UTM stands for “Urchin Tracking Module”, which is a bit of unique code appended to a website URL. That code can send information back to Google Analytics so you can figure out precisely how each visitor ended up on your page.
If you're not familiar with them already, you've probably seen them in your address bar after clicking a link in an email or an ad on Google or Facebook.
Any company that wants to make the most of their digital marketing dollars needs to make decisions based on data, not on a hunch. Looking at metrics like what drives traffic to your site, who’s clicking on what ads, and what’s keeping users from converting are all critical to optimizing your content, emails, advertisements, social media posts, and more.
At BKMedia Group, we enlist a whole toolbox of analytics software to help our clients figure out which part of their strategy is working, and what needs work. Tools like Google Analytics, SEMRush, HotJar, and more are all a part of our daily workflow.
When used effectively, these tools can greatly improve the success of any digital marketing campaign.
Of course, these tools are only as good as the people using them. In Google Analytics, this means understanding how to tag your traffic with UTM parameters.
The way you do that is by properly defining and utilizing your UTM parameters across your marketing channels.
How Do UTM Parameters Work?
While Google Analytics is able to read some basic information from untagged traffic, you can organize and control your data much better by appending UTM tags to your links.
UTM provides information about a site visit based on each user’s individual activity. Google Analytics’ code can read the UTM parameters you’ve specified and organize your site visits to tell you all sorts of information about where your hits are coming from.
Imagine you’re about to share and promote a blog post from your website on Facebook. By adding a unique UTM tag to the end of the URL of the promoted link, you can easily find out how many visits to that blog came from either the organic or the paid post. Without UTM parameters, Google Analytics would group them together.
But that’s just the tip of the UTM iceberg.
Elements of UTM Parameters
UTM has five parameters you can make use of:
- Source: This is the only parameter you are required to define when tagging links with UTM. Source is exactly what it sounds like -- it indicates where the visit came from, e.g., facebook.com, Twitter, or an email newsletter.
- Medium: The type of link that directed the traffic, such as “cpc” (for paid search) or “email”. The medium parameter is connected to Default Channels in Google Analytics (more on this in the next section).
If you don’t define this, then you leave it to Google Analytics to categorize the traffic to the best of its ability. In some cases, this will work—any traffic with a social site as the referring URL will be organized as Social, but in other cases, it won't—untagged email traffic gets grouped into the Direct channel.
- Campaign: Used to identify the campaign that the traffic is tried to, e.g. social-promotion, main-email-list. For example, if you run a series of ads for a Christmas sale and add the Campaign tag “christmas_sale” to the UTM parameters on those ads, this will let you know that one of your Christmas sale ads is responsible for a site visit.
- Term: The specific search terms or ad set that resulted in the visitor seeing your ad. Term is typically used for paid traffic only.
- Content: The type of content that was clicked on to get to your site, such as “banner-image” or "footer-link" for emails, or the content of a paid ad that was clicked, such as "travel-image-1" or "utm-guide".
The specific value that you set each parameter to is called a tag. Now let’s look at how to make the most of each of the UTM tags.
How to Use UTM Tags
If you don’t tag your URLs at all, then Google Analytics can only extract very limited data about your traffic. Non-tagged traffic will generally let you know the source of a visit and that’s about it. That’s helpful but it’s a far cry from the data you could be getting.
Of course, you can’t tag all traffic. Some rando could link to your product page in their own personal Tumblr post. Although this is awesome, you're stuck with whatever Google Analytics can tell you because you don't control the link on Tumblr.
But when you share URLs yourself—for use on your site, different social media platforms, or in emails, videos, or ads—you can (and should) tag them accordingly.
A tagged URL will look something like this:
The ‘?’ denotes that you are going to define UTM parameters. You can then define each parameter in any order by typing the parameter name followed by “=” followed by a tag.
After a tag, type “&” to specify that you want to define another parameter. Remember, if you’re tagging a URL with UTM parameters, the only one that you must define is utm_source. The others are optional.
So, what tags should you use for each parameter? Let’s look a bit closer at each parameter and appropriate tagging options.
When using UTM, you must define utm_source.
For example, every time you are going to post a link to Facebook, whether it’s on your newsfeed or in an ad, you can define utm_source=facebook.com.
Note that utm_source can be used for more than just websites. For example, if you’re creating links for an email campaign, utm_medium will tell you that your traffic is coming from an email, and utm_campaign will tell you which general campaign the visit is associated with. In this case, you can use utm_source to tell you a bit more about which specific email group the traffic is coming from.
Say you do one email blast to your subscribers on the East Coast, and another to your subscribers in the Midwest. It’s all part of the same campaign, but perhaps you use slightly different language or imagery for the two sub-groups of recipients. Setting utm_source=eastcoast-customers or utm_source=midwest-customers could be a creative use of this parameter.
This is an under-appreciated UTM parameter. If you don’t define this, you’re missing out. Medium is exactly what it sounds like: the medium through which someone came to your site.
Different mediums might be social media, email newsletters, search engines, advertisements, etc. The reason it’s so important is that this is the one parameter that correlates directly to Google Analytics’ Default Channel definitions.
You can make up your own medium tags, but it’s wiser to use specific tags recognized by Google Analytics, as it has built-in tools for organizing your traffic according to different “channels’, which are determined by use of the medium tag.
For example, you could tag your email links with utm_medium=newsletter and yes you will be able to see what traffic came via “newsletter”, but when looking at your data in GA’s Default Channels, it won’t help you. All that newsletter traffic would be grouped under the "(other)" channel. That’s because GA doesn't recognize "newsletter" as a standard channel. Only traffic tagged with "utm_medium=email" will be grouped under the Default Channel 'Email'.
Medium tags are case-sensitive, so you need to be precise and consistent when setting these. Some examples are “cpc” (categorizes into ‘Paid Search’ channel), “social-media” (categorizes into ‘Social” channel), or “affiliate” (categorizes into ‘Affiliates’ channel).
The full and current list of exact medium tags and corresponding Default Channels is available on Google’s support page.
This tag is a handy way to track the success of different marketing campaigns. You can set this to whatever makes sense, just be consistent.
In addition to the source and medium tags, links for a digital marketing campaign pitching a cool pair of socks that look great with sandals for summer (where my dads at?) might be tagged with: utm_campaign=socks_summer_sandals
That way you can see all traffic that was generated as a result of that campaign, regardless of whether it came from a viral social media post, paid search engine ad, or an email newsletter.
This parameter is used for paid ads. If you’re creating a search engine ad that shows up when someone searches “cool dad socks” then you’ll want to set: utm_term=cool%20dad%20socks
If you’re doing paid ads on social media, you might just define utm_term as a certain ad set name or other targeting identifiers.
This is handy, as it specifically tells you what a user clicked on to get to your site.
For example, imagine you send out an email promoting your sandal socks for summer. The hero image at the top links directly to the product page, and so does a text link within the email content, as does a final CTA image at the bottom of the email.
With the content parameter, you can create a specific URL for each of those three links so that you know which one is working the best.
The hero image URL might include utm_content=hero, the linked text in the body might go to a URL with utm_content=text, and the final URL could have utm_content=final-cta.
Assuming you’ve specified the source, campaign, and medium parameters as well, you’ll have everything you need to know precisely where your traffic came from.
To summarize, a URL with tagged UTM parameters could look like this:
This might all seem a bit overwhelming, but the good news is that there are tools out there to help you put all this together. Enter the URL generator.
Making Use of URL Builders
Google Analytics provides this handy URL builder where you can simply enter tags for each of the UTM parameters and it creates a properly formatted URL for you.
This is an easier way to get what you need, without having to worry about missing an ampersand or a question mark.
But your tagged URLs are only as good as your tags. And then you have to know what to do with them once you go to sort through everything in Google Analytics.
If you do it right though, taking advantage of UTMs and analytics can make a big difference in your next digital marketing campaign.
For example, when we dispatched our analytics experts on client Steuben Press’ digital ads campaign, we were able to optimize their Google Ads to improve performance by 1200%!
In addition to the data from Google Ads, properly tagged links helped us identify the most valuable traffic and spend more of our budget where it made the biggest difference. Their conversion rate went up by 288% while their cost per lead dropped by 45%. Not too shabby.
One of the ways we get those kind of results is by harnessing the power of reports in Google Analytics. Read our blog on the 5 Google Analytics reports that’ll rock your world »