What are UTM Codes? …and Why You Should Use Them

TImothy Johnson, Small Business Solutions / PPC Team Lead
What are UTM codes map

UTM stands for Urchin Tracking Module. The name is a holdover from back in the day before Google Analytics (GA) was around. Urchin was a web analytics program acquired by Google back in 2005, which marked the beginning of GA.

UTM codes are simple snippets of code appended to the end of URLs that communicate with the GA code on your website. Essentially, UTM codes allow you to track where traffic to your site originated in GA.

Why you need them

Analytics is a powerful tool for marketers. Tools like Google Analytics give us detailed information about not only what sources are driving the most traffic to our site, but also the quality of that traffic.

This data can power big picture decisions like which channels you should be investing in, what changes to make to the site to improve user experience, and so much more.

Simply put, without proper tracking, you are flying blind. The key word there is “proper.” Simply having GA installed on your site isn’t enough. You need to empower the tool by setting up proper tracking parameters for all your marketing campaigns.

Where to use them

Luckily, Google AdWords and some other platforms like Bing Ads have built in functionality to tag your URLs without any extra work. It’s called auto tagging and I highly recommend turning it on for just about everyone. It massively simplifies things and works seamlessly with GA.

Auto Tagging in AdWords

Just about everything else you do online requires custom tagging. For instance, Facebook and GA don’t play so nicely together so if you want to get detailed Facebook data in GA, you need to tag everything you post there–organic and paid.

Running email campaigns? Tag them.

Promoting on Outbrain? Tag it.

Tweeting about an upcoming event? Tag it.

It’s easy to set up. Just take the two minutes it takes to create these custom tags.

How to create them

Luckily, Google has created a very simple tool to help us out with this, because if you are like me, the idea of writing custom URL parameters is not the most comforting.

Use Google’s URL Builder.

URL Builder

Fill out this quick form and Google will generate a ready-made custom URL that you can literally copy and paste.


If Portent was promoting a blog post via Facebook Ads, we could fill out the basic required fields as follows:

Website URL: https://www.portent.com/blog/ppc/small-business-digital-marketing-seo-vs-ppc.htm

Campaign Source: facebook

Campaign Medium: cpc

Campaign Name: Small Business Marketing Weighing SEO and PPC

Result: https://www.portent.com/blog/ppc/small-business-digital-marketing-seo-vs-ppc.htm?utm_source=facebook&utm_medium=cpc&utm_campaign=5%20Small%20Business%20Digital%20Marketing%20Seo%20Ppc

Extra: This leaves you with a long and unattractive URL. Don’t leave it there. Use a URL shortener like bit.ly or Google’s URL shortener to polish it off if it’s user-facing (like in a tweet).

Easy as that. If you aren’t using UTM codes, I highly recommend you start. If you have questions about how they work or why you need them, let us know. We’re happy to help.

Small Business Marketing Solutions

TImothy Johnson, Small Business Solutions / PPC Team Lead

Timothy Johnson

Small Business Solutions / PPC Team Lead
Small Business Solutions / PPC Team Lead

As Portent's PPC team lead, Tim manages both the agency's PPC efforts as well as the small business solutions team. He is dedicated to working with clients to maximize the results of their advertising budgets, constantly looking for out-of-the box paid search strategies to meet–and exceed–their goals. Tim carries full Google Ads, Microsoft Advertising, and Google Analytics certifications.

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  1. Hi Timothy,
    I am running a coupon based website and finding it really hard to combine utm codes in some of the campaigns. There are too many parameters to track. Like email, medium, landing page, sidebar, optin page etc. How do you go about them?

    1. Hi Dev,
      The more complex your campaigns get and as the need arises to track more specific parameters the harder this gets. There are automated tools out there to help but not all are free. Here is a ready made Google Sheets version from LunaMetrics that may help you speed up the process: http://www.lunametrics.com/blog/2013/03/21/google-analytics-campaign-tagging/. Depending on your needs though, it may be worthwhile to think about buying a tool.

  2. thanks for this article. I use it already, but I don’t really understand why i should use it. It seems to me that Google already knows very well what the source of your traffic is (social, paid etc). Why should I use UTM too? Isn’t it doing twice the same thing?

    1. Google Analytics can tell where traffic is being referred from but nothing else. A good example of this is if you promote a post on Facebook. Yes, GA can tell traffic is coming from Facebook, but what would be more useful is knowing that it is from a paid post (cpc) and what the post is about (campaign). UTM codes allow you to pass more information along. Without them, everything gets grouped together as referral traffic. An even better example would be traffic from an email marketing campaign. Without UTM codes, that traffic would come in as direct but it is not direct traffic. It’s the result of an email. In general, UTM codes provide more accurate and more detailed analytics.

      1. Thank you for explaining.
        And where do I see the UTM codes back in Analytics?
        Acquisition –> All traffic –> Source/medium ?

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