UTMs - Everything You Need To Know About
Strategy + Marketing

UTMs - Everything You Need To Know About


Nick Wunderlin
Nick Wunderlin

on 1/27/2020

As marketers run increasingly complex, digital campaigns composed of multiple channels and partners, the need to keep track of and segment incoming site traffic is paramount. One of the best tools for segmenting site traffic is the use of UTMs. “UTM” stands for “Urchin Traffic Monitor.” This name comes from Urchin Tracker, a web analytics software that served as the base for Google Analytics (https://agencyanalytics.com/blog/utm-tracking).

A UTM is a query string added to the end of destination page URLs in digital ads, emails, social posts – where traffic needs to be attributed to a specific source/medium/campaign/etc. in Google Analytics. Say you are running a display campaign through a third-party media vendor, and you want to know which ad, from which campaign, with what message, and at what size, is driving the highest conversion rate? This is where custom UTMs can help out!

UTM components

UTMs can be created manually, however there are a number of tools and services that can make the process of creating UTMs much easier. I prefer to use this tool from Google Analytics Demos & Tools.

What makes up a UTM?

A UTM consists of a web page URL and 5 optional parameter fields that can be added to it. These fields are:

  1. Source: The source parameter is where your traffic came from. Source examples could be ad trafficking platforms like Google Ads, Facebook, or Choozle. Sources can also include Email providers like Mailchimp, Campaign Monitor or Constant Contact or social platforms like Twitter and Instagram. Whatever service or provider you are using to place your marketing materials should be your source.
  2. Medium: Your UTM’s medium should reflect the type of placement you are using. UTM mediums can include placement types like paid search, display, social, email or video. Whatever type of digital marketing method you are using should be your medium.
  3. Campaign: A UTM’s campaign name should reflect your larger initiative. If you are running a campaign that includes multiple components, say display, video and email, the campaign used for all of these tactics will help group and aggregate all the data in one place, under one name. From there the performance of individual tactics can also be evaluated. For these examples, be sure to use an identical campaign value in all of your UTMs.
  4. Content: Content is the first UTM value that can be used to differentiate ad creative or track which CTA performs best in an email. Examples of content values for display could be “250x250display,” “728x90display,” and “120x600display,” allowing marketers to know exactly what ad size is performing best. For email campaigns you may have a product hero image, have a “Buy Now” CTA button linking to the product page, and these 2 links could be tracked separately using content values of “heroimage” and “buynowcta” thus allowing you to know which link drove the most sales or engagement.
  5. Term: The final UTM value is term, it can be used to track targeted keywords or different messages. If you are running an A/B test to determine which message (“save $20” or “save 20%”) used in identical display ads draws the most conversions simply use “save20dollars” and “save20percent” as your term for each ad’s UTM.

The first three values are the most important and should be used in every UTM you generate. “Content” and “Term” UTM components can help further segment/identify your ads’ traffic.

A final UTM looks something like this: example.com/products/widget?utm_source=choozle&utm_medium=display&utm_campaign=summerwidgetsales&utm_term=save20dollars&utm_content=250x250display

  • example.com/products/widget is your landing page
  • “choozle” is your source
  • “display” is your medium
  • “summerwidgetsales” is your campaign
  • “save20dollars” is your term
  • “250x250display” is your content

Based on this UTM you can decipher that this particular link is for a 250×250 display ad, placed on Choozle, as part of your Summer Widgets Sale campaign, advertising $20 off widgets and driving users to your widget product page.

Google Analytics will decipher this information in a similar fashion and break the data out for users coming to your site from this particular UTM.

Where to Find UTM Data in Google Analytics

When a user accesses your site via a link using a UTM Google Analytics will log all of the UTM information in a few different spots within the “Acquisition” tab in your Google Analytics dashboard.

Source and medium can be viewed together in “Source/Medium” report accessed via Acquisition > All Traffic > Source/Medium. They can be viewed separately by selecting either “Source” or “Medium” as the “Primary Dimension” just above the data table in the report.

A UTM’s campaign data can also be accessed in the “Source/Medium” report, select “Other” in the dropdown menu as the Primary Dimension and find “campaign” in the list or search for it.

Term and content can also be found in the same place as campaign. However, to find “term” data you will select “Keyword” and for “content” data you will select “Ad Content”

Finally, if you wish to see data for a few items in one place, say how all your placements source, medium, and campaign performed in one place, follow these steps:

  1. Navigate to the “Source/Medium” report (Acquisition > All Traffic > Source/Medium) and this time, select “Campaign” from the “Secondary Dimension” dropdown menu just below the “Primary Dimension” options.
  2. This will show data broken out by both “Source/Medium” and “Campaign.” This view can be helpful when evaluating a multi-faceted campaign that uses multiple sources and mediums.

UTM Best Practices

Now that you know the basics of what a UTM is, how to construct it and find data associated with it in Google Analytics you are ready to start getting more out of your media campaigns and reporting. This last section will offer some UTM best practices to ensure your data is clean and complete:

  • Determine your campaign value first – Your campaign value should be determined first since it is typically the easiest way to group all the various tactics within it. Once you determine its name, be sure to use that same name, in the same format across all UTMs/placements. Use the same campaign name in your media platforms in as you are in your UTMs.
  • Stick to a consistent format – Be particular when structuring your UTMs and have a plan or desired format. Google Analytics will view 2 UTMs that use “summerwidgetsales” and “Summerwidgetsales” as campaign values as 2 separate values. Before developing any UTMs for a campaign, consider the format you want to use that can be consistently applied. It is best to set agreeable UTM standards as a team to ensure consistency.

    Some things to consider:
    • Capitalization vs. lower case characters? Google Analytics is case sensitive and will view any different values, no matter how small the difference is, as completely separate items
    • Tag all traffic you have control over. UTMs are free and easy to construct, use them on any links you are placing to your site.
    • How to present multiple word values? Should it be “summerwidgetsales” or “summer-widget-sales” or “summer_widget_sales”? Again this comes down to personal preference, but be consistent!
  • For “medium” values, stick with Google’s default channel names. These are:
    • Direct
    • Organic Search
    • Social
    • Email
    • Referral
    • Paid Search
    • Display
    • Video

      This will help alleviate confusion or use of synonyms like “paid search” versus “ppc” versus “search.”
  • Do not use special characters in your UTM values. A lot of common special characters already have roles they are playing in UTMs, for example the “?” starts the UTM query string and the “&” separates different values within the UTM. Instead, reference back to the section previous about UTM components, specifically the term value where the example was looking at different messages. In that example we wanted to A/B test messages like “20% off” or $20 off” for the UTM terms in that example we used “20percentoff” and “20dollarsoff”.

By utilizing UTMs and following some of these best practices you will be able to glean so much more from your campaign’s data. UTM data can inform overall campaign success, help guide optimizations and even determine if particular tactics or channels are ineffective. The simple addition of UTMs to campaign trafficking can make all the difference between insights and best guesses.

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