UTM Tracking Links for Enhanced Analytics

UTM stands for Urchin Tracking Module, they are parameters added to your URL.

In essence UTM parameters are an advanced tracking option that keeps you on top of which marketing campaigns are driving the most traffic, highest engagement and best eCommerce stats. So a very important tool for anyone running any kind of link campaign.

UTM parameters help make your data more accessible and useful. They provide extremely valuable insights about your traffic so it is worth investing some time to really learn how to set them up correctly. Once you know how to harvest the behavioural data they provide you can use them to increase sales and conversions.

What is a UTM Parameter?

“UTM parameters are simply tags that you add to a URL. When someone clicks on a URL with UTM parameters, those tags are sent back to your Google Analytics for tracking.” – Kissmetrics

Here is what a UTM link looks like:

Polka Dot Data - UTM Parameters Example

There are 5 key parameters used for campaign tracking in Google Analytics, some are required and some are optional.

Required

utm_source – The traffic source/ the platform where the link is initially posted, e.g. facebook, instagram, twitter, etc.

utm_medium – Used to label specific element, e.g. cpc, paid, organic, social, affiliate, etc.

utm_campaign – Used to label the campaign, sometimes the keyword used in a paid ads campaign or even the segment of the audience that you are targeting e.g. summer_promo, xmas_giveaway, etc.

Optional

utm_term – Often used in paid search campaigns to label the particular keyword that you were bidding on for that specific ad.

utm_content – This can be used for labelling in split testing to differentiate between type A and type B.

How to Create UTM Links

Use the Google Campaign URL Builder to create your custom UTM links. It is fairly intuitive and easy to use, so bookmark it for easy access.

Polka Dot Data - Google UTM Builder

Best Practices for Building UTM Links

1. Design a naming convention for your UTMs

The key to eliminating data pollution is to use best practices at the data collection level.

  • It is absolutely vital to be consistent with regards to naming convention. That means across teams and departments as well, so make sure that you are all on the same page. This basically saves a lot of confusion later down the line when analysing the reports.
  • Use lowercase throughout all of your campaigns. Changing to uppercase, camel case or any other capitalisation gives you an additional responsibility of remembering this convention.
  • Each parameter should be distinct and easily identifiable to other members of your team.
  • Create a reference document that instructs how to label parameters for tagging links.

2. Track your UTM links inside a spreadsheet

Keeping a record of the tagged links gives you and your team a reference point for troubleshooting.

We use a template that populates the end link URL as well. You can make a copy of the Polka Dot Data UTM Tracking spreadsheet to use in your marketing campaigns.

Where and How to Use UTM Links

1. On Social Media

We will use Facebook as the example here. There are a few different ways of sharing links – promoted posts, profile contact info, posts in a group, organic posts from your page, banner ads and more. and You can track all of these link clicks separately.

Here are example UTM parameters:

?utm_source=facebook-profile&utm_medium=organic-social&utm_campaign=utm-parameters-guide
?utm_source=facebook-post&utm_medium=organic-social&utm_campaign=utm-parameters-guide
?utm_source=facebook-promoted&utm_medium=paid-social&utm_campaign=utm-parameters-guide
?utm_source=facebook-group-post&utm_medium=organic-social&utm_campaign=utm-parameters-guide

These links can be quite long and take up precious character real estate. You can shorten the link, using a URL shortener such as bit.ly.

2. Newsletter links

Tagging all the links that are dotted around your newsletters will let you know the most effective placement for calls to action and also which and tag segments of your audience.

Does an image link perform better thank a text link, header, footer or perhaps a links inside the body text. Which call to action performs the best? We can use utm_content for this one…

Here are some examples:

?utm_source=mailchimp&utm_medium=newsletter&utm_campaign=utm-parameters-guide&utm_content=header
?utm_source=mailchimp&utm_medium=newsletter&utm_campaign=utm-parameters-guide&utm_content=body
?utm_source=mailchimp&utm_medium=newsletter&utm_campaign=utm-parameters-guide&utm_content=footer

Say you have segmented your email list into those who have downloaded a particular eBook on Google Tag Manager and you want email them regarding a Tag Manager course. Here is the UTM link you would use:

?utm_source=mailchimp&utm_medium=newsletter&utm_campaign=ebook-downloaded

3. Banner Advertising

If you pay for display banners on particular websites UTM tracking can give you very valuable insights into which site and more specifically which banner is sending the most traffic. You can set up your tags to provide data on placement, size, colour, etc.

If you have different banner sizes in different places (150×600 and 300×300 for this example), on an external site, you could use this link structure for the 150×600 banner…

?utm_source=moz&utm_medium=paid-ads&utm_campaign=analytics-consultant&utm_content=banner-150

and this for the 300×300 banner…

?utm_source=moz&utm_medium=paid-ads&utm_campaign=analytics-consultant&utm_content=banner-300

Reviewing the Data

You can find you nice organised data in the Source/Medium report inside Google Analytics. Go ahead and open the report and then set the secondary dimension to Campaign. You might want to add some filters to get rid of any rows that don’t have any campaign data filled out, that way you can see only your UTM link campaigns.

UTM reports in Google Analytics

The next thing you should do is set up some website goals to monitor which campaigns are the most successful at converting your visitors.

Limitations

One caveat though is that if a Facebook UTM link is viewed by a Facebook user who then shares it (with the UTM still appended) on a different social media platform like Twitter or even sends it out by email or WhatsApp, it would still be counted as having a source of ‘facebook’.

The majority of online sharing is done via copy-paste. So for the most part the UTM’s will stick around (especially if you used a URL shortener like bit.ly).

There are ways around this…

You could use a script to strip UTM codes from the URL, once sharing on a different social platform has occurred.

If this clean URL gets shared privately (Email, text, WhatsApp, Skype, etc), then it will end up being tagged as direct traffic in the acquisition reports. This is not at all helpful or insightful for your data analysis. The term for this sort of poorly categorised traffic is dark social traffic.

It is not a huge problem to not strip the parameters, we are tracking the original source of the link – so we still get all the useful data about how effective each campaign was. But just so you know – by default Google Analytics employs a last click attribution model to link tracking without UTM.

UTM tracking is still massively important, I just wanted you to be aware of that limitation.

How do you use UTM parameters for tracking? Has it lead to valuable insights you were able to capitalise on? Let us know in the comments section below