By Dylan Petersson
7 Jan 2023
Using UTM parameters as part of your Marketing strategy is one of the best ways to track your Marketing campaigns’ performance, and ultimately, measure return on investment.
As Digital Marketers, we are expected to know how our campaigns are performing, what is and isn’t working, and to capitalize on what is working so that we can generate a return on investment on our Marketing efforts.
And while Google Analytics and link shortening services can give us some of the insight we need to see the full picture of our Marketing campaigns, their reporting can be limited to generic information.
Incorporating UTM codes into your strategy can help you get a crystal clear understanding of how the individual moving pieces of your Marketing campaigns are performing.
More importantly, UTM codes can help you track specific data that can help you make better decisions about your Marketing efforts.
But how exactly do you go about creating a solid plan that uses UTM codes to help you keep track of your Marketing campaigns? Well it all starts with learning how to use UTM parameters in such a way that they provide you with the information you need to effectively measure your campaign success.
Grab yourself a cup of coffee (or tea if you have for some odd reason sworn off coffee–we can’t imagine why but we’re not here to judge), pull up a comfy chair and get ready to take some notes.
Let’s start at the beginning…
UTM is short for Urchin Traffic Monitor.
UTM codes were specifically created with the intention of helping provide a deep understanding of how people behave and interact with a website.
In a nutshell, a UTM code is a URL that has been tagged with additional parameters that gives Google Analytics more information about how users engaged with the URL.
What we love most about UTM codes here at CampaignTracker, is that they are incredibly helpful at generating very specific data as long as you are following best practices to avoid reporting errors.
For example, say you need to share a link on Facebook. In this example, you probably need to share the link on your business’ Facebook profile, perhaps you will share the link in the Facebook ads you are running, or in the details section for a Facebook event you boosted.
Unfortunately, without a UTM code, Google Analytics has no way of reporting where within Facebook this traffic came from. Quite the contrary, Google Analytics would report the traffic’s source as Facebook.
But how are you supposed to know which of these different mediums within the Facebook environment is sending you traffic?
Is it the ads? The boosted event?
Enter UTM codes.
With a UTM code that is specifically created with the intention of helping you track each of these placements within the Facebook environment, you can track which of them is performing the best and how those visitors are behaving on your website.
This level of detail can in turn help you make decisions about where you allocate your Marketing spending dollars or whether you should optimize your Facebook ads or even your website.
For us here at CampaignTracker, one of the things we love most about UTM codes is that they give us complete control over the data we want to track.
In order to make the most of this data, however, you have to follow certain best practice guidelines. Otherwise you run the risk of having reporting issues.
But before we get to talking about best practices for making the most out of your UTM parameters, let’s first go over how to create UTM parameters so that you can have a better idea of why you would want to follow best practices.
A UTM code is composed of several required and non-required parameters that help you determine the specific data you want to collect. When you create a UTM code, you will need to assign specific values to the parameters you plan on measuring.
The five UTM parameters are:
Source: You want to think of this parameter as the place where you are intending for your users to see your link.
In this particular example, since we are using Facebook as the intended source of our advertising efforts, you would write facebook as the value for the UTM parameter.
Outside of our Facebook example, the value for this parameter can be any other traffic source like Twitter, E-mail or even a QR code.
Providing a value for this parameter is a requirement to create a UTM code.
Medium: The medium of a campaign answers how you chose to advertise within the source.
In this example you could use values like paid-social or organic-social to identify the medium for Facebook. Other possible values you could use here are video or an infographic. The point is to be consistent and always use the same values.
Providing a value for this parameter is a requirement to create a UTM code.
Term: Unlike the first two, this UTM parameter is not required in order to create a tagged URL. Rather, this parameter is useful when you want to track which specific keywords are performing well in your paid search efforts.
Content: Unlike the first two, this UTM parameter is not required in order to create a tagged URL.
This parameter is useful when you want to A/B test how different content pieces are performing when directing users to the same URL.
In our Facebook example, say you create a Facebook ad and you set the ad’s goal to “get more website visitors”. In this case, you could add a tagged URL for the call to action with the value cta-button. You could also add a link to your website at the end of your ad’s copy that sends traffic to the same URL but is tagged with the value cta-copy.
This specific set up can help you test whether people are reading your copy.
Campaign name: For this UTM parameter, you want to name your campaign something that helps you recognize it. For our example, we are going to be calling our campaign ultimate-guide-to-utm-parameters.
Providing a value for this parameter is a requirement to create a UTM code.
Let’s get started with CampaignTracker’s UTM builder. Feel free to skip this section to read about how you can create tagged URLs with Google’s Campaign URL Builder.
We created CampaignTracker with the sole intention of helping you build UTM codes. But, as you start using UTM codes more and more, you may realize that you need to keep track of them. That is why CampaignTracker is your all-in-one tool for shortening, creating and tracking UTM codes.
Let’s walk you through the process of how we get the job done here at CampaignTracker.
And, since we started talking about tracking Facebook advertising efforts, let’s keep going with that example.
The first thing you will want to do is to create a campaign.
You can start by creating a new campaign in your CampaignTracker dashboard. For the sake of this example, we will be creating a campaign for this particular blog post and will name our campaign accordingly.
Once you have saved your campaign, you will be taken to your campaign’s dashboard where you will be able to access your campaign and make notes as needed.
You can also skip this step altogether and create a new tagged URL straight from your dashboard. But again, one of the things you want to do when you work with UTM codes is to find a way to keep track and organize all of your codes. More on this later.
Next, you want to create a tagged URL.
From your dashboard, you can create a new tagged URL by clicking on the button “new”.
You can either use some of the built-in presents in CampaignTracker to generate values for the parameters we discussed earlier, or you can create your own presets to save on much precious time you could be using to watch Westworld’s season 4.
Feel free to close the modal with the presets if you would just rather type your own values for the time being.
Now, this screen is where the magic happens. This is where you get to plan and figure out how you want to track the data that your campaign will generate.
For the sake of our example, we chose CampaignTracker’s homepage as our landing page URL.
We like short URLs, so we are using our URL shortener domain and updated the short URL values to reflect the title of this blog post. This can help people who see the link and are interested in learning more about UTM parameters get an idea of what they will find if they click on the link.
Side note: Did you know that you can set up bit.ly to create shortened URLs with CampaignTracker?
Next, select the campaign from the drop-down menu and type in the desired values for the source and medium parameters.
You can also include notes in case your other teammates need to look at the UTM code you just created.
You then click save…
Your very own tagged URL that is sure to make your data-loving heart flutter.
Imagine the possibilities!
With this tagged URL you can now track whether your boosted posts are performing better than your Facebook ads by strategically using your tagged URLs within the Facebook (or Meta or whatever they’re calling it) environment.
The following is an example of what that would look like:
How to create UTM codes with Google’s Campaign URL Builder
Google’s URL builder works in pretty much the same way as CampaignTracker.
All you have to do is type in the same values in the parameters mentioned above and you are on your way to becoming a Digital Marketing boss!
The problem with using Google’s URL Builder is that it doesn’t automatically allow you to shorten your URLs, and as you may have noticed, these long URLs are anything but user friendly.
With Google’s Campaign URL Builder, once you generate your tagged URL, you then have to go to your favorite URL shortener and create a shortened link.
That is not to mention that as you find yourself creating more and more tagged URLs to track data for your campaigns, you might find that you now have to figure out a way to keep track of and organize all of your tagged URLs.
To help you with that piece of the process, we created a list of what we consider to be the 8 best spreadsheet templates to help you keep track of your tagged URLs.
OR, you could just sign up for CampaignTracker and start shortening, organizing and keeping track of your tagged URLs.
Now, ensuring that UTM tags provide accurate data depends on how consistently tags are implemented. We simply cannot emphasize this enough.
Simply put, your ability to make data-driven decisions depends on your ability to be consistent with your tagging.
So, in order to help you make sure that your reporting is accurate, we suggest you follow the following best practices for creating UTM codes.
One of the greatest mistakes we have seen (and perhaps even made ourselves early on in our careers as Digital Marketers) is lack of consistency when it comes to using UTM parameters.
The smartest thing you can do for you and your team is to create a naming convention guide for your UTM parameters that spells out the rules for creating tagged URLs and UTM codes.
Once you have those rules set in place you can rest assured that there is consistency in your parameters as long as you follow them.
Why does this matter?
Imagine you created a UTM code that will help you track paid social media traffic. In keeping with our Facebook example, say you properly set your source to facebook, your medium UTM parameter to paid social, and your content parameter to boosted post.
If, however, you were to choose cpc as your parameter for medium instead of paid social the next time you create a new UTM code for a boosted post, Google Analytics is now going to report that boosted post as Facebook/cpc traffic instead.
It’s not the end of the world, but it does make your job harder.
That said, when it comes to UTM parameters, the devil is in the details.
In addition to making sure you are consistent in how you assign values to your UTM parameters, you also want to make sure that you are paying attention to the details.
For example, if you type Facebook as the value for the source parameter, Google Analytics will consider that a different value than if you were to type facebook (all lowercase).
With that in mind, In general, you want to stick to all lowercase letters when typing in values for your UTM parameters.
Other small details to keep in mind is to use dashes to separate words instead of underscores.
Overall, if you use one of the UTM code generator tools available online, you shouldn’t have to worry about the overall structure of the tagged URL as the tool will handle the structure for you.
The last thing you want is a bunch of tagged URLs and not remembering what campaign they belong to or what source parameter you used.
And while all of the information you will need is in the UTM code itself, what better way to simplify your UTM code creation process by having a system in place.
If you are looking for a tool that helps you keep your UTM codes organized, that generates UTM codes, that allows you to create shortened links for your UTM codes, and that gives you performance data–all in one place, then CampaignTracker is for you.
One of the reasons we created CampaignTracker was because we wanted to simplify the process of UTM code creation while keeping track of all of the many tagged URLs for many different campaigns.
Sign up for an account and get started now.
Last but not least, it is important that you know when to use and when not to use UTM parameters.
For example, if you are creating a UTM code for a Facebook ad campaign, then you do not need to use the term parameter. Similarly, you might not need to use the content parameter if you are not A/B testing.
As was mentioned earlier, the only required parameters are source, medium and campaign name.
One of our favorite aspects about creating UTM codes is getting creative in how we use them to get data about how our campaigns are performing.
With all of the above said, UTM codes and UTM parameters can play an important part of your overall Marketing strategy by helping you make better, data-driven decisions.
As you create UTM codes, consider what their overall purpose is in your strategy. Can you use them to A/B test your marketing collateral?
What about testing different sources of traffic?
How can a UTM code help you determine which Marketing channels are performing best?
How can you use the individual UTM parameters to measure the different moving pieces in your Marketing campaigns?
In the end, as Digital Marketers, increasing awareness at the top of the funnel is just one aspect of our job. If we are not delivering results that can be measured in dollar signs (or whatever currency you use), we are not solving the problems of the people who need the product or service we are trying to Market.
That said, learning how and when you should use the UTM codes that you have created is an important next step in being intentional about how you use and create UTM codes.
Hopefully if you have made it this far into this guide we have sold you on the idea that UTM codes and UTM parameters are key in helping you make data-driven decisions regarding your Marketing campaigns.
So let’s now focus on some more examples of where you can use UTM codes as part of your strategy.
So far we have been talking about creating UTM codes that help you determine how Facebook is sending you traffic. However, as you might have imagined by now, you can also create a UTM code for every social media platform you use.
Again, the goal here is to help you determine what sources of website traffic are performing the best so that you can make decisions based on that information in the future.
If a specific pin within Pinterest is sending you tons of high-converting traffic, then it would make sense to double down on your Pinterest efforts.
If, on the other hand, Reddit sends traffic that bounces off your landing pages quickly, then it may be time to start asking whether you should continue investing time and money into that specific platform.
One last piece of advice regarding using UTM codes in your social media marketing efforts: Make sure to shorten your URLs! We’ve already talked about why in our post: Short URLs vs. Long URLs.
By creating a value for the term UTM parameter, you are creating a way to track not only which specific keywords are sending traffic to your website, but also how that traffic is behaving on your website. More importantly, however, you are setting yourself up for determining which keywords drive the most conversions.
When it comes to affiliate and partner sites, a UTM code can help you track the return of investment from your business partnerships.
Again, the important thing to keep in mind is to look at how the traffic that is coming into your website is behaving.
The same concept can be applied to sponsored content and/or display advertising where you would want to keep a close eye on how the content (like a sponsored article, a display banner, or an infographic) is performing in order to determine the return on investment of your campaign.
Since we’re talking about ROI, while guest blogging does not necessarily require a financial investment, it does require an investment of time and effort. Creating a UTM code for your guest blogs gives you the ability to determine whether the site your blog is featured on is sending you the right traffic and how that content is performing.
This is a great example of using the content UTM parameter when creating tagged URLs. Placing UTM codes strategically throughout your newsletter can help you determine what content your audience is reading and engaging with.
As mentioned before, in order to make the best use of this particular parameter, the tagged URL should point to the same URL. The only difference would be the variable you type for the content parameter.
For example, you could include a link to an event near the beginning of the newsletter and include a second call to action towards the end. Each link would point to the same event landing page but would be tagged according to its location.
As always, remember to be consistent in how you assign values to the parameters in order to avoid future reporting headaches.
Sometimes you just have to go offline with your marketing. Whether you create a QR code for a magazine ad or a flier to pass out at events, a QR code created using a tagged URL can help you track how effective this type of advertisement is.
So far we have covered a lot of ground regarding how and where you can use UTM codes as part of your strategy.
But what are some of the questions you can ask to help you determine the effectiveness of your campaigns?
To take your insights one step further, consider asking yourself some of the following questions about your campaign’s performance:
UTM parameters provide an excellent way to track and measure engagement in your marketing campaigns. More specifically, UTM codes can help you gain very detailed and specific insights about how your campaigns are performing.
UTM codes are made up of 5 different parameters that can help you get very meticulous with what you want to track and how you track it.
While we love using UTM codes, we also want to encourage you to follow specific best practices that can help you save time and avoid future headaches. Above all, one of the smartest things you can do for yourself is to create a system to keep your tagged URLs organized–or you can join CampaignTracker.
In the end, UTM parameters can become one of your biggest strategic partners in determining the effectiveness and performance of your Marketing campaigns as long as you follow a few simple rules and are intentional in how you use them.
The 5 UTM parameters are source, medium, campaign name, term and content.
The UTM parameters that are required to create a UTM code are source, medium and campaign name. You must assign a value to each of these parameters in order to create a UTM code.
There are a number of tools available for you to create UTM parameters. You can use Google Campaign URL Builder or you can use CampaignTracker which was specifically created to help you organize your UTM codes.
Yes! A good best practice is to always use lowercase letters when typing the values for your UTM parameters.
UTM parameters provide a way for Google Analytics to report detailed data about how users interact with a tagged URL within a specific context.
In order to see your UTM parameters in Google Analytics you want to go to your GA dashboard, open Acquisition > All Traffic > Source/Medium.
You can use a UTM code or tagged URL anywhere where you would normally share a link that sends traffic to your website.
UTM parameters are incredibly valuable because they can help you get detailed information about your Marketing campaign’s performance, which in turns allows you to make data-driven decisions.
A Facebook pixel, unlike a UTM code, is a piece of code that you place in your website in order to track user engagement but is specific to Facebook ads. A UTM code, on the other hand, is a tagged URL meant to give you detailed information about user engagement on your website from a variety of sources.
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