Updated November 2022
If you’re responsible for running a website or creating marketing campaigns, you want to know as much as you can about where your traffic is coming from.
In a perfect world, you would simply log in to your Google Analytics account and all of the information you need would be automatically available to you—but we don’t live in that ideal marketing world. Fortunately, there are workarounds and our friends at Google have created a nifty little tool to help us: Urchin Tracking Module (UTM) codes.
Here are the basics of what UTM codes are and what they do.
Why should you be using UTM codes?
UTM tracking is one of the easiest and most effective ways to track where your site visitors are coming from.
Using UTM tracking provides marketers and business owners with quantitative data, which is especially important if you are trying to determine where to focus your attention for the best return on investment. As magical as SEO and digital marketing can seem, the ultimate driver for what works and what to do is data and UTM tracking provides users with the information they can use to make sound decisions.
It also allows users to dig deeper into their Google Analytics—you may already know you get a lot of visitors from your Facebook page, but you may want to know if a specific status update drove a lot of new traffic, whether that email you sent to your subscribers led to new visits, or if visitors came from a new banner or image link you created on your site. Traditional analytics data does not give you much of this information and that’s where UTM tracking codes become so much more powerful and beneficial.
So what are UTM strings anyway?
UTM strings are tags or add-ons you put at the end of URLs you want to track. When someone clicks on a URL with a proper UTM string, this event is recorded in your Analytics account. Again, this is extremely useful to track visits from different social media sites or even specific updates on each social media site, links in your emails, directory links (good for Service Area Businesses/Small Businesses), and virtually anything you can think of that has a URL.
How to create effective UTMs
The simplest way to create an effective UTM is to use Google’s free URL builder.
The UTM builder has been updated — make sure to select “Web” to generate your URLs because the Play store and Apple App store use different methods
Let’s breakdown the components of a good UTM string. Note: you don’t need to include every component in your strings, but the more components you use, the more detail you will get out of your campaigns.
Website URL: Copy and paste the URL you want to track. This could be your homepage or a blog post, or any other URL you want to get information on.
Campaign Source: Groups all of your data into one campaign within your analytics account. The campaign source identifies the source of your traffic, such as Facebook, a newsletter, Google My Business page, etc. This is a required component and appears as: utm_source=googlemybusiness
Campaign Medium:* Another required component for identifying the medium your URL was used upon such as: email, CPC, or some other method of sharing. This is the ‘medium’ where your traffic came from. One of the main ways we use this is to track Organic Traffic from a client’s Google My Business page. This appears as: utm_medium=organic
*note: whatever term you use here for ‘medium’ will create a new “bucket” of traffic in your analytics. This can cause reporting issues especially for your organic traffic information — this is why we label this as organic (when the traffic we’re wanting to follow is truly organic).
Campaign Term: This parameter is used for tracking paid terms in PPC ads. You can set the parameter to be the keyword you are paying for. This is an optional tag and can be skipped if you have connected Adwords and Analytics accounts that have auto-tagging feature turned on. Looks like: utm_term=homes+for+sale
Campaign Content: Optional parameter used for A/B split testing to differentiate your content. It can be used to differentiate ads and links that point to the same URL—example: utm_content=bannerlink or utm_content=textlink
Campaign Name: Required and lets you identify specific campaigns you are running such as a special promotion, or product sale and also helps you with keyword analysis. Appears as: utm_campaign:annual_sale
You should be aware that UTM codes are case-sensitive—if you use abc on one campaign link (say on Facebook) and accidentally use ABC (on Twitter), these will show up as separate campaigns in your Analytics. Also, the UTM URL will show up in a user’s search bar—nothing is hidden, so it’s advisable to not use any terms in your components you wouldn’t want visible.
How to find your campaigns in Google Analytics
Log in to your Google Analytics account and go to the Acquisition section click on Campaigns and click All Campaigns in the dropdown:
Here you will see the different campaigns you’ve set up. You can click on each one to get more detail.
Using an example from one of our clients, one of the ways we’re using UTM tracking is to identify how much traffic the client’s Google My Business profile is sending. We can see how many visits are coming in from a local search result. In the case of this client, they have locations throughout the state and we’re tracking to see which locations are being visited (in Maps or Local search results):
Clicking on the Campaign brings you to more information identifying the source/medium of traffic. In this case, we’re able to see which Google My Business profiles are driving the most traffic:
One of the problems I have with the UTM strings is just how ugly the URLs are and for some users this is a problem. Some people instinctively avoid clicking on URLs that have special characters in them or are just very long because they tend to appear spammy and untrustworthy.
The easy fix for that is to use a URL shortener such as bitly.com or the UTM builder from Google has a link shortener (which uses Bitly).
Here are some of our favorite uses for creating UTM campaigns
Directory Profile Tracking
This is one of the ways we like to track things for our clients. We have a lot of local SEO clients and for some of them, their directory profiles make up a good amount of their traffic. To have an idea of which profiles are getting clicks, we create UTMs for their different profiles.
For example, we can create campaigns for their Google My Business profile, their Yelp profile, their Yahoo! Local profile or any other we want data on. Some of our clients are on the Yext Platform and we create UTM codes to see how effective the Yext directories are for sending traffic.
Directory Profile UTM Examples:
Social Media Tracking
Using UTM codes within your social media accounts and sharing lets you figure out which sites and accounts are helpful at sending you clicks and traffic. You can easily create different codes and campaigns for multiple sites and multiple URLs.
Social Media UTM Examples:
If you regularly send out emails or newsletters to subscribers or customers, you can track all types of information from your messaging. Each newsletter you send out can have its own campaign and you can even drill down further by creating UTMs for different links within a newsletter or for different sections of your emails.
Newsletter UTM Examples:
Keeping track of your UTM strings
With all of this customization at your fingertips it’s easy to get disorganized and let things get out of hand. We recommend creating a simple spreadsheet that allows you to keep track of all of your UTM codes so you’re not racking your brain figuring out which code was with what link or recreating the same code over and over again.
We’ve put together a simple Google Sheets document you can use.
Open the spreadsheet here — click on File then Make a Copy and you now have your own editable UTM tracking spreadsheet.
The only way we can optimize our marketing campaigns is by having useful data and information. As marketers or business owners, the easiest way to get that data is by utilizing UTM tracking wherever you think it would be helpful to have information. From your social media blasts, banners and links on your site, to blog posts and email newsletters—set up your UTM codes correctly and you will have all the data you could desire right at your fingertips!
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