UTM parameters allow marketers to track web source traffic.
While it's clear what tracking parameters do, we get a lot of questions on how to use them.
Clarity and consistency on using UTM tracking parameters is paramount. So we created this guide to answer questions around best practices for using UTM parameters in online marketing.
How UTM Parameters Are Structured
UTM parameters are tags attached to the end of a URL, and when the URL is clicked the tags are sent to Google Analytics and tracked.
While you can use any naming convention, it’s best to stay consistent and simple. This will make life much easier when it comes to creating and tracking numerous tagged URLs across your marketing campaigns.
Here’s a simple way to remember what each parameter should designate, and we’ll dive deeper to explain the reasoning behind it.
The first three parameters are required when creating a UTM parameter.
The utm_medium field is used to identify the high level channel the link is used in, for example web search, social, cost-per-click, or email.
A tracking code for a paid social ad might look like this:
The utm_source parameter identifies the websource and should be used to define the sub-channel that clickers originate from.
A tracking code for the same paid social ad could identify the social platform, like this:
The utm_campaign parameter identifies the campaign title as it exists in the ad platform.
Alternatively, you can choose a campaign title based on your own internal naming conventions. This is also a good parameter to denote geolocation and ad network type (display v. search).
A tracking code for the same paid social ad could identify your content marketing campaign, like this:
The following parameters are not required, but can add a greater level of specificity to your reporting.
The utm_term is used for paid search to identify the keywords you're targeting, i.e. the keywords that trigger your ad to be displayed.
If we run paid search ads to our e-book landing page, the parameter would look like this:
The utm_content is used for tracking additional details for A/B testing, and to identify ad content. For example, you could test CTA button location or size, attaching separate utm_content parameters to measure which ones are getting clicks.
If you're running a paid search ad to your e-book download page, you would include ad title and the dimensions of the ad, like this:
Depending on your application, some parameters like utm_content and utm_term won't need to be used.
Best Practices For Tagging URLs
Consistency in naming conventions is the number one most important rule.
It will allow UTM parameters to be reportable without confusion.
You'll also want to avoid duplication in the terms and channels. For example, you would not want "facebook" to be used for the campaign and source parameter.
Each parameter should be distinct.
You can think of the UTM parameters as a set of identifiers that go from broad to granular in detail. Putting the above parameters together you get:
And the tagged URL would look like this:
The utm_medium parameter should be used to denote high level channels like cost-per-click (CPC), social media, referral, email, and etc.
You don't need to use all 5 UTM's, the required ones are medium, source, and campaign.
For tracking display ads, the utm_source is usually the ad network since information on the websites they're displayed on is usually not provided.
To differentiate between paid social and organic social parameter values, you can add additional organic or paid designations to the utm_medium parameter, for example, utm_medium=social-organic-post-1.
This way, when reporting you can easily group social platforms using the source parameter, and compare how how organic and paid media perform.
Each parameters answers a question. For example:
What campaign is this?
Where was the URL clicked (source)?
How was the URL displayed (medium)?
Each parameter should read like a sentence, for our example, it would be: This LinkedIn ad links to a content download page for our e-book on AdWords strategies.
Maintain a Spreadsheet of Tagged URLs
You should be maintaining a spreadsheet that stores and catalogs your UTM parameters.
For your spreadsheet, each tab should be it's own campaign, for example "September e-book" or "Adwords Q4."
Columns should organize the parameter definitions, tagged URL, destination URL, live status, and other relevant points like starting bid.
Create A Naming Convention Guide
A naming convention guide allows marketing team, and new hires, to quickly reference and understand what each parameter means. This wiki eliminates the confusion associated with different team members creating tagged URL’s, making reporting reliable.
Choosing The Perfect URL Builder
Depending on your needs there are a ways to simplify your workflow, while staying organized at the same time.
Google Tag Manager is a great tool because it’s free and simple to use. But it comes up short when users are creating multiple tags and need the tool to remember parameters like campaign tags to speed up tag creation. In other words, there’s no way to force consistency in tagging.
This can be a time saver once you’ve settled on a consistent naming convention and can already predict what many of your parameters will be
For example, if you’d like your tool to remember past campaign parameters, tag URLs in bulk, or automatically shorten URLs, there are tools like Terminus that can help your team manage URL tagging.
Using A Spreadsheet Tool
If you’ve settled on a naming convention then your next step should be to use a builder tool that eliminates the need to hand type each parameter.
We created a tag building spreadsheet tool that automatically creates tagged URLs. It includes drop-down menus using a naming convention relevant to online marketers for faster URL tagging.
Click the banner below to download. No email address required.
That’s Not All Folks
Managing tagged URL’s can become a mess if marketing teams don’t use a well organized system. But once you’ve established a good system, you can worry about what the UTM parameters can do for you.
UTM parameters do more than tell you what’s driving site traffic. It can tell you how much revenue your various marketing campaigns are generating and automate reporting when you connect tracking data to your CRM.
Once you do that, projecting performance of your various online channels becomes possible.
UTM parameters alone don’t tell you enough. It’s connecting click data to sales and revenue data that answers the most important questions in marketing.