What Are UTM Parameters, and How Should You Use Them?

How do you know which marketing campaigns are driving the most traffic to your website?

Sure, you can track referral sources in Google Analytics. But did you know that you can get even more specific? 

That’s where Urchin Tracking Module (UTM) parameters come in. 

Using UTM parameters in Google Analytics can help you understand how visitors find and interact with your content. Two crucial pieces of information that can help your business develop and grow. 

In this post, we’ll share everything you need to know to get started with UTM parameters, including how and when to use them.

What are UTM parameters? 

Put simply: UTM parameters are tags you can add to the end of your links to tell Google Analytics more about your link so that you can track its performance. 

When someone clicks on a URL with a UTM code at the end, those tags are sent back to Google Analytics for tracking.

UTM parameters can include up to 5 different variables:

  1. Source (utm_source): Which site, advertiser, publication, etc. the visitor came from (like Google or your newsletter)
  2. Medium (utm_medium): Which marketing channels brought the visitor to your site (like social media, email, or paid ads)
  3. Campaign (utm_campaign): Which marketing campaign the traffic came from (like a specific ad or promo)
  4. Term (utm_term): Paid keywords you’re targeting with your campaign 
  5. Content (utm_content): The exact element of your ad or post that a user clicked (like a certain image or link)

The UTM parameter is the piece that starts with utm_. The tracking variable is what comes after the UTM parameter and the equal sign. You can only use letters, numbers, hyphens, plus-signs, and periods in your tracking variable.

Google shares this helpful example for a custom campaign URL: Imagine that you’re running a Summer Sale campaign.

You might begin by using these parameters and variables:

  • utm_source = summer-mailer to identify traffic that results from your Summer Sale email campaign
  • utm_medium = email to identify traffic from your email campaign (vs. an in-app campaign)
  • utm_campaign = summer-sale to identify the overall campaign

If you used these tags, your custom campaign URL would be:  https://www.example.com/?utm_source=summer-mailer&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=summer-sale

Google recommends that you always use utm_source, utm_medium, and utm_campaign (and if you use Google’s Campaign URL Builder, which we’ll talk more about later, they’re required parameters). Utm_term and utm_content are optional.

When should you use UTM parameters?

Use UTM parameters any time you want to know where your site traffic comes from. 

UTM codes let you track which traffic sources — tweets, emails, ads, social platforms, guest posts, paid search, and more — perform best for your brand. This can also help you track revenue based on traffic sources and mediums, which can help you report return-on-investment (ROI) more accurately and make the most of your marketing budget.

If you have more than one call-to-action (CTA) in an email, UTM codes can also help you identify which CTA is driving more traffic, which in turn lets you optimize future campaigns.

How to create UTM parameters

Google makes it easy to add UTM parameters to your links with their Campaign URL Builder, automatically generating your URL based on the parameters and variables you choose.

All you need to do is fill out each field, and Google will automatically generate your URL with UTM parameters attached. 

Let’s say we’re running an annual sale and promoting it through our email newsletter. To track how many people visit our site and convert to customers during our sale, we can set up corresponding UTM parameters. Our UTM variables might look like this:

And the custom campaign URL Google creates with those tags looks like this:

When you start using UTM parameters, make sure to set up UTM naming conventions to keep your tracking data organized and consistent. You’ll thank yourself later. 

For example, if you’re tracking social media traffic, stick with utm_medium=social instead of using variations like utm_medium=social_media and utm_medium=socialmedia.

Keeping these conventions consistent across all of your campaign URLs will give you the most accurate tracking data. If you’re working with a team, make sure that everyone knows the naming conventions to keep everyone on the same page. UTM tags are also case-sensitive, so we recommend keeping your UTM links lowercase. 

How to view UTM parameter reports in Google Analytics 

Once you start using UTM parameters in your URLs, you can easily track them in Google Analytics. Here’s how.

  1. Sign in to Google Analytics.
  2. Navigate to your view.
  3. Open Reports.
  4. Select Acquisition > Campaigns.

In “All Campaigns,” you’ll see a list of your campaign names (from utm_campaign). 

Once in your Campaigns reporting, you can view your acquisition data (aka traffic) using UTM parameters as your primary or secondary dimensions. Here’s how:

  1. Select “All Campaigns.” You’ll see a list of your Campaign names (from utm_campaign).
  2. Adjust the date in the upper right corner to make sure that you’re looking at the right time period of data.
  3. Above the list of Campaign names, click the “Secondary dimension” dropdown menu.
  4. Select the secondary dimension you want to look into, such as Source/Medium (from utm_source and utm_medium) to see which Sources and Mediums drive the most traffic to which campaigns.

If you have goals set up in Google Analytics, UTM parameters can help you measure how each campaign contributes to each goal. Google Analytics will report on each campaign’s conversion metrics based on the goals you set and the UTM parameters in your links.

Need additional help setting up your Google Analytics view? 

Reach out to us at Sprucely Designed. We offer a variety of professional website services and support for growing businesses, including a Google Analytics Configuration service in conjunction with our maintenance services. We even have a custom tool for constructing and tracking UTM links we provide to our clients!

Overall, using UTM parameters to tag your URLs can help you track and measure your campaigns’ value and optimize accordingly. You can use UTM tags to track traffic from each social media post, gain a better understanding of your pay-per-click (PPC) ad performance, tie revenue to specific email newsletters, and much more.

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