What are UTM parameters and why are they useful?

Grant Robinson
Grant Robinson
A
A UTM is an addition to a URL that returns detailed information about which of your links are being clicked and where. UTM data reveals user behavior for in-depth analysis and streamlining of your brand.
Reading Time: 6 minutes

IT’S ALL IN THE DETAILS

Tracking your digital marketing campaigns closely means more effective marketing campaigns overall. Knowing precisely what is generating traffic informs you where your advertising dollars are working the best. Do banners drive more traffic to your content or do social profiles? Adding a UTM to any URL makes this detailed information available, allowing you to create a better strategy for increasing traffic and conversions therein.

 

WHAT IS A UTM?

It is possible to probe beyond the standard information available via Google Analytics. One way of collecting detailed performance data is to use a UTM. This surprisingly streamlined feature makes for more intimate tracking of links. A UTM or Urchin Tracking Module is simply an extension added to your URL. This easy modification lets you track specific details about your campaigns in Google Analytics or similar programs. These additional bits of text tell analytical tools a bit more information about the link. A UTM helps you determine the exact origin of a link and therefore, how that particular link performs.

 

WHY USE A UTM?

A UTM allows you to track a set of parameters you consider important for your digital marketing process. This data teaches you more about exactly where your traffic comes from – not only in terms of which platforms, but the specific campaigns and content that influence customers to click through. In terms of satisfying your existing audience and attracting a broader customer base, UTMs are invaluable, especially considering how easy they are to implement. With socials, blogs, paid ads, and website banners comprising only a fraction of a comprehensive brand promotion campaign, UTMs help you unambiguously identify the key performers that boost your bottom line. Simultaneously, it reveals the aspects of your campaign(s) that underperform. This can save you valuable time and money in the long-run, which is especially important for small businesses.

 

A UTM allows you to track a set of parameters you consider important for your digital marketing process.

 

WHAT ARE UTM PARAMETERS?

There are 5 parameters included in a UTM addition to a URL. Two or more can be used, depending on how specific you are trying to be. “Source” and “medium” are pretty much compulsory, but the other three are by your choice. It’s important to note that UTM parameters are case sensitive; utm_ABC and utm_abc will be read as two separate utm_campaigns in Google Analytics. Having utm_Twitter and utm_twitter will generate false data by diluting figures across two separate lists.

1: SOURCE

utm_source identifies the source of your traffic. Facebook, other socials, web pages, search engines, and newsletters can all be included here.

2: MEDIUM

utm_medium identifies the medium the link was used upon. For instance, a newsletter, cost per click (CPC), or other methods of sharing.

3: CAMPAIGN

utm_campaign identifies which campaign the link is a part of. Recommended for paid searches to identify keywords. If you are using AdWords connected to Analytics, then use the auto-tagging feature.

4: CONTENT

utm_content is where the metaphorical magnifying glass comes out; for example, if you have several calls-to-action for the same campaign on one page. Here, you can identify which call-to-action is performing best. URLs linked from different content but the same campaign, source, and medium can be individually identified.

5: TERM

utm_term is the parameter that tells you what keywords generated the clicks. It is important during paid campaigns to know specifically what spurred this action.

 

UNDERSTANDING UTM ADDITIONS

Physically adding the UTM is easy enough, but it is wise to think ahead. This will make future analysis easier. Follow these 5 tips for trouble-free UTM implementation.

1: BE DESCRIPTIVE

Be sure to use words that have meaning about your campaign for quick recognition. When using ambiguous references like “AA1,” for example, it is easy to forget what they refer to. If someone else is analysing the data, the reference will have no meaning, and you’ll waste time backtracking.

2: DON’T REPEAT YOURSELF

For the same reasons as above, when data is being analyzed, repetition of terms can be confusing. For maximum effect, each UTM should tell you something different. Try and make the 5 UTM parameters read like a short, descriptive sentence.

3: USE DASHES FOR SPACES

UTM tags don’t affect Google rankings and are generally ignored by web crawlers. However, to stay on the safe side, use dashes (not underscores) to separate words. Typically, Google searches return multiple combinations of words when using dashes.

4: AVOID DUPLICATION

Again, it is better to be safe than sorry when it comes to your rankings. Google says that UTM additions are not indexed and don’t affect ranking. Yet, a search for “inurl:utm_source” returns over 33,000,000 results. So there is definitely some kind of indexing going on. To remain penalty-free and to protect your rankings, avoid duplication of UTMs. If you ever need to be guaranteed that your UTM tags are not being indexed, a search of “site:(your site)inurl:utm_(source, medium, campaign, content, term)” will tell you.

5: NOT WITH INTERNAL LINKS

Avoid using UTM tags on internal links. Only use them for outbound content. The trackers in analytics software will completely reset when an internal link is clicked. Rather than the source being displayed as a social platform, for example, it will be the internal link. This erases the original source the user came from, which will give you a false report in your analytics.

6: ALWAYS USE LOWERCASE

The reason for only using lowercase in UTM tags is simple; words with capitals are registered as unique tags in Google Analytics. If half the utm_source tags are uppercase and the other half are lowercase, then analytics will list them as two separate sources. Using lowercase exclusively helps you avoid any confusion and ensures accuracy.

 

Using lowercase exclusively helps you avoid any confusion and ensures accuracy.

 

SOME USEFUL UTM PARAMETERS

UTM parameters show you specific, requested data about your campaigns in Google Analytics. Here are some particularly useful UTM parameters for any campaign.

1: LINKS ON YOUR WEBSITE

Any website can be broken down into a number of traffic sources. Banners, text links within footers, author bios, banner ads, and sidebar links are a few of the facets you can track specifically.

2: LINKS FROM YOUR SOCIAL PROFILES

Links from social profiles are usually directed to a website or blog homepage. Tracking links on social profiles lets you determine which social platforms and specific campaigns are generating the most website traffic.

3: LINKS FROM YOUR SOCIAL STATUS UPDATES

It can be useful to distinguish between status links and profile links. Rather than just the general term “socials” as a source of traffic, this specific data helps you fine-tune your campaigns.

4: EMAIL SIGNATURES

Another handy tool for mining more specific data, email signatures let you know what link inside the email was used, rather than just “your email provider” as a source. You will need an email signature browser extension to create an email signature.

5: BANNER ADVERTISEMENTS

Comparing the performance of banner advertisements lets you know where your dollar is working best. With a multi-banner campaign, be sure to clearly name the banner you are tracking when designating the medium.

6: NEWSLETTERS

Using different parameters within newsletters also gives you greater insight into what works and what doesn’t. Tracking sales infographics, images, and text can help you design pages to effectively boost conversions.

7: ONLINE DOCUMENTS

Giving away freebies like PDF reports is another way to generate traffic and monitor trends. A UTM will tell analytics programs which documents are returning the most traffic. Popular pages give insight into what people desire. This is important data when considering ideas for future reports and web content.

8: RSS FEEDS

Link your chosen web feed management provider with Google Analytics. RSS feed subscriber clicks will be displayed as Traffic Sources.

9: SOCIAL ADVERTISEMENTS

UTM parameters help you identify advertising traffic from different social networks. When placing your ad on a social, simply include the UTM as part of the URL.

10: LISTINGS

There are many options when submitting your website to directories – paid (sometimes expensive) or free, and anywhere in between. A UTM lets you know what kind of listings perform the best and lead to the most traffic.

 

THE URCHIN TRACKING MODULE

A UTM extension to any URL can provide detailed insights into how your brand performs in the digital marketplace. Striking that seemingly alchemical balance of an internet presence that is both engaging and provides a steady click-through rate with high conversions is a dream that can be actualized with the help of UTMs. With this tool at your disposal, you get a deeper look into how potential customers think and act.