UTM tracking codes were provided by the Urchin Web Analytics platform, which Google purchased and turned into Google Analytics. UTM stand for Urchin Tracking Module. This module allows marketers to add some parameters and values to the end of a URL so that sales and leads from different sources can be uniquely seen within Analytics, as shown in the graphic above.
Google Analytics organizes traffic and sales data initially into “sources” and “mediums”. Google will also track “campaigns”, ad “content”, and keyword “terms”.
The reason why UTM codes were made available is because though Google automatically tracks data from its own properties (Google AdWords, Analytics, Merchant, etc.), data from “external” sources, like Email, MSN/Bing, banner advertising on other websites, AdRoll, Facebook, etc. do not track automatically. With these non-Google properties, you need to use those UTM tracking codes to tell Google how you want it to organize the data.
There are 5 types of UTM codes:
- utm_source – this is where your link traffic is coming from, in a general sense. Values here could be “Google”, “Bing”, “Email”, “Social”, “Affiliate”, etc. This parameter and its value are required.
- utm_medium – this relates to how the link is referred or delivered. Possible values here might be: “cpc”, “sponsored-post”, “728×90-banner”, “data-feed”, “Facebook-Ad”, etc. This parameter and its value are required.
- utm_campaign – this relates to time, day, season or what have you. This could be “Spring-2014” or “March-20-2014” or “Mothers-Day-Promo” or “15%-Off-Sale-April”. Your marketing efforts will generally all fall within a small set of source/medium classifications, but your campaigns should always be a unique name so that you can differentiate them in Analytics. This parameter and its value are not required by Google, but its use is heavily recommended, or you won’t able able to see how individual marketing efforts perform.
- utm_content – this parameter is often used to distinguish A/B testing of ads, landing pages, or other comparative sets of marketing. I have also seen it used to store a product SKU or item number. This parameter and its value are not required.
- utm_term – this parameter stores the keyword or phrase. You often see this used in pay-per-click programs like Bing.
So now that you know what UTM tracking codes are – how do you use them?
These parameters and their values get attached to the end of a URL in one of 2 ways:
- If your URL is a search engine friendly (SEF) or “plain” URL, you begin with a ? and then add the parameter=value pairs with an & in between the sets.
- If your URL is “dynamic” and you see things like a ? or & already in the URL, then you start with the & and add the parameter=value pairs with the & in-between.
The “?” character is a programming signal that tells Google “Hey!, We’ve got some data coming through that you need to deal with”. You need to be careful NOT to put 2 ?’s in the URL or it will break.
The “&” character is a programming signal that tells Google that there are different sets of parameters and values.
Here are what each of these URL’s looks like as an example:
The SEF or “plain” URL:
The “plain” URL looks like this:
Adding those UTM codes makes it look like this:
The “dynamic URL”:
When you have a URL that already has a ? and some parameter=value sets in it, this is what your UTM tracking URL will look like:
Using UTM tracking codes is pretty easy once you understand what they are, what the symbols mean, and how to use the individual codes that Google provides.
Google also provides a handy little tool called the UTM Link Builder that will produce your URLs for you if you supply the “values”.
Some helpful tips and important reminders in using UTM codes are:
- Keep your “source” and “medium” values consistent – otherwise you’ll be hunting and pecking all over analytics for your data. For example, Don’t use “utm_medium=Newsletter”, and then use “utm_medium=News” and “utm_medium=Consumer-News”. Think about the different types of marketing you have and try to create stable source/medium “buckets” for your efforts.
- Always use unique utm_campaign values, otherwise your sales data will be lumped together and you won’t be able to tell what specific campaign produced what sales.
- NEVER use a URL with more than 1 ? in the URL, or you’ll get a nice 404 error message.
- Make sure you code every link in your marketing effort, such as in email. Remember to do hyperlinked logo images, social icons, etc. Every link should get coded. Within a particular email, the utm_source, utm_medium, and utm_campaign values can be the same. If you are using utm_content for part numbers or product names, then those would need to change per link.
- With Google AdWords, if you have your preference for Auto-Tagging set to “yes”, do NOT use UTM tracking codes. If you want to manually tag your AdWords ads and keyword destination URLs with UTM codes, make sure that auto-tagging is set to “no”. You cannot do both at the same time.
- DO make sure to use UTM tracking code with all your external, non-google, marketing efforts to track sales and leads as best you can. The more data you have, the better the decisions you can make on how your marketing efforts are performing.
- Not sure you did it correctly? Copy/paste your whole http://… link into a browser window and see if the page loads. You should also see all your new UTM parameters and values in the URL, near the end. If you get a page that works – congrats – you did it!
Any questions? Send us an email. This stuff always looks more intimidating than it really is. We are happy to help you.