Let’s face it, most landing page URLs look like they were written by a guy who fell asleep on his keyboard. But these seemingly jumbled combinations of letters, numbers, and symbols are UTM parameters, and they help marketers to optimize their campaigns and improve their ROI.
In this blog, we will discuss what UTM parameters are and why they’re important, provide some best practice tips for using UTM parameters, and list some helpful tools. I hope you have your Notes app at the ready?
UTM stands for Urchin Tracking Module. UTM parameters (also called UTM codes or tags) are snippets of text you can add to the end of a URL. These snippets help you track where website traffic comes from. So if a user clicks on a URL from Facebook and lands on your landing page, you’ll be able to determine the source of the click, which in this case is Facebook. If most of the traffic came from Facebook, you’d know that you were doing something right with your Facebook strategy. These insights can be accessed in your Google Analytics account – or, if you’re an Ortto customer, insights are available within the platform.
Aside from identifying the source of a click, UTM parameters can also offer other, more advanced insights. Adding UTM parameters to your URLs will enable you to answer questions such as: Which advertising platform brought in the most website traffic? Or, more specifically: Which call-to-action in our social activity generated the most revenue?
Ultimately, UTM parameters add an important layer of understanding and visibility to your marketing efforts. The below screenshot shows how Ortto users can break down UTM links by campaign source.
Every business dedicates resources to producing campaigns and content with the goal of generating new business. Among all the LinkedIn posts, blog articles, and PPC ads, there are top-performing assets contributing a decent chunk to your bottom line, and likely just as many whose performance is the equivalent of throwing money down the drain. Using UTM parameters to discover your highest-performing content or campaigns can help you allocate your marketing budget more effectively, focusing on the content formats, topics, and channels that drive more traffic — and more revenue.
The trouble is, in 2020, just over half (52.7%) of marketers used analytics to track their results. How can marketers hope to maximize efforts if they have no idea if what they’re doing is working?
What it comes down to is this: The best marketers are so because they use tools like UTM parameters to determine what’s working and what’s not.
Needless to say, discovering your highest-performing channels isn’t as easy as slapping a UTM parameter on the end of a URL. What is needed is knowledge of naming conventions and combination techniques. If you want to get the most from UTM tags, you need a strategy. Here’s what you’ll need to know.
There are five types of UTM parameters you can add to your content to help you track traffic. Each one has its own job to do, and the more you use, the more your analytics platform will be able to show you.
This tag identifies the source of your traffic (e.g. Facebook, search engine, etc.). For example, if the user arrived to your website by clicking through a Google search engine result, the tag would read:
This UTM code specifies the medium, like CPC or newsletter, for example. If your source is Facebook, you might use the label “social” to indicate the traffic came from social media. Below is what the tag would look like in this instance:
This parameter indicates the campaign that the URL is part of. This might be an identifier like a tagline – e.g. “launch02015” or “website-redesign.” Example:
This is where things get really granular. If you have, for example, two different calls-to-action in one piece of content, you can use this tag to tell your analytics tool which one is more effective. Here’s an example from a Glassdoor email with several CTAs.
Click the first green button and you’ll be redirected to a page with this URL:
Click on the second green button and you’ll be directed to a page with this URL:
Both these URLs are part of the same campaign and come from the same source and medium, but the content that directs people to them is different. The UTM parameter “utm_content” indicates this difference.
This UTM parameter is important for identifying the keywords that drive clicks via a paid search campaign. Here’s an example from scheduling tool Calendly.
The “utm_term” tag here indicates the search term “calendar scheduling tool” was responsible for generating this click.
You know what UTM parameters are, but how do you create them? You’ll have a few different options. Before we dive in, though, there are some things you should know.
Physically tagging your URLs is actually the easy part. The hard stuff is knowing what to do before and after you tag them. Inconsistent parameters will, at best, confuse whoever’s trying to interpret your analytics reports. At worst, they’ll actually send you the wrong data. That’s why naming and monitoring them is important. Here are a few guidelines to help you do it right.
Remember, the point of UTM parameters is to track your data and sort it into an easily digestible report. If you tag your URLs with ambiguous terms or number sequences like 1A, IB, 1C, you’ll have a hard time interpreting those later on. If it’s a short campaign, that might not be a problem. But if it spans longer, or if you want to analyze older data in the future, you should create a simple yet descriptive tagging system.
Remember, you’re going to have to read these in analytics reports. To get maximum information about your traffic with minimum confusion, you should make sure you don’t repeat names.
Every UTM parameter should tell you something different about your visitors. So, don’t just be clear and specific, but name a UTM parameter so it reads like a sentence. Example below:
Each parameter answers a question:
What campaign is this? New admin dashboard launched in April 2014
Where was the URL clicked (i.e. source)? URL was on Facebook
Where/how was the URL displayed (i.e. medium)? Displayed as a post on the Facebook page
Where do we send the user? User sent to a blog post
What does tagging this accomplish? Know what percentage of Facebook traffic came from clicking the link about the new admin dashboard launch versus Facebook traffic in general
The UTM tagged URL tells a story and can inform future marketing strategy.
Avoid using spaces when dealing with UTM parameters because they mess up your parameter formatting, making it hard to track links in your campaign. If your UTM parameters contain spaces between words, the spaces will become percentage signs in the URL by default, which will lead to complications in tracking and inconsistencies in your campaign results. It’s best to avoid spaces altogether.
When it comes to whether you should use dashes or underscores instead of spaces to separate words, there isn’t a clear answer. Some sources suggest underscores while others recommend dashes, arguing that search engine spiders don’t crawl UTM parameters. It’s up to you which way you go, but stick to one to stay consistent or it could cause issues later down the line. If one year you track a Facebook campaign and name it “google_xmas_campaign_2021” and the next year it’s named “google-xmas-campaign-2022”, historical comparisons will be much harder.
Put “inurl:utm_source” into Google and you’ll get over 325,000,000 results (URLs with “utm_source” in them). What this means is there are instances where Google indexes UTM parameters. And if that happens to your URLs, there’s a chance, ironically, that you’ll be penalized for creating duplicate content.
Google may treat the two links below as identical pieces of content and mark them as duplicates.
A solution to duplication is to use canonical tags on affected pages. If you want to check for duplication in the Google index, you can search for:
site:(your site) inurl(source, campaign, term, content, medium)
That way, you’ll know if any of your UTM tags are being indexed by Google. They shouldn’t be, but if they are, it would be smart to put a canonical tag in place.
A canonical tag is a way of telling search engines that a specific URL represents the master copy of a page. Using the canonical tag prevents content duplication.
You don’t have to use every parameter just because it’s available to you. If you’re going to tag your URLs, you’re required to include “utm_source” but all the others are optional.
Unless you’re running a paid search ad, it’s best not to use the “utm_term” tag. In this case, it doesn’t tell us anything else about the traffic coming through this email that the “utm_campaign” parameter doesn’t.
Once you start using UTM parameters, you’ll want to use them everywhere. But don’t get tag-happy, especially on internal links. Here’s why:
Let’s say you published a new blog post, An Awesome Way to do Something Awesome. You shared it on Twitter. One of your followers clicks on the link and arrives at www.yoursite.com/blog/awesome-post. When they are done reading, they want to go to your home page. They click on a link that takes them to http://www.yoursite.com/?utm_source=blog. You just lost the information that the user came from Twitter. Your analytics report will say that the visitor came from blog and not from Twitter.
Only use UTM parameters with outbound content – the social posts, emails, and paid search ads you push out to the masses. Otherwise, the tracker in your analytics software will completely reset when a visitor clicks on a tagged internal link. And you’ll get a completely false report of where your traffic is actually coming from.
The reason for this one is simple. If the utm_source for this email is “Webinar” but the parameters used are “utm_source=webinar” and “utm_source=Webinar”, the tags will be registered as unique tags in Google Analytics.
Furthermore, if you’re tagging every other link using a capital “W” you’ll notice in your reports that half your traffic is coming from the source “Webinar” and the other half is coming from “webinar”.
It’s best not to add any confusion to the mix. Stick to using lowercase letters in all tags if you want to ensure accuracy and minimize confusion.
When it comes to generating UTM parameters, there are lots of solutions out there. Below are some tools you can use to create your own.
One of the simplest ways to generate and keep track of UTMs is with a sharable spreadsheet.
To help you out, we've built a UTM builder template that can be copied for your use. On the first tab, you'll see naming conventions and examples of the different parameter types for your reference. Use the second tab to build out your UTMs with platforms, urls, and campaign types. We've provided an example to get you started.
At Ortto, we have copied this second tab in the spreadsheet to give each department (content, performance etc.) their own tab to work in. After you've made a copy of the document, you can simply duplicate the tab as many times as you need, and name the tab after the team. Simple as that.
The Campaign URL Builder from Google is a nifty tool you can simply plug in all the details of your campaign without worrying about stringing a coherent UTM parameter:
Once you’re through, the builder will spit out your full URL, complete with UTM codes:
From there you can simply click the “Copy URL” button (and even “Convert URL to Short Link” before that to shorten your long URL), and plug it into whatever tool you’re using to promote your URL.
UTM.io have a free UTM builder that will help you add campaign tracking codes to your links. The generated UTMs work with analytics platforms like Google Analytics, Amplitude, Mixpanel or Adobe right out of the box. If you're looking for a simple way to quickly generate UTMs, this is a great, free option.
Tagging all your URLs manually is a tiresome task. If you’re attempting to track AdWords traffic, Google’s auto-tagging feature makes the whole process more efficient, and it even offers a few additional benefits:
Eliminate errors that may come with manual tagging
Important analytics goals and transactions into AdWords conversion tracking
Get more detailed data, like placement or hour of day
Auto-tagging is turned off by default, so to turn it on you’ll need to navigate to the tracking tab of your Google Analytics account. Keep in mind that the feature doesn’t work with a small percentage of websites. If you’re having trouble using it, this could be why.
Ortto automatically puts UTMs in URLs across your email and SMS marketing which you can track in custom reports and dashboards. For example, when building an email newsletter, whenever you add a link to your website, Ortto will automatically add the relevant tags, streamlining the process and ensuring you get the most out of your campaign.
With Ortto, you can not only track UTM data, but create highly personalized customer journeys with them.
This can be done by creating a smart segment and adding a condition check to filter leads who have visited pages with specific UTM parameters. For example, you can create a smart segment comprising users who have accessed (and completed) your “request a demo” form via a Facebook retargeting ad.
You can engage leads with targeting messaging based on whatever criteria you like, including those leads that:
Arrived on your page as a result of searching specific keywords
Responded to a one-off campaign
Landed on your page via a particular source such as YouTube
Below, see how Ortto users can filter based on UTM content tags.
Those communications don’t have to be limited to email either. With Ortto, you can utilize SMS as well as in-app messaging. You can also automate the notification of signups to your team, particularly the sales team who want to reach out swiftly to any high-value leads.
Many of our customers also use UTM parameters to extract more data from existing customers, or to manage events. The following are two examples of frequently used UTM based templates.
This data enrichment journey is the perfect way to collect information that you could be missing from your contacts. By giving them a number of clickable opinions, you can ask them anything, from what their favorite holiday destination is, through to the number of contacts they have. When they click, you can track their selection, and send them on a personalized nurture journey specifically designed around their answer.
After you’ve hosted a webinar, you’ve got highly valuable contacts that are already engaged with you. You’ve now got the perfect opportunity to keep in touch with them and make sure they’re on the right track with your product. With this journey, you can use Zapier to confirm the contacts that actually attended your webinar, and reach out to them. A small data enrichment email can then be used to gauge their experience, and send them a follow up specific to their response.
The ability to accurately attribute value to different channels is key to understanding and maximizing marketing ROI. UTM parameters can tell you a lot about the performance of each channel and can shed light on the behavior of new leads and existing customers alike. When used in combination with Ortto, businesses can apply the data to decisions around allocation of marketing spend and resources, and also improve the effectiveness of their communications through automated, personalized messaging based on the critical insights captured.
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