Intro to UTM Parameters … Plus A Free UTM Builder

Today, the problem isn’t necessarily that we don’t have enough data … it’s that we have too much. Google Analytics, Facebook Insights, Twitter Analytics, the spreadsheets from your vendors—and that’s just the tip of the data iceberg! Seriously, it’s enough to make any marketer develop a severe case of arithmophobia. And then there’s this question: so you have a lot of data, but is it the right data?

Enter UTM parameters.

Yep, using a UTM builder to append parameters to your URLs can help you …

Wait!

I saw you heading for the back button!

UTM parameters are not as technical as they sound. They can be deployed in just a few minutes and you don’t need a web developer (or a wizard) to do it. In fact, there are UTM builders (including a free one you can get by subscribing to our email list) that’ll do a lot of the work for you.

Pinky promise

What does UTM even mean?

UTM stands for Urchin Tracking Module and they’re pieces of code you stick on the end of a URL. These code pieces then pass info back to Google Analytics, helping you better categorize data and measure results. All for free. Sounds pretty sweet, right?

Vocab: UTM parameters are sometimes referred to as URL parameters, campaign parameters, custom URLs or campaign tracking parameters.

Are UTM parameters necessary?

You may be thinking, “I’m already using Google Analytics, so aren’t these urchin tracking modules just more work?”

Well, sure, UTM parameters are more work, but they’re worth it.

They allow you to see additional info.

While social media analytics, such as Facebook Insights or Twitter Analytics, may show you which of your posts or tweets are getting the most engagement, they do not necessarily show you which are driving the most people to your website … or which content is generating leads. UTM parameters allow you to send detailed data into Google Analytics.

They allow you to get in the weeds

Using UTM parameters allows you to drill down to a granular level when it comes to data. Here’s an example: Twitter traffic does show up in Google Analytics as a referrer and usually as t.co.

However, is knowing that 100 people came to your website from Twitter in the last 30 days useful enough?

By using a UTM builder to append parameters to your URLs, you could understand which of those 100 people came from paid vs. organic efforts or even which specific tweets drove those people to the site.

They can help you verify data.

Let’s say a vendor’s report showed that you received 1,000 clicks during the lifetime of a campaign. How do you know that number is accurate and not a typo or a complete fabrication? If you had used UTM parameters, you’d be able to vet that number, spot potential anomalies and potentially save advertising dollars moving forward.

Psst! Wondering why vendor and third-party reports frequently don’t match up with what you’re seeing in Google Analytics? If this question is keeping you up at night, get ready to catch some zzzs because we’ve got the answer! Read Why Doesn’t My Vendor’s Report Match Google Analytics?

How do I build UTMs?

Good news-anyone can generate UTM parameters in just a matter of minutes. (And I do mean anyone.)

First, grab your magic want … kidding, kidding. Here’s what you’ll need:

  • Google Analytics deployed on your website. You can build UTM parameters without Google Analytics, but you won’t be able to see the results so there’s really no point.
  • The URL you want to drive traffic to.
  • Google’s UTM Builder or our UTM Building Spreadsheet, which you can snag by subscribing to our email list.

For either UTM builder, you’ll need to provide the following:

Webpage URL

This is the page you want to send visitors to.

Tip: Make sure this webpage has Google Analytics deployed on it. If you don’t have Google Analytics deployed (and if you don’t have access to that Google Analytics account), UTM parameters won’t do you any good!

Campaign Source

This is specifically where traffic is coming from. In other words, where are you posting this URL? For example, “Twitter” is a source of traffic.

Campaign Medium

This is the channel generating the traffic. Think of the medium as a category. The campaign source is specific, and the campaign medium is broad. For example, if your source is “Twitter,” your medium might be “social” or “referreral.”

The default channel groupings in Google Analytics are:

  • Direct
  • Organic
  • Referral
  • Email
  • Social
  • Paid Social (cpc, ppc)
  • Display

In most cases, you’ll want to choose one of these for your medium. For more on default channel groupings see: here.

Tip: You can pick whatever you want for your UTM parameter medium. For example, as mentioned above, Twitter could be “social” or “referral.” However, whatever you pick, be consistent! If you frequently change your mediums it can make it next to impossible to accurately analyze your data … which pretty much defeats the purpose of UTM parameters.

Campaign Name

Moniker with which you will identify your campaign. In other words, it’s a name that will allow you to recognize what you were promoting.

For example, if you’re marketing a spring sale, your campaign name might be “spring-sale.” You would use the same campaign name for all spring sale efforts with different sources, mediums, terms and content tags to differentiate between various marketing efforts like your Instagram ads and your emails.

Campaign Term

This field is optional. Use this field if there is a specific keyword associated with the campaign.

Campaign Content

This field is optional. Use this field to differentiate between various ads pointing to the same URL for the same campaign. For instance, let’s go back to that spring sale example and say you’re running Facebook ads. Let’s say you have two ads, one is a static image and the other is a video. You could use the campaign content field to differentiate these different creative assets or ad sizes.

Remember, you can put UTM parameters on any link, and you can create as many custom links as you want!

Are there UTM parameter best practices?

Believe it or not, there are no UTM police ready to bust down your office door if you accidentally swap your source and your medium or if you completely fabricate a campaign. For example, we could have a campaign called “puppies” even though our marketing efforts have nothing to do with puppies. (Shocking, I know.)

While there’s no law against misusing UTMs, since the data will live in your Google Analytics account and could help or harm your reporting and future strategy there is ample incentive to use them correctly. Here are some best practices to keep in mind when using a UTM builder:

Think two steps ahead

You don’t have to take a month to plan out your UTM parameters; after all, you’re not plotting to take over the world. (Wait, are you?) However, you will want to put a little thought into them.

Think about how you’ll want to slice and dice data when it’s time to do reporting. Will you want to segment things on a per ad or post basis? Will you want to see everything as one overall campaign? Thinking about this stuff upfront will help you decide whether you need to use the optional parameters for “term” and “content.”

You’ll also want to make sure that your UTM parameters provide enough details that others can understand what they reference. For example, a campaign tag of “aftp” probably won’t mean anything to someone else (or even you) a year from now.

Lastly, you’ll want to make sure others understand how important it is to use UTM parameters. Getting buy-in from others will help ensure a consistent application of UTM parameters moving forward, which brings me to …

Consistency is key!

We’ve already touched on this briefly, but it’s so critical that it can stand to be said again.

To get the most out of UTM parameters, you’ll want to be cognizant of any differences in the parameters you’re creating. For example, if you create some UTM parameters with a source of “Twitter,” they will be reported separately from parameters with a source of “twitter.” (You can build a filter to reconcile these, but who wants to do that extra work if they don’t have to?)

Follow best practices and use:

  • Lowecase (twitter not Twitter).
  • Dashes instead of underscores, spaces, camel casing, etc. (summer-sale not summer_sale, Summer Sale or summerSale).
  • Consistent sources and mediums.

Note: Some people prefer underscores in their UTM parameters, and while that won’t technically hurt anything here’s an article Matt Cutts (formerly of Google) wrote about why dashes are preferred.

Keep a record.

Google Analytics does not store a list of all of the UTM parameters and custom URLs you create. If you tag a URL and it subsequently receives zero traffic, those UTM parameters will not show up anywhere in Google Analytics.

With this in mind, it’s important to keep a record of the UTM parameters you’ve deployed (pushed out somewhere on the Internet). This record will allow you to be more consistent and understand what is not working (what’s generating zero traffic).

And knowing what is not working is just as important as knowing what is working!

Plus, this can allow you to quickly spot human errors. For example, if you generated UTM parameters for a spring sale email but are seeing no traffic you might double check and make sure the email actually went out! Perhaps someone forgot to schedule it or issue final approval.

Tip: If you use the UTM Builder Spreadsheet that you get when you sign up for our email list, you’ll have an ongoing record of all UTM parameters generated both by yourself and any team members.

Where do I see the results?

  1. Login to Google Analytics.
  2. Click “Acquisitions” on the left-hand side.
  3. Click “Campaigns.”
  4. Choose “All Campaigns.”
  5. By default, you’ll be looking at whatever you entered for the “campaign name.” Toggle between “Campaign,” “Source,” and “Medium.”

Tip: To see “Content” or “Term,” click on “Secondary dimension” and choose “Ad Content” or “Search Term.”

Caveat: The steps above pertain to Universal Analytics; if you’re using the newest iteration of Google Analytics (Google Analytics 4), UTM parameters may not work (as of January 6, 2021). You can read a thread from individuals struggling with this issue here.

… waiting for the other shoe to drop?

UTM parameters are an easy and inexpensive way to gain deeper insight into different marketing endeavors, but they aren’t perfect. While UTM parameters will help tame the chaos that is reporting, their drawbacks include:

They’re a reminder that Big Brother is watching.

UTM parameters don’t alter the webpage in any way, and visitors would only know that UTMs are being used if they examined the URL. However, if visitors do look at a URL, UTM parameters may serve as an uncomfortable reminder that they’re being tracked. While this probably won’t send anyone running for the hills, with all of the concerns about privacy, it may give a visitor pause.

They can create a false sense of confidence

No UTM builder or set of UTM parameters can detect when someone takes a URL you created and deploys it elsewhere. And this does happen!

For example, let’s say Angie (a power Twitter user if there ever was one) gets your spring sale email. She’s stoked about that extra 50% off all clearance items and she wants to help you spread the word! Angie takes the URL (with carefully appended UTM parameters) and drops it into a tweet. She doesn’t know about custom parameters … she just really likes vintage shoes, so Angie doesn’t alter or remove your UTM parameters before tweeting.

Any one of Angie’s tens of thousands of followers who click on the link in her tweet will be labeled in Google Analytics as having come from the sale email … but they actually came from Twitter.

There’s not much you can do about this … other than be aware. As you use Google Analytics to dive in and out of marketing data, it’s important to understand that nothing is 100%.

They’re ugly.

Long URLs can be unsightly and cumbersome, especially on social media. To get around this, you can use link shorteners, like Bitly.

They aren’t foolproof.

With so many fields to fill in and all the nuances between different sources, mediums, etc. it’s all too easy to make mistakes when creating custom URLs with UTM parameters.

Unfortunately, a mistake that isn’t caught can pollute your data and make measurement and reporting even more difficult. To avoid errors, double check your UTM parameters for accuracy before deployment.

UTM builders make creating custom URLs quick and easy. The data obtained by using UTM parameters can cut costs, increase sales and refine your overall strategy. However, they won’t create and manage themselves (yet!). You have to put in the effort in order to get the reward—but the effort is well worth it. You can get started with UTM parameters right now by utilizing Google’s Campaign URL Builder or by signing up for our mailing list. Once you sign up you’ll get a welcome email with a link to a free UTM builder spreadsheet!

Want to get the most out of your Google Analytics? St. Gregory can help! Our Google Analytics certified data nerds would love to do a deep dive on your account and help you make adjustments to ensure you’re bringing in good clean data and that you’re correctly interpreting it. Contact us today for a consult.