UTM Google Analytics: How to Create UTM codes on Google Analytics
Are you looking to boost your marketing strategy? Do you need advanced tracking for your digital campaigns? The UTM Google Analytics parameters will certainly come in handy then.
While you may be clear about the need to use tracking parameters in your URLs, you probably have many questions about how they work. We’re here to find the answer to your questions and give some useful tips on best practices for creating UTMs.
What are UTM parameters?
UTM parameters are variables that can be added to the page URL to track advanced information about the traffic that page is receiving.
These parameters are written after the url text preceded by a question mark. That question mark is used to indicate that what is read below contains additional information related to the previous url.
UTM is an acronym for Urchin Tracking Module and its name comes from Urchin, the company that developed the system in the first place. This company was acquired by Google and ended up becoming Google Analytics.
UTM Google Analytics parameters
There are 5 different parameters you can use for Google Analytics: source, medium, campaign, term and content. Let’s see the common uses for each of them:
- utm_medium: is used to track how the visitor was attracted to your website. Otherwise known as the acquisition strategy, such as cpc, email, organic and social.
- utm_source: identifies where the user was before reaching your site. This is usually another site, like facebook.com and google.
- utm_campaign: allows you to track which specific marketing campaign has brought the visitor to your site.
- utm_term: used only in paid search campaigns to identify the specific paid search keyword that is driving the user to your site.
- utm_content: allows you to differentiate between different contents on the same campaign or copy. For example, when a campaign contains several different banners or when an email has two buttons that you want to measure independently.
You can view UTM parameters from broad to granular. The parameter utm_medium must be used to denote high-level channels, like social for example. Then utm_source is used to divide into subchannels such as facebook.com, instagram.com, linkedin.com and others… Below that you can use utm_campaing to track the different campaigns launched on the different subchannels.
Benefits of using UTM codes
Before you start generating UTM parameters, keep in mind that these are not strictly necessary to track traffic with Google Analytics. Thanks to the tracking code, Analytics obtains information about the source and the medium directly from the browser.
Google Analytics has preconfigured mediums, such as: affiliate, cpc (cost per click), display, email, organic, referral and social. In the event that Google Analytics cannot identify the medium that has taken the user to your website, (none) will be shown.
By default, Google Analytics will also identify most sources as: google, bing, facebook.com, youtube.com, linkedin.com, and many other social media and websites. If Google Analytics cannot identify where the user was before reaching your website, you will see (direct).
In case you need to deepen the understanding of your marketing campaigns, you definitely need to use UTM codes. They allow you to add a new variable, utm_campaign, to subcategorize traffic coming from the same default source and medium.
Notice that Google Analytics has already traveled part of the way to offer you very useful and relevant information about sources and mediums. My recommendation is to respect as much of the default nomenclature in utm_medium and utm_source as possible and use utm_campaign for your custom tags.
5 campaigns tracked with UTM codes
Let’s look at 5 examples where UTM parameters will help you subcategorize incoming traffic:
Tracking Google Ads campaigns
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All paid search campaigns coming from Google Ads will have the same medium (cpc) and the same source (google). To know which specific Google Ads campaign (keyword or ad) performs best, Google Ads automatically adds campaign, term and content parameters to your URLs to identify these elements separately. This can also be referred to as auto-tagging, and the same goes for display ads.
Tracking social ads
All traffic that comes from any social network such as LinkedIn, will be labeled by default as medium: social, regardless of whether it is organic or comes from a paid campaign. To differentiate organic clicks from paid clicks, you’ll need to use UTM codes to create different URLs. You can create a custom utm_campaign like social-ads to identify the paid traffic. Additionally, you can use the utm_content to understand which ads are performing the best.
Tracking email campaigns
In the event that a visit reaches your website as a result of clicking inside an email, Google Analytics will tag it as medium: email. UTM codes can be very useful to identify the different email campaigns, newsletters, offers or promotions that you send to your email database. Use a custom utm_campaign to tag each type of communication.
Tracking link building
If you have implemented a strategy to grow your referral traffic, you will not be able to differentiate the links that you have generated with this strategy from the links that have been generated organically unless you use UTM codes. You can use a custom utm_campaign to tag the links that result from that effort.
Tracking pdf and docs
If you generally send information to your customers or prospects in .pdf or .doc format with links, it can be very difficult to know if these links are driving traffic back to your site. The best way to do this is to use UTM codes. The solution can be to create a custom utm_source such as pdf or doc and use the document name in utm_campaign to differentiate between the different documents.
How to create UTM codes for Google Analytics
UTM parameters are made of a key (the question mark) and a value separated by an equals sign (=) and joined by an ampersand (&). This is what UTM parameters look like at the end of a URL:
Knowing this, you can create the parameters manually or you can use a tool to make it easier. The most common tool is the Google Analytics Campaign URL Builder, which is used to generate URLs to websites.
You just need to fill in the gaps with the required data and you will automatically get the URL to share.
Best Practices for Tagging URLs
Keep it simple
Take a moment to think about what you want to measure and what parameters you need to achieve it. Do not overcomplicate yourself with parameters that add difficulty to reading the data in addition to taking too much time. Remember that you will have to create the custom UTMs one by one and manually every time.
Create a UTM guide
Create your own nomenclature that suits your measurement needs and be consistent with it. Any small change in naming will cause measurement errors. For example, for Google Analytics utm_source=Instagram is not the same as utm_source=instagram because it’s case sensitive. The best recommendation is to avoid capitalization altogether.
Track your UTM links in a spreadsheet
Keeping track of tagged links will help you remember what information to look for in your Google Analytics reports, as well as being a good help in avoiding nomenclature mistakes.
Where do I find UTM data in Google Analytics?
Once you have tracked your URL with UTM parameters, you just need to know where to go to find the data.
Go to the Google Analytics left Menu > Acquisition > Overview to get a quick breakdown of your acquisition channels.
By default, you will find traffic grouped into the following channels depending on the medium and source:
- Direct: source exactly matches direct and medium exactly matches (not set) or (none)
- Organic search: medium exactly matches organic
- Paid Search: medium matches cpc, ppc or paidsearch
- Display: medium matches display, cpm or banner
- Referral: medium exactly matches referral
- Affiliates: medium exactly matches affiliate
- Social: medium matches social, social-network, social-media or social network
- Email: medium exactly matches email
- (unavailable) or (other): sessions don’t match any channel description.
Therefore, if you are using values in utm_medium that are different from those defined by Google Analytics, all that data will be grouped in (other) by default. To learn more about channel grouping in Analytics, follow this link.
You can check the traffic comming from the different campaigns in several ways. My favorite one is going to Acquisition> Source /Medium and selecting campaing as the secondary dimension.
To better understand how Google Analytics works and get learn more about the metrics, check out this guide to Google Analytics for Beginners.
Disadvantages of using UTM parameters
Before we finish, let me tell you about the big downside to UTMs. UTM parameters are unshakable entities that stick to your URL across different networks and media.
For example, if a URL that is tagged to be shared on Linkedin (utm_source=linkedin) is finally shared on Facebook or any other social network, this visit will be counted as Linkedin in Google Analytics.
You can do a simple experiment by finding any tagged URL and copy it directly into your browser’s address bar. At the moment you can see in Google Analytics > Realtime a visit with the source and medium in UTM parameters (notice that this experiment will not work if you have filtered your IP address from Analytics traffic).
This limitation does not detract from the UTMs to organize the vision of your marketing campaigns, however it warns you again of the need to be consistent and orderly when creating your UTM codes.
Advanced tracking of your digital marketing campaigns can give you powerful insight to grow your marketing strategy. The UTM Google Analytics parameters will help you answer questions such as: Which referral sites generate the most traffic to your pages? Which acquisition strategy is more profitable? Which marketing campaigns perform the best? The key is to understand what you want to track and what UTM parameters you need to do it.
Do you have any experience in using UTM parameters? Do you have any other advice on how to do it? Feel free to leave any comments.