In a world full of endless data and information, it’s sometimes difficult to wrap our heads around measuring what matters. Clearly, Albert was onto something.
Image: The Lepolas
For a free tool, Google Analytics (GA) is pretty magical. With little to no setup, you can quickly see which channels are sending you the most traffic, the types of pages that are attracting visitors, and what those visitors are doing on your site once they get there. But as smart marketers, we need to know more.
If you’re reading this blog, hopefully you’re no stranger to tracking traffic in GA, but if you’ve ever wanted to track like a boss, today is your lucky day. Let’s take a closer look at UTM parameters, and learn how to use them to make better marketing decisions.
What are UTM parameters?
A UTM parameter is a tag added to the end of a URL. When users click a link with parameters, unique data about these URLs becomes available in the site’s Google Analytics account. Usually, anything that follows a “?” within a URL is a parameter.
To set up custom campaigns in Google, you can add parameters to the end of a URL. A UTM parameter consists of both a parameter (also known as a “variable”) and a value.
When creating your UTM, there are 3 common variables you should always include (and a plethora of others too):
- Campaign Source (utm_source) Use this to identify the source of your traffic. Common referrers include social media sites like Twitter or Facebook, a specific newsletter edition, or a site where you have some banner ad placement.
- Campaign Medium (utm_medium) This shows the marketing medium you used your URL in, such as an email newsletter, a specific banner ad size, or CPC.
- Campaign Name (utm_campaign) Create a general theme for your content, and use the same campaign name across mediums and sources to compare results. An example could be “videoinfographic” or “founderscorner3”.
So what does a UTM parameter look like when it’s attached to a URL? Here’s an example for a tweet we sent out from Hootsuite about how awesome Thunder is.
Fun Fact/Jeopardy Trivia: The acronym “UTM” was derived from Urchin Tracking Module, which Google discontinued in March 2012.
Where can I see the results?
In Google Analytics, you can quickly see which URLs with UTM parameters drove traffic by visiting Traffic Sources > Sources > Campaigns. When I’m analyzing results, I like to click the “Source / Medium” tab in the Primary Dimension section, and then I select “Campaign” as the Secondary Dimension. This shows me a birds-eye view of the sources, mediums and campaigns that sent the most traffic.
If you have Google Analytics Goals set up, you can also click “Goal Set 1” (FYI: Goal Sets are another soon-to-be-discontinued GA feature) in the Explorer tab to see how this traffic correlates with conversions.
One thing missing from the picture here is the ability to look at “Source / Medium”, “Campaign” AND “Landing Page”. To do this, I suggest setting up a GA Advanced Segment for each major channel you’re testing.
Here’s an example I created for Thunder Scoop, our monthly newsletter (are you on the list?!). As you can see, I named this Advanced Segment “Thunder Newsletter UTM Traffic” and included “Source” containing “Thunder_Scoop” and “Medium” containing “email”. After turning this Advanced Segment on, I can now use “Landing Page” as my Secondary Dimension, and even explore other dimensions like which browsers my visitors are using, cities they’re clicking from, and the screen size they’re using to consume my content. I’m pretty impressed. Are you?
UTM parameters tools
There are several tools that help you create custom UTM parameters with the click of a mouse. Here are a few I like to use.
The most obvious is the Google Analytics URL builder. If you like your vegetables from the Farmers Market, you should probably build your UTM parameters at the mothership.
Since I use a lot of the same UTM parameters and just swap out the campaign name, I really like taking advantage of HootSuite’s Custom URL Parameters feature. Basically, you add presets of parameters you regularly use, and then you can quickly add the parameters to URLs while also shortening the links with a few simple clicks. Makes life easier, and who doesn’t like that?
5 handy UTMs
Since I mentioned I use a few UTMs to promote Thunder on the regular, thought I’d share them here for easy UTM-ificiation.
Social Media Promotion
Use these UTMs for links shared on social networks. Some people choose to lump all “sources” together into one social media bundle, but I’m sure you’re not surprised I like to separate them out for more analysis.
Make sure to track every link in your newsletter. Services like MailChimp give you the option to add automatic GA tracking, but they apply one source / medium / campaign to your entire newsletter. Instead, opt to add each link manually, and track monthly features with the same campaign over time.
Sometimes, we use press releases to announce big news, like new client relationships and awards. Make sure to coordinate with your PR team or agency about UTMs. If anything, this supports their work, since you can closely monitor the traffic from press releases and see how well the announcement converts.
If you’re doing any kind of advertising banner advertising on a site, please tell me you’re using parameters to quickly see which ads perform better.
Sweepstakes and Promotions
If you’re running any special giveaways on a third party app, make sure to use parameters to evaluate campaign success. My previous UTM parameters post touched on this, as well as the ability to add call tracking information to UTM parameters.
Challenges with UTM parameters
With great power comes great responsibility, and the same can be said for UTM parameters. Here are a few challenges and solutions associated with these handy tags.
Challenge A big advantage of using UTM parameters is the ability to compare stats across sources, mediums and campaigns. However, if one character is off, GA will treat the two parameters as unique tags. Parameters are also case sensitive, so make sure to keep things consistent, because having a “Twitter” and “twitter” source really screws up your data.
Solution Keep track of parameters in a centralized doc that you can refer to over time.
Challenge In case you haven’t noticed, these UTM parameters add a lot of extra characters to your URLs. Besides looking ugly, it’s also inconvenient when you’re trying to keep things under 140 characters.
Solution Use a URL shortening service like bit.ly, ow.ly or goo.gl, since UTM data still passes through short links.
You can’t track internal links with UTM parameters
Challenge Each time a link with a UTM parameter is clicked, a new visit is generated, therefore inflating the number of website visits, and skewing other data.
Solution Use event tracking or site search to track internal campaigns with GA.
Challenge Did you know anyone can add UTMs to your links? It’s kinda like an awesome Easter Egg.
Solution Browse through your GA Campaign data, and have a good laugh.
Pinterest Don’t Care
Challenge Pinterest strips UTM parameters from links, regardless if you add them before pinning.
Solution According to some, you can edit the link and add the UTMs in, but keep in mind that most affiliate links are rejected by Pinterest, so UTMs might not fly under the radar either.
U(TM) Complete Me
While there are a few drawbacks to using UTM parameters, most will be completely delighted by the detailed metrics available at one’s fingertips. Adding tags to your links helps you determine which channels and promotion efforts are the most successful, which leads to more informed campaigns. Woohoo!
Have you had success tracking campaign success with UTM parameters? Please share in the comments!