Intro to UTM Parameters & Best Practices

Intro to UTM Parameters Best Practices

Do you know exactly where your site traffic comes from? Or which of your campaigns drives the most traffic? If not, read on ;) This post is for website owners who use Google Analytics but want more insight into where their traffic is coming from.

Maybe you know how much  traffic you’re getting from Twitter, but do you know what percentage of this traffic comes from your Tweets? You can get this data by using Custom Campaigns and adding special tags to your URLs; these tags are called UTM parameters — they are crucial for a deeper understanding of your traffic.

What are UTM Parameters?

UTM parameters are simply tags you add to a URL — when your link is clicked, the tags are sent back to Google Analytics and tracked.

With UTM parameters, you can tag your links to gauge the effectiveness of your campaigns and identify the best ways to drive more visitors to your website.

Using UTM parameters, you can find out how much traffic came from a particular Facebook post instead of Facebook referrals in general. You can tag your Tweets and compare traffic from your Twitter account to overall Twitter referrals. You can use UTM parameters in newsletters, cost per click (CPC) campaigns, on your blog… the possibilities are endless! I’ll get into more examples below.

Example URL with UTM parameters:

www.awesome-example.com/book-launch?utm_source=facebook&utm_medium=social&utm_campaign=book-launch-2014-may

Let’s analyze the URL above. Pretend you’re an author launching a book. Obviously you want to drive traffic to your book’s landing page (e.g. www.awesome-example.com/book-launch). To understand how much traffic comes from your marketing efforts, you tag your links with UTM parameters. You reveal the book launch to your audience by posting the tagged link on your Facebook page.

In the upcoming week, approximately 20,000 visitors come to your landing page from Facebook. Upon checking Google Analytics, you discover that 15,000 visitors clicked your tagged link and the remaining 5,000 visitors came from other Facebook pages and profiles outside your control.  By using a tagged link, you know exactly how well your Facebook post performed. Pretty neat right?

Aside – UTM Meaning & Origin
UTM is short for Urchin Tracking Module. Google acquired Urchin Software in 2005, resulting in the creation of Google Analytics.

UTM Parameter Brainstorming

You can use UTM parameters in an almost endless number of ways. To get you brainstorming, here are a few examples:

  • Instead of a general overview of traffic from your newsletter, you could use UTM parameters to gauge which links and calls to action (CTA’s) are most effective within your email.
  • You could use UTM parameters to compare newsletters over time. You could spot the newsletters that were most effective at driving traffic to your site. You could then hypothesize why certain newsletters were so effective and test your assumptions in upcoming newsletters.
  • Maybe you know how much traffic comes to your product page from your blog, but you want to know which calls to action are driving the most traffic. Again, UTM parameters.
  • I think you get the point :)

Types of UTM Parameters

There are five UTM parameters (three are required):

  • utm_source (required) – identify the source of your traffic such as: search engine, newsletter, or other referral.
    • example: utm_source=newsletter
  • utm_medium (required) – identify the medium the link was used on such as: email, CPC, or other method of sharing.
    • For a newsletter, the medium would be “email”
    • example: utm_medium=email
  • utm_campaign (required) – identify a strategic campaign (e.g. product launch, new feature, partnership, etc.) or specific promotion (e.g. a sale, a giveaway, etc.).
    • example: utm_campaign=book-launch-2014-may-7
  • utm_term – suggested for paid search to identify keywords for your ad. You can skip this for Google AdWords if you have connected your AdWords and Analytics accounts and use the auto-tagging feature instead.
    • Let’s say you you’re running a Google Adwords campaign for your non-profit WordPress theme. You’d have specific keywords picked out for your campaign.
    • example: utm_term=wordpress-theme , utm_term=non-profit-theme, utm_term=non-profit-template, etc.
  • utm_content – suggested for additional details for A/B testing and content-targeted ads.
    • Let’s say you have three calls to action (CTA’s) on your blog. You have a Hello Bar CTA in your header, a big button CTA in your sidebar and a CTA farther down the page after your blog post but before the comments. Which CTA is sending the most traffic to your product page?
    • examples: utm_content=cta-top-banner,  utm_content=cta-sidebar,  utm_content=cta-bottom

How to Build UTM Tagged URLs

To understand how to build URL’s containing UTM parameters, let’s dissect the example URL from earlier:

www.awesome-example.com/book-launch?utm_source=facebook&utm_medium=social&utm_campaign=book-launch-2014-may

  • UTM parameters are initialized by the question mark “?” at the end of the base URL.
  • Every UTM parameter starts with it’s name (e.g. utm_source, etc.) which is followed by an equals sign “=” which is then followed by the input/argument (no spaces).
  • Each UTM parameter is separated by an ampersand sign “&”.

Now that you understand how  URLs with UTM parameters are organized, you can create them manually. However, it’s much easier to use Google’s URL builder. Just fill out the form and presto — you’re URL is ready for copying and pasting.

Dealing with Lots of UTM URLs & Staying Sane

UTM Parameters Spreadsheet

Let’s assume that you’ll need to create lots of URLs containing UTM parameters. How would you build your URLs efficiently? How would you stay organized? Google’s URL builder would become tedious fast.

Dear reader, you’re in luck! The Rafflecopter team has a link tagging tool that we’re happy to share with you. The tool is a Google Doc spreadsheet that uses formulas to build out custom URLs with UTM parameters. Enjoy :)

*Please Note* The Rafflecopter link tagging tool is a modified version of Epik One’s link tagging tool. Thanks for the awesome spreadsheet Epik One! The credit and applause belongs to you.

I hope this introduction to UTM parameters augments your marketing efforts and helps you draw new insights from Google Analytics.  If you enjoyed this post, check out the sibling post: 6 Tips for Naming UTM Parameters

If you have questions or feedback, please post in the comments below. Extra points for posting how you use UTM parameters (or plan on using them in the future).

About the author

Jared

Jared is the Head of Growth at Rafflecopter, the world's easiest way to run a giveaway online. He writes about startups, social media, marketing and productivity. Follow @jaredpolivka