How to Effectively Leverage UTM Parameters

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While their use has been around for quite some time, I’ve found that many marketers are confused about how they should be leveraging UTM parameters to track their digital efforts. UTM parameters are tags added to the end of a URL that will allow marketers to obtain data from different marketing campaigns. The tagged UTM data can be captured in various systems such as website analytics, marketing automation and CRM platforms for reporting and analysis. This is important information that can then be used to assess the effectiveness of various digital marketing initiatives.

UTM Parameter Overview

There are five primary UTM tags:

  • utm_medium – marketing medium of the tagged URL (i.e. paid search, social, email, etc.)
  • utm_source – where the visitor clicked on the tagged URL (i.e. Google, Facebook, newsletter, etc.)
  • utm_campaign – name of the campaign associated with the tagged URL (i.e. AdWords Campaign, custom defined campaign, etc.)
  • utm_content – identifies a specific content item related the campaign (i.e. ad copy, call to action, etc.)
  • utm_term – keyword from paid search

You should always use utm_source, utm_medium, and utm_campaign;  utm_term and utm_content are optional.

In addition, there are two UTM tags that are generally leveraged for Google AdWords tracking (although their use is not restricted to Google AdWords):

  • utm_adgroup – name of adgroup that resides in the named campaign
  • utm_network – most commonly deciphers between search network and display network for advertising but can be customized for marketing needs

How to use UTM Parameters

 In order for UTM parameters to be effective for our clients, we recommend adhering to Google’s defined tagging to ensure Google Analytics properly records and segments the data.  This is especially true for utm_medium which impacts Google Analytics Channel reporting.

The following is an overview of utm_medium tags and their Channel alignment in Google Analytics:

Channel/Medium Tag Description
Direct Source exactly matches direct AND
Medium exactly matches (not set)
OR
Medium exactly matches (none)
Organic Search Medium exactly matches organic
Social Social Source Referral exactly matches Yes
OR
Medium matches regex ^(social|social-network|social-media|sm|social network|social media)$
Email Medium exactly matches email
Affiliates Medium exactly matches affiliate
Referral Medium exactly matches referral
Paid Search Medium matches regex ^(cpc|ppc|paidsearch)$
AND
Ad Distribution Network does not exactly match Content
Other Advertising Medium matches regex ^(cpv|cpa|cpp|content-text)$
Display Medium matches regex ^(display|cpm|banner)$
OR
Ad Distribution Network exactly matches Content

Best Practices

The following are a few tips to ensure your UTM deployment is successful:

  • UTM parameters (generally) should not be used as hard coded links on a website. This would overwrite tracking for visitors coming from sources that may have different tracking associated with their visit (such as paid, organic, social, email, etc.).
  • Use UTM parameter tags consistently! Nothing will make a mess of your data more quickly than not having alignment and rules for UTM tags.  I suggest creating a legend of UTM tag values deployed for your organization’s marketing needs.
  • UTM parameters are case sensitive. I suggest always using lowercase to avoid tracking issues.
  • Tag every URL you distribute. Every email, digital advertisement, etc. should be tagged with UTM values for the best tracking and reporting.

Start Reporting!

Once you create and deploy a consistent framework for UTM tagging there will be a lot more detail available in your reporting. You will be able to evaluate individual marketing campaigns and efforts to determine their impact on your goals and business. This will give you solid data about what is most (and least) effective in your marketing strategy and allow for the successful evolution of your campaigns.

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