The 2019 Power Guide to UTM Parameters

T
6 mins read

What are UTM parameters?

UTM parameters (Urchin Traffic Monitor), also known as UTM tags or codes, are customizable pieces of text that allow analytics software such as Google Analytics and Autopilot to track campaign traffic. In simple terms, a UTM code is a snippet of text that helps you track the success of different content across the web.

Attaching them to the end of a URL can help you answer questions such as: What is the traffic medium? (e.g. Facebook, Twitter); Which keywords brought the visitor to your page? (e.g. **utm_term=growth+hacking+tips).

In the case that your page features multiple links that all lead to the same URL – say, for instance, a landing page with two CTA buttons – the code: **utm_content will enable you to track each link’s performance.

TYPES OF UTM parameters

Essentially, there are five different UTM parameters:

  • Traffic source
  • Source content
  • Traffic medium
  • Campaign
  • Keyword term

These can be used in any combination, separated by the “&” sign. Once you create a code, you can track it in Google Analytics by going to Acquisition -> Overview -> All Traffic -> Source/Medium or just Acquisition -> Campaigns -> All Campaigns.

It will look something like this:

Google Analytics UTM Acquisition

 

Why are UTM Tags so important?

If you’re like most growth hackers/marketers, you’re promoting everywhere: social media, email, paid search, to name just a few. Among all your company’s ads, blog, posts, tweets, some are top performers while others are just draining your budget. That’s when UTM parameters come in handy. Top growth hackers are constantly evaluating what’s working and what’s not. Simply slapping tags onto URL’s isn’t enough to discover your highest performing channels, however. To make the most from your UTM tags, you need different combination techniques and most of all, a strategy.

Adding UTM Tags to your URLs

UTM Parameter Guidelines – simply tag your URL!
Just kidding. 😛 Not so fast.

The complicated part is what to do before and after you tag them. Inconsistent parameters will confuse whoever is trying to interpret the data in the best case scenario. In the worst case, they will actually send you the wrong data, most probably leading to painful mistakes.

Here’s what you do:

Describe Your Tags

Name your tags in a way that will make it easy for you to digest the report later on. If you name tag your URLs with ambiguous terms, it’ll be a pain interpreting them later on.

Don’t be Repetitive

To get maximum information with minimum confusion, don’t repeat yourself. Each parameter should tell you something different.

Don’t Always Use Every Parameter

Just because they’re available to you doesn’t mean you should use them. When tagging URLs, “utm_source” is necessary. All others are optional.

Never Use UTM Parameters on Internal Links

Why not just use your UTM parameters everywhere? It’s definitely tempting once you get started. The problem is, using them on internal links gives you false data.

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Here’s a scenario for you: you posted a new blog and shared it on Facebook. A follower clicks on the link and arrives at www.yourwebsite.com/blog/new-post. When he is done reading, he goes to your home page and the link takes him to www.yourwebsite.com/?utm_source=blog. You just lost the information that the user came from Facebook. Your analytics report will now say the user came from your blog rather than from Facebook. Use UTM parameters ONLY for outbound content. Otherwise, the tracker on your analytics software will completely reset when a user clicks on a tagged internal link and you’ll get a false report.

UTM tools

Don’t worry, it’s 2019. There are plenty of UTM parameter generating tools out there for you. Here are a few:

Google Campaign URL Builder
Google Auto-Tagging – Nifty feature. Manually turn it on from the tracking tab in your Google Analytics account.
A spreadsheet UTM generator

Wait, but…

Yes we know you have questions!

Will tagging URLs affect search rankings of my website?

No. It will not improve nor degrade your website’s rankings. Google and Bing know that we all use UTM parameters for tracking and ignore them when crawling websites.

How do I know my UTM codes are working properly?

Start by entering your tagged URL into your browser and seeing what happens. If those UTM parameters remain at the end of the URL, your information is probably being tracked. Another thing you can do is check the “Real-time -> Traffic Sources” report in Google Analytics to see if the test values you passed are correctly being picked up and reported with the right information.

My UTM parameters aren’t working! Why not, and what do I do?

a) The most common reason is tagging campaigns with a redirecting URL and not the final destination URL. If you have server or 301/302 redirects, you’ll need to modify your server settings to pass all the tracking parameters. You might want to ask your web developer for help.

b) Another possibility is that you left out a mandatory utm_source parameter. Be sure to add utm_source to your URL.

c) Whoops…you don’t have a Google Analytics tracking code installed on the website. We won’t tell anyone 😉 #nothinghappened

What about internal links? Should I tag those, too?

Nope. Never.

By tagging internal links you overwrite the original referrer.

For example, say you get a visitor on your website from a Facebook link; Google Analytics will start a session and attribute it to Facebook. Now this user clicks on a banner you tagged on your homepage, Google Analytics will start a new session and attribute the traffic to your internal campaign. Consequently, you’re expanding your session count and screwing up a bunch more metrics.

To shorten things up, just don’t. UTM parameters are for external links only!

Can I hide Google Analytics UTM parameters?

Yep. There are quite a few options:

Use some GTM tricks to hide UTM parameters while still tracking traffic with Google Analytics. Use a feature in Google Tag Manager called the Lookup Table. Neat stuff!

You can also use URL shorteners like bit.ly and goo.gl to hide tags.

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UTM Secrets!

Hide those ugly UTM’s and create the neatest, cleanest (Custom!) URL’s that don’t compromise on your tracking capabilities. Not many people know this so shhhh! 🤫

Step 1: Create a Variable on Google Tag Manager.
Variable type – URL.
Component type – Fragment.UStep 2: Create separate variables for each UTM you want to track.

UTM Parameters Secrets Step 2

Step 3: Create a trigger.

Trigger type – Pageview
Trigger fires on – Some pageviews (assuming you don’t want to track all page views)

Step 4: Create a GTM tag.

Tag type – Universal Analytics
Track type – Pageview
Set your Google Analytics settings to “GA Tracking ID” for the specific GA property you want to track.
Click “more settings”, click on “Fields to Set” and select the variables you set in step 2.
Set the trigger to “Pageview” on the page you want to track (the trigger you created in step 3)

UTM Parameters Secrets Step

Takeaway

Using UTM parameters properly in your campaigns will give you a huge advantage in tracking their success. In conjunction with a proper analytics foundation to track conversions, UTM’s become extremely powerful. Often though, UTM parameters tend to be underrated, and adding them to every campaign seems tedious. However, failing to do so is a huge mistake. While UTM’s may seem like minimally important campaign add-ons, they can be the difference between understanding and not understanding what worked, what failed, and how to improve.

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