What, Why and How to use UTM parameters to track campaigns performance

Probably most of Google Analytics users have heard to some degree about UTM parameters, but what exactly are they, how they work and why you might need them is not very easily understood, that is why we will try to get some clarity onto this matter.

What are UTM parameters
UTM parameters, also known as “Campaign parameters”, are regular url parameters that are added at the end of a link in order to tell Google Analytics and other analytics tools some extra information about that particular link and the traffic that comes from it. They are also referred to as tags and the process of adding utm parameters to a link is called tagging.

A link tagged with utm parameters looks like this: http://example.com/?utm_source=facebook&utm_medium=cpc&utm_campaign=free_shipping_shorts&utm_content=green_womens_shorts

Currently there are 5 utm parameters supported by Google Analytics:

      Campaign Source (utm_source) – it’s used to identify the search engine, site, newsletter, or other source from which the traffic is coming from. Example: google, analytics_partner_newsletter, facebook, billboard, etc

      Campaign Medium (utm_medium) – is used to identify the traffic’s medium such as newsletter, cost-per- click, affiliate. Example: banner, newsletter, cpc, affiliate, display.

      Campaign Name (utm_campaign) – is used to identify the specific campaign from which the traffic is coming. Example: summer_sale, back_to_school, jeans_remarketing.

      Campaign Term (utm_term) – is used when running paid search campaigns to get the keyword that was used to show the advertisement. Example: womens+jeans

      Campaign Content (utm_content) – it is used to differentiate similar content or links within the same ad. This is useful when running A/B tests or when your ad or email has multiple call to action links and you want to differentiate them. Example: top_link, bottom_link

From the 5 utm parameters that Google Analytics uses, only campaign source is required, others being optional, although it is highly recommended to also add the utm_medium and utm_campaign for better results.

Why should I use them?
We all know that tracking our marketing efforts is important, but when we have many links on a particular website or traffic source, it becomes quite challenging to see which link performs better and generates more traffic and conversions.

As an example we may think of a situation where we have two banners on the homepage of a partner site, one in the footer and the other one in the sidebar, and we want to know which one is performing better. Without using UTM parameters, we would not know if the user clicked on banner #1 or on banner #2, as the referrer will be the same for both banners.

But with the help of UTM parameters, we can break down the particular traffic from our partner into campaigns and analyze it individually, allowing us to see the precious performance information.

The same is the case with email campaigns, where if we send email campaigns without UTM parameters, we would not be able to track which particular campaign, or links from the email (in case we have more of the same links) generated the traffic.

That is why to see the effectiveness of the email campaign and the conversion rate of a particular link or banner from the email, we must tag the links with utm parameters.

A more evident case where UTM parameters prove their usefulness is paid advertisement campaigns on popular websites such as Facebook, Twitter, Linkedin, etc. Without UTM parameters, we would not be able to tell if the visit was generated by an organic link or by the ads we placed on those websites, or from which campaign the ad was part of or what was the exact ad and its content.

How to create UTM parameters for your links
Tagging your links with UTM parameters is a relatively easy process. You just need to add them at the end of the link and you’re done.

So for example if your link is http://www.example.com/ and you want to tag the source as “facebook”, the medium as “display” and the campaign as “get_one_free”, you need add the utm_source=facebook , utm_medium=display and utm_campaign=get_one_free parameters to your link so you would get http://www.example.com/?utm_source=facebook&utm_medium=display&utm_campaign=get_one_free

In case you want Google Analytics to show a space instead of the underscore sign between words of your campaigns, you can use the + sign between them, like this: utm_campaign=get+one+free

If your first utm parameter is also the first parameter of the link, then you need to add the “?” (“question mark”) sign before it, otherwise you just need to add the “&” (“ampersand”) sign before each utm parameter.

You can also use utm parameters alongside other parameters that you might have in your link. The order in which you write the utm parameters makes no difference so if you want, you may write the utm_medium parameter before the utm_source one.

For an easier and faster way to tag your links, you can use Oogur or Google’s Campaign URL Builder tool.

Google Campaign URL Builder

After creating the tagged link, in case you want to hide the UTM tags, you may use a URL shorter service such as Google’s goo.gl.
To test if the UTM parameters are working correctly, after tagging the link, enter it in your browser and in Google Analytics, go to Real time -> Traffic Sources and check if the medium and source shown there matches with what you have entered in the utm parameters.

Check UTM Parameters Real Time Report GA

After tagging the links and adding them to your Facebook, email or other campaigns, you may view the traffic they generated by going to the campaigns report in Google Analytics (Acquisition -> Campaigns -> All Campaigns).

UTM Campaign Report GA

I hope this post clarified your questions about UTM parameters and you will start using them to better track your marketing and advertising campaigns. In case you still have some questions or misunderstandings about UTM parameters, please post them in the comments below and I will try to reply to them as soon as possible.

2 Comments Leave a reply

  1. Hey Victor!

    I love how you dissected the how’s and why’s of using UTM parameters. As I have been doing a lot of promotion of our website (including comments on blog posts like this one), it is so important to me to see that the time I invest in reading and replying to comments actually does work. I can specifically see the data in my Google Analytics campaign reports because I am using UTM tags each time I share our website.

    Great post, and thanks for mentioning oogur. You rock!



    1. Thank you Nicki for the kind words. I also try to use UTM parameters as much as possible and always instruct my clients to do so. Knowing how cool and useful Oogur is I could not write this post without mentioning it. Really nice service.



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