Have you ever looked at your website analytics and wondered how visitors landed on one page instead of another? Then UTM parameters are going to change your world!
UTM parameters are the best way to see the exact path anyone takes from your ads all the way through to your landing pages.
While you can see who clicked on a link in Facebook as well as the traffic that comes to your site through Google Analytics, UTM parameters take this to a whole new level.
They provide you with valuable context on your visitors that ultimately helps you build better, more high-converting ad campaigns for your brand.
In this article, we’ll break down exactly what UTM parameters are and how they can level up your online advertising.
- What Are UTM Parameters?
- Why and When You Need to Use UTM Parameters
- How to Build UTM Parameters
- The 5 Types of UTM Parameters
- Writing UTM Parameters
- UTM Parameter Best Practices
Ready to start?
What Are UTM Parameters?
UTM parameters are the tags you sometimes see at the end of URLs. They provide the owner of that URL with information about which ad, post, CTA button, etc., was clicked to direct a visitor to a specific page of a site. Of course, by using Google Analytics, the owner can also see how much traffic comes from these same starting points.
Example URL with UTM parameters created using Google’s Campaign URL Builder.
So, what does UTM stand for? It’s an acronym for Urchin Tracking Module, a component acquired by Google in the early 2000s leading to the development of their Google Analytics suite.
Why and When You Need to Use UTM Parameters
If you don’t tag your URLs with UTM parameters, it’s impossible to differentiate the traffic sources that feed your site. Everything gets lumped into a single bucket.
That makes it very hard to track the effectiveness of your campaigns and much more difficult to understand what advertising content resonates with your audience. Using UTM parameters, you’re able to see that one of your Facebook carousel ads is driving more traffic to your website than the other. Or that a Twitter post sharing a recent blog accounted for a big spike in overall visitors.
You should make sure that the URL of every ad you create or every post you share is tagged with these UTM codes. They’re your best option for gathering more information on how people interact with your content.
This context allows you to evaluate which ads are most appealing to potential customers, which leads to better ads. You’ll be able to use this data to optimize your entire ad strategy, ultimately driving even more valuable traffic to your website.
How to Build UTM Parameters
Create UTM codes manually or use Google’s Campaign URL Builder to automatically generate full URLs with the parameters attached.
There are five different types of parameters, each building on the previous to provide more context on the link you’re trying to track.
Google provides a quick breakdown of the technical specifications for each type on their Campaign URL Builder page:
The 5 Types Of UTM Parameters
We’ll walk through creating a URL for use in an AdEspresso Facebook ad for a product tour to show you, in plain language, how to use each parameter in your own marketing efforts. The original URL looked like this:
Now, three tags are required: The source, the medium, and the name:
Campaign Source – utm_source – Identifies the source of your traffic.
For us, that’s Facebook. When someone clicks on our Facebook ad, they’re taken to the following page with the source defined as Facebook:
Campaign Medium – utm_medium – Identifies the marketing medium where the link was shared.
For us, that’s social media. It could also be email, newsletter, etc.
Campaign Name – utm_campaign – Identifies the specific campaign associated with that link.
In our case, it’s a product tour, but it could also be a product launch, sale, giveaway, or something else.
The last two tags are optional: Term and content.
Campaign Term – utm_term – Identifies the paid search term associated with an ad.
You can skip this parameter if you use automated rules in your Google AdWords, but for the sake of example, we’ll say that this ad was targeting the keyword “digital advertising platform”:
Campaign Content – utm_content – Allows you to add any additional clarifying information to the URL string.
Use this for A/B tests, different CTAs, or buttons. This is where you can really drill down and get specific with your tagging. We’re going to say that this campaign is testing out some new image types for our social assets. We have two different images in the test, and the second one was clicked:
So there you have it. If you saw this URL in any of your Google Analytics dashboards, you’d know exactly how a customer landed on the tour page. They clicked the second image variant of your digital advertising platform CPC ad for a product tour on Facebook.
That’s a lot more information than you would be able to capture if your advert just linked to the original URL:
Writing UTM parameters
Use Google’s Campaign URL Builder to input each parameter individually:
Google will autogenerate a URL with the correct syntax:
If you plan to create these URLs manually, you’ll need to keep a few rules in mind.
- When you create these codes, they’ll append the URL as a string. Each string of parameters starts with a question mark: ?
- Each parameter is written in lowercase using an underscore followed by an equal sign and the parameter name: ?utm_source=facebook
- Parameters within the string are separated by an ampersand: ?utm_source=facebook&utm_medium=cpc
- The hierarchy of these terms is source, medium, campaign, term, content
It might look complicated, but following a few best practices makes it pretty easy.
UTM Parameter Best Practices
Creating your own UTM parameters requires a deep understanding of your advertising and marketing strategy. Follow these best practices to ensure that you’re not creating more work for yourself or your team by implementing a new tracking model.
Use a pre-defined naming convention
Long strings of these parameters can get confusing quickly. Create a standardized format for each of the five parameters, and make sure your team understands how to build these strings correctly. This is most important for campaign names, for example: “product-launch-red,” “product-launch-yellow,” “product-launch-blue” would be three different ads in the product launch campaign, each with a different color scheme.
Use plain language
Keep in mind that your audience will see the codes you use. Make sure you’re using language that is easy to understand and doesn’t give away any sensitive or proprietary company information. Here’s an example of a messy, confusing string:
UTM parameters are case-sensitive
It’s best to use lowercase at all times to ensure you’re not misrepresenting tracking information by searching for “Facebook” instead of “facebook.”
Create a tracking spreadsheet
It’s easy to lose track of what a particular parameter refers to if you’re not keeping all that information in a single source of truth. Document how each code is tied to a specific campaign in a shared spreadsheet, so no one has to guess what a code means.
Understand that the system isn’t perfect
People can easily delete the long strings of seemingly useless information when sharing content with their network. That’s what makes it so hard to track dark social. Keep in mind that while these UTM codes do provide you with additional context, it’s not always carried over when people share the articles directly.
There you have it.
We’d love to hear your questions about UTM parameters, how to use them, or any additional best practices you’ve found helpful. Let us know in the comments!