What Are UTM Codes and How To Use Them

Updated on October 5, 2021 to include new information.

As good marketers, being able to track how effective our online and offline marketing campaigns are is extremely important to measure the success of the marketing efforts for your company. Want to know how many people click on that call-to-action button on your email that you have sent out? Or track how many people are converting from your social ads? If so, then UTM codes will be your best friend. Let us take a deeper dive into a little history of UTM, its use, and some best practices.

What Is a UTM Code and What Does It Stand For?

UTM stands for Urchin Tracking Module. “Urchin” comes from a web analytics program acquired by Google in 2005, marking GA’s beginning.

UTM codes are snippets of code appended to the end of URLs that communicate with the GA code on your website. This allows Google Analytics or any other analytics tools to track where your site originated from. Normally, we would attach a custom URL containing a source, medium, or campaign parameter.

Here is an example of what a UTM code may look like:
https://www.example.com?utm_source=google&utm_medium=cpc&utm_campaign=example-of-campaign-name

Why Are UTM Codes Important?

UTM Codes are important because they help collect data and valuable information about your website visitors to your Analytics platform. Marketing Analytics tools like Google Analytics are extremely powerful. They give us detailed information about what sources are driving the most traffic to our site and the quality of that traffic.

UTM Code tracking empowers you to make 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 keyword there is “proper.” Simply having GA installed on your site isn’t enough. To get the most out of your tracking, you need to set up proper tracking parameters for all your marketing campaigns.

Getting Started With UTM Codes

Now that you have a basic understanding of UTM Codes and their usefulness to your campaigns and analytics, let’s get down to how you can implement and use them in real life.

Understanding UTM Parameters

There are five types of UTM parameters (also referred to as UTM tags/codes) that we normally use to track our campaigns: Campaign Source, Campaign Medium, Campaign ID, Campaign Name, Campaign Term, and Campaign Content.

Below are some quick definitions and examples for the 5 UTM parameters recognized on Google Analytics:

ParameterRequiredExampleDescription
Campaign Source*
utm_source
YesGoogle, Twitter, FacebookUse this to identify your traffic source (e.g., website, social media channels, etc.)
Campaign Medium*
utm_medium
YesCPC, emailUse this to identify the medium of your campaign (e.g., email, social, CPC, etc.)
Campaign ID
utm_id
Nosummer_ad_vlUse this to identify which ads of your campaign this referral references to
Campaign Name
utm_campaign
Nosummer_promotionUse this to identify the name of your campaign or promotion that you are running
Campaign Term
utm_term
Nosummer+dressUse this in your paid search campaign to identify the keywords that resulted in your website visit
Campaign Content
utm_content
Nomale, femaleUse this to differentiate the content of your ads, or A/B test your content that points to the same URL link

How To Create a UTM Code

If you are like me, the idea of writing custom URL parameters is not the most comforting. Luckily, Google has created a way to simply create your desired UTM Code using Google’s Campaign URL Builder. In the UTM builder, you will need to input the website URL that you would like to track and other required fields like your Campaign, Source, and Medium information into the respective boxes. Here is an example of how to fill out each section to build a UTM code:

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Once you have filled in the information, the Google URL builder will automatically generate the UTM code for you that you can use immediately to track your campaigns:

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You may want to build your own URL parameters in Google’s URL Builder for mobile app campaigns.

Pro-tip: These UTM-coded URLs can leave you with a long and unattractive URL. Instead, 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):

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When To Use UTM Codes

There are a plethora of uses for UTM codes. Below are some examples of when to effectively use your UTM codes:

  1. A/B Testing – Whether you are A/B testing for two different ad creatives or want to know which platforms or audiences work better for your campaigns, leverage UTM parameters to compare the variables you are testing for. It is most common to test various types of sources or content, but feel free to get more creative with what you would want to test!
  2. Track Offline Conversions – UTM codes are not only used for your online campaigns. You can even track offline conversions using UTM codes. For example, If you use QR codes on your printed advertisements, simply use your coded URLs to see how many people scan on your QR code and take actions on your website.
  3. Evaluate Your Promotional Campaigns – Use UTM codes to determine how effective your promotions are. Add a custom utm_source value to every promotion on all of your mediums. Once promotions have ended, evaluate your campaigns from your analytics dashboard to determine the payoff of these campaigns.
  4. Refine Your Marketing Strategy – Use UTM parameters to see which of your campaigns are the most effective. This will help you make wise decisions on what content or strategy to focus on and put your advertising budgets.

Google Ads Auto-Tagging Capabilities

Some platforms like Google Ads have built-in functionality to tag your URLs without any extra work with auto-tagging. With this feature, Google will automatically tag your URLs with gclid parameters in all of your Google Ads campaigns. So instead of adding UTM parameters to every single destination URL in your campaigns, put in the original ‘naked’ landing page URL without the UTM parameter. Pretty cool, huh?

To use this feature, make sure to enable auto-tagging on your Google Ads campaigns. Simply go to Google Ads > Settings > Account Settings > Enable the option for ‘Tag the URL that people click through from my ad’ as shown below.

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However, while platforms like Google Ads have their own auto-tagging ability, we still need to use UTM codes to track other paid channels like Facebook or Instagram, or if we have non-Google third-party analytics to track our campaign performances.

How To Track UTM Codes In Google Analytics

Once you have placed your UTM codes in your campaign and collect more data over a period of time, you can find more information about your campaign from Google Analytics. For an overview of your acquisition channels in Google Analytics, go to Acquisition > Overview:

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Your website traffic is grouped by the default channels based on how people got to your website. These channels are your “utm_medium” values that were pre-defined by Google Analytics. All other data that was not pre-defined by Google Analytics will go under “Other.”

From the data above, we can see that the Display channel is generating the most traffic.

You can also find more detailed data in other sections to see what metrics match certain UTM codes. For this, you may go to Acquisition > All Traffic > Source/Medium:

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Once you are on this page, you can see the list of source/medium and other corresponding metrics data associated with it. The data above shows that traffic coming from “google/cpc” generated around 4k new users, 5k new sessions, and 504 conversions. You can also use the secondary dimensions to filter for the metrics that correspond to the other UTM parameters.

UTM Tracking Tips & Best Practices

Now that you are more familiar with how to use UTM codes, here are some tips and best practices to use them properly.

1. Be Consistent With Naming Conventions for UTM Parameters

You might have more than one person working on your team to launch different types of campaigns within the same channels. Keeping a consistent name for your UTM parameters prevents you from having inaccurate data in your analytics when you try to identify trends for a certain campaign or channel. For example, some people might use “paid_social” while others use “paid-social” as their UTM parameter, even though they are from the same medium. Your Google Analytics will identify this as an entirely different source or medium due to inconsistent naming conventions, even if they are just slightly different.

2. Keep Track of Your UTM Parameters

The best way to diagnose inconsistent naming conventions is to keep track of your UTM links and parameters in a main document (e.g., Google Sheets, etc.). Documenting all of the naming conventions of your UTM parameters will help your team collect valuable data that is more accurate regardless of who makes the UTM link in your team.

3. Never Use UTM Tags for Internal Links

Now let me emphasize again. You should never use campaign tagging for internal links. UTM codes are only used to track external traffic sources coming to your website (e.g., social profiles, emails, etc.). Furthermore, UTM parameters in internal links can confuse Google Analytics or other Analytics tools, thus creating inaccurate data or tracking errors.

4. Regularly Check In on Your Reporting Dashboard

This might sound like the least important step to do, but it is probably the most crucial step to collect more accurate data for your website. Periodically check on Google Analytics or another analytics dashboard that you use to see if there are any odd codes. Even with a standardized UTM parameters list, human errors are bound to happen. Check for any mistyped UTM codes, mistagged links, or even inconsistencies between the sources or mediums of your campaigns.

Improve Your Marketing Strategies With UTM Tracking

Advanced tracking with UTM codes enables you to make insightful and more accurate decisions to grow online and offline marketing strategies. Once you can use these UTM codes, you will understand how valuable your marketing campaigns are and stop wasting your budget on ineffective ones. At Portent, we have a team of analytics experts to ensure that your UTM tracking codes are in the right order and tracked properly in your analytics dashboard. Contact us if you need any help, and don’t let your marketing efforts go to waste!

Evelyn Djunaidi

PPC Specialist
PPC Specialist

Evelyn began her marketing career practicing all things digital, but quickly found her passion in paid advertising. With a background in economics, she gets excited about data and enjoys analyzing metrics to find opportunities to optimizing ad accounts. As a PPC specialist at Portent, Evelyn applies her expertise working in various verticals to help clients of all sizes find unique ways to advertise. Outside of work, you will likely find Evelyn in the kitchen, perfecting her next recipe.

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Comments

  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 ?

        1. That is one spot, yes. Depending on the parameters you include, they may funnel into a variety of spots, but the most common would be source/medium.

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