How To Use UTM parameters To Track And Measure Campaigns

September 9, 2021 | Digital Marketing

Guide to UTM Parameters

As a digital marketing professional, you have multiple campaigns running all the time simultaneously. 

And all these campaigns collectively drive huge amounts of traffic to the desired landing page or site.

However, it’s tricky to identify which campaigns performed well and did not unless you track them. 

To make it easier and less cluttered, you can use UTM tracking.

In this guide, we will talk about:

  • What is UTM?
  • What are UTM parameters?
  • Best practices for using UTM parameters
  • How to generate UTMs using Campaign Builder? 
  • How to access UTM tracking data?

Before we go ahead, let’s take a look at the brief history of UTMs.

The Birth Of UTMs

Most people think that UTM means universal tracking measures, a term often used in digital marketing. But that’s not true. 

People at Urchin Software Corporation developed UTM (Urchin Tracking Module) to track unique website visitors. 

Google acquired the company in 2005 and used the web analytics software named Urchin to build Google Analytics. 

And today, Google Analytics is the most popular data analytics tool on the web.

The birth of UTMs

What Is UTM? 

Urchin Tracking Module (or UTM) is a simple code added to the landing page’s URL

UTM code is a combination of the page URL and UTM parameters. It helps you collect data and track the performance of a specific online campaign. 
Here’s an example of a UTM code:

Example of a UTM code

As you can see, there’s a lot of extra text attached to the page URL. 

The additional text is a combination of the UTM parameters, which tells Google Analytics specifics about the traffic coming to your site.

What Are UTM Parameters?

The UTM parameters are also known as UTM elements. 

Though they make the URL look complex and unreadable, they have a strong role in classifying the traffic source, medium, and campaign.

There are five UTM parameters, and with each of them, you can specifically ensure that you are tracking everything you require.
Look at this URL with the UTM code attached to it:

utm code with all utm parameters example

The above UTM code has five UTM parameters that help you track specific metrics. They are as follows:

1. Campaign Source (utm_source)

The Campaign Source (utm_source) parameter tells Google Analytics where the traffic is coming from. It determines the traffic source.

You can know if the incoming traffic is from Google, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, LinkedIn, Quora, YouTube, Emails, Promo Codes, or any other site by looking at the Campaign Source.

Let’s consider your site is getting traffic from Facebook. Then, the utm_source would be Facebook and appear as ‘utm_source=facebook’ in the URL. Likewise, for YouTube, it would be ‘utm_source=youtube’ and so on.

2. Campaign Medium (utm_medium)

The UTM parameter that tells Google Analytics what type of traffic is coming is Campaign Medium (utm_medium). 

By looking at the Campaign Medium, you can distinguish if the traffic from a source is organic, paid, affiliate, or referral.

For example, your site is getting traffic from the Google PPC ads. Then, utm_medium would be paid and appear as ‘utm_medium=paid’ in the URL. 

And if traffic comes organically from search results, the utm_medium would be organic. It would appear as ‘utm_medium=organic’ in the URL. The source in both cases would be Google.

3. Campaign Name (utm_campaign)

Campaign Name, something that you specifically define as the name of your campaign, is the third UTM parameter. If you have a particular sales funnel or promotion going on, this is where you’re going to put that name.

It indicates to Google Analytics that this particular UTM belongs to a specific campaign.

For example, you wish to track the total number of visitors to your landing page. So the campaign name can be ‘landing-page-visitors.’ It would appear as ‘utm_campaign=landing-page-visitors’ in the URL.

Now understand that there can be multiple UTMs for the same landing page or campaign, but each of them would be unique. In that way, you can see which source/medium brings maximum traffic. 

4. Campaign Keyword (utm_term)

The Campaign Keyword UTM parameter contains the keyword that you wish to track (for paid campaigns). You will not use this UTM parameter unless you are doing PPC advertising for specific keywords.

For example, you are selling shirts on your site, and you have put a PPC advertisement on Google for the keyword – shirts for boys. 

You can add this keyword to the UTM code to track the traffic coming to your landing page or site. The URL will have this parameter added as ‘utm_term=shirts+for+boys’.

It is important to note here that this UTM parameter is used only for measuring paid campaigns. In all other campaigns, this parameter is left vacant and doesn’t show up in the URL.

5. Campaign Content (utm_content)

The content parameter comes into play if you wish to track the detailed advertisement, blog post, YouTube video, or Facebook post that diverts traffic to your landing page. 

You can track different ads or content formats within the same campaign with this UTM parameter

For example, you are running a video ad on Facebook. You can track the conversions for this specific video ad by putting it in the utm_content parameter. The URL would now have the fifth parameter as ‘utm_content=video_ad’.

Again, you should note that this UTM parameter will be left blank if it is not a paid campaign and will not appear anywhere in the URL.

Here’s a table to help you quickly recap all the elements of the UTM tag:

You can use all the five UTM parameters in one URL (or leave the last two if you are not tracking a paid campaign). 

Once you generate the UTM code, the UTM parameters will appear after the question mark (?), separated by the ampersand (&) symbol.

With these five elements in the URL, Google Analytics can exactly track all your traffic sources. 

And as you explore the reports, you will figure out what’s working and what’s not.

Before we go ahead, you should know the best practices for using UTM parameters. 

What Are The Best Practices For Using UTM Parameters?

The implementation of UTM parameters requires commitment and consistency. 

You have to make and follow certain rules and standards while working with them.

Ensure that you do not:

  • Mess up the tracking data
  • Get confused while deducing results

You streamline your analysis and make the most out of your UTM tracking efforts by following the standards you’ve set.

Here are best practices for UTM tracking that you must implement:

1. Make Sure You Include UTM Parameters On All The Links Driving Traffic To Your Site.

Start with the links on the social media platforms, ongoing promotions, advertisements, blog posts, etc. 

You can also go historically and modify the links in various places you already know. 

The more consistent you are with your UTM tagging, the more consistent your data and deductions are. 

2. Standardize The Naming Conventions That You Use In The UTM Parameters For Each Link.

Ensure that everything you enter is lower case. Use hyphens and underscore instead of spaces. 

Use terms that relate to your goals and help you identify the campaign. 

The more you standardize your naming conventions, the easier it will be to analyze the data you look at within Google Analytics.

3. Try To Get As Detailed As Possible In The UTM Parameters But Don’t Overdo It.

When all the UTM parameters are present in the page URL, they might create confusion and difficulty in identification. 

To avoid this, you must add unique details in UTM parameters. But, if the link gets elongated due to the detailing, it might trouble you. 

Keeping it unique is advisable, but making it complex is not. The best practice is to avoid a highly descriptive UTM code.

4. Ensure That All Your UTM Parameters Are Unique And Distinguishable.

The ‘source’ and ‘medium’ UTM parameters should not be the same because tracking traffic becomes harder if they are. 

The best practice is to create unique UTM parameters to track multiple campaigns with the same source. 

You can also create a spreadsheet for saving the UTM codes for each campaign and refer to them when you want to differentiate between them in Google Analytics.

5. Hide Your UTM Parameters In A Short Link

Too long UTM URLs can get truncated on various platforms when you share them or add them. 

It is good to use a URL shortener like bit.ly or owl.ly and use the shortened link instead. You can also overcome this by using branded links.

With these best practices incorporated in your marketing strategy, you can confidently start UTM tagging and get the campaign running.

Now, you need to know how we create Google tracking URLs

And it’s simple. 

How to generate campaign URLs for UTM tracking?

Google provides a free tool named Campaign URL builder. 
It is a UTM builder tool to put together all the UTM parameters and generate a UTM code for your campaign.

Campaign URL Builder Tool

With the UTM builder tool in place, you don’t have to worry about placing the question mark (?) and ampersand (&) manually. 

You must type the variables in the boxes against the five UTM parameters (as per your naming convention). 

Using it, the tool will automatically generate the UTM code. You can copy it and use it to track your campaigns. 

Important: Since Google Analytics is case-sensitive, all inputs in the campaign UTM builder must be in lower case.

Let’s learn how to generate a UTM code using the Campaign URL builder

For example, we have to track a YouTube video by RankWatch.

Campaign URL builder Home

Step 1: Add the site URL

Insert the link to the landing page where you want to send the traffic. 

In our case, we will put – https://rankwatch.com.

Adding site URL in Campaign URL builder

Step 2: Add the Campaign Source

Add the source of the traffic. In this case, the source will be YouTube.

It would appear as utm_source=youtube.

Adding Campaign Source in Campaign URL builder

Step 3: Add the Campaign Medium

Enter the type of traffic. In this case, the medium would be organic. 

It would appear as utm_medium=organic.

Adding Campaign Medium in Campaign URL builder

Step 4: Fill in a Campaign Name

Give your campaign a suitable (easy to identify) name. For this campaign, the perfect name would be youtube_video.

It would appear as utm_campaign=youtube_video.

Adding Campaign Name in Campaign URL builder

Step 5: Mention a Campaign Term or Keyword

Enter the keywords you are targeting (in the case of paid campaigns).

For this video, the traffic is coming organically, so we will leave this field blank. 

And since we are not placing a campaign term, this UTM parameter will not appear in the URL.

Adding Campaign Term in Campaign URL builder

Step 6: Name the Campaign Content

Add the name of your content. In this case, let us name the content as youtube-video-1.

It would appear as utm_content=youtube-video-1

Adding Campaign Content in Campaign URL builder

After filling in all the details, scroll down to the bottom.

You will find a box with a really long URL – the UTM code for your campaign.

Now, I can copy it and paste it into the youtube video description. Google Analytics will track the link clicks and record them.

UTM code generated by Campaign URL builder

Congratulations! You are ready to build your UTM codes!

But hold on, there’s something important missing here. 

How do you access and use UTM tracking data? 

How to access UTM tracking data?

For example, you want to track all the incoming traffic to a landing page (say example.com). 

You are using Google ads, Facebook ads, a YouTube video, a blog post, a podcast, and your daily newsletter to promote an offer. 

To bifurcate and analyze, you need to generate UTM codes for each campaign that you are running. 

The table below shows the source, medium, name, term, and content for each ongoing campaign:

The campaign name is the same for all sources because we are tracking one campaign. 

Here are the UTM codes for each source:

Paste the respective UTM codes on the source platforms to track your campaign. And then, wait for the clicks. 

Google Analytics will track the users and record the data. It will take some time, but it is worth the wait.
So, let’s go ahead and jump straight into the analytics.

Tracking UTM data using Google Analytics

You can access the data tracked by the UTM codes in the Google Analytics dashboard.
Go to the Acquisition tab > Campaigns > All Campaigns.

UTM tracking data in All Campaigns in GSC

Google Analytics displays the tracked data with the active UTM codes as a table. 

You can use the data to measure your campaign and compare the sources.

Notice the campaign name in the table. Each campaign name is fetched from the UTM code and is in lower case. 

To see other parameters in your UTM links, click on the secondary dimension and apply the filters. 

You can select ‘source/medium’ to compare the sources and paid/organic promotions.

Apply filter for campaign content and understand which blog posts, podcasts, ads, and YouTube videos performed well.

Similarly, the filter for campaign terms will help you learn which keywords bring more traffic to your landing page.

So, using the UTM codes, you can easily find out:

  • Where clicks have come from,
  • What campaigns diverted traffic to your site, 
  • Which blog or videos are giving you the greatest hits, and 
  • Which source gives you the most conversions. 

Based on the data, you can modify your active campaigns and increase the overall ROI. You can even stop some campaigns if they are not performing well.

But, deducing results from the reports shown in Google Analytics comes by practice. It will take time, but you should start with it today. 

It is a powerful tool!

Get Started With Your UTM Tracking Journey Today

How to use UTM tracking code

UTM tracking is very helpful for content creation and driving traffic. Once you master it, online marketing becomes a cinch. 

Though Google Analytics takes time to collect data, it provides detailed reports for each campaign. 

And so, it is worth the time!

Start using the Campaign URL Builder to generate the UTM codes for your campaigns. Get started with your UTM tracking journey now!

What are your thoughts about using UTM parameters? How do you use the reports in Google Analytics? Let us know your thoughts in the comments.

Sahil is the CEO and Founder of RankWatch - a platform that helps companies and brands stay ahead with their SEO efforts in the ever growing internet landscape. Sahil likes making creative products that help in the automation of mundane tasks and he can spend endless nights implementing new technologies and ideas. You can connect with him and the Rankwatch team on Facebook or Twitter.

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