags are case sensitive, so don’t forget to use a consistent case.
While these may seem like simple enough rules, it’s common for others within a team to use inconsistent tags for the same campaign, medium, or source. An excellent way to avoid these mishaps is to create a naming convention for campaigns according to your business setup.
And If there’s ever a case where you need to make a change to the campaign name, keywords, or ad creative after you’ve launched the ad, don’t leave the UTM parameters as is. Update the UTM parameters within the ads platform to reflect the changes made in order to maintain consistency.
2. Tag Anything and Everything that You Can
While using UTM tracking for paid ads is a great way to determine your return on investment, you can also use UTMs for most of your external links. Doing so gives you a complete picture of where your website traffic is coming from, even if it is organic. You can add UTM parameters to your email marketing campaigns so that you can track a user’s behavior throughout their interaction with the email and beyond.
The only links it is not necessary to tag are internal links because Google Analytics captures that information for you. However, anything that tracks a user coming from outside your website that can include a UTM link should include one.
3. Hide the UTM Content from Users
Shortening your UTM links by “hiding” the UTM content in a branded link is beneficial for your audience, which may be confused by the additional information included on the URL. You can easily do this using tools like bit.ly or Google Analytics’ URL builder.
4. Track Your UTM Links
Each time you create a tagged UTM link, record it. You can put together a simple spreadsheet or download our template, which has everything you need to efficiently track your links laid out for you. Be sure to include all of the fields within your UTM tracking parameters and keep your sheet updated. Share your tracking sheet with your marketing team, so everyone stays on the same page.
You can also include a naming convention guide in this sheet. This way, everything you and your team need to create and track UTM links effectively is in one place.
Use this template to help keep track of your UTM links.
Alyx is the Sr. Product Marketing Manager at AdRoll. With 8+ years of marketing experience, she uses her expertise in measurement and attribution to help customers make sense of their performance data. During her off hours, you can find her jamming out to her Misfit records (on vinyl, of course).