A Beginner’s Guide to Tracking with UTM Parameters


By Dylan Petersson

18 Dec 2018

How to filter through the noise to figure out which digital marketing efforts are driving traffic and conversions

You’ve heard it before- attribution is key to proving return on investment (ROI). But, how do you filter through the noise to figure out which digital marketing efforts are actually driving traffic and conversions? Enter UTM parameters.

Ever look at a URL and notice a bunch of seemingly random code tacked on to the end? All that jiberish was probably UTM parameter tags. By appending these tags to the end of a URL, you can track all kinds of cool details about how people are getting to different parts of your website. These details are marketers’ gold. Not only can you see which channels drove traffic, but you can dive deep into the weeds to find out which individual social media posts, email newsletters, retargeting ads, or any other online tactics you use actually produced results. Take that info, and use it to refine your efforts. Do more of what’s working, less of what isn’t. Make the most of your time, and have concrete results to go back to your boss with.

Convinced that UTM parameters are where it’s at yet? Good- you should be. Next question: how do they work? Even luckier for all of us in the marketing world, it’s pretty easy.

As I hinted at earlier, UTM parameters are simply tags added to the end of a URL. Google Analytics recognizes five different parameters. Three of these parameters, utm_source, utm_medium, and utm_campaign, are required by Google Analytics. The other two, utm_term and utm_content, are optional but helpful in getting more granular when analyzing your campaigns.

Here’s the Reader’s Digest version explaining each parameter and how it’s used:

Source (required): This identifies the referring source of your link, or where exactly it came from, such as a particular search engine, email newsletter, or social network.

Medium (required): This identifies which digital “bucket” the referring source can be placed in, for example email, cost-per-click, or organic social media.

Campaign (required): This identifies the individual campaign name you have assigned to a given effort. This parameter is more arbitrary than the others; it can be as broad or narrow as you want.

Term (optional): Use this parameter if you want to identify and track paid keywords. If you’re using Google AdWords, this parameter is designed for it.

Content (optional): Use this parameter if you’re looking to track more specific content. For example, iIt can be used to differentiate between different versions of similar newsletters, or different calls-to-action in the same ad.

At first, the differences between these parameters can be tough to wrap your head around. Here’s one helpful way to think about it; remember the “5 Ws” from middle school English Language Arts assignments? Utm parameters are a good application:

Source is the where

Medium is the what

Campaign is the why

Term is the who

Content is the when

There you have it; the basics of campaign tracking with utm parameters. Ready to get started? Google offers a free web form tool to start adding tags to your urls. After a while though, manual forms get clunky. Check out CampaignTracker if your marketing team is ready for a tool to make the utm tagging process cleaner and easier, all while giving you more insight into your link performance!


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