One problem that marketers and small businesses face is knowing where to spend their money and marketing efforts. Modern analytics and cookie technology are great at helping us view visitor traffic as it flows around our website or app.
But we often struggle to know which marketing message resonates best with our clients, which social media posts result in the most conversions on our website, and which platforms have our most engaged audience.
The marketing pioneer, John Wanamaker, once quipped, “Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted. The trouble is I don’t know which half”.
This holds true for modern marketing even with all the technology available to us. If you’re not tracking, you’re not making the right decisions.
Track links and shares with special URLs that give you all of the information you need to make informed decisions about marketing. Let's look at how to start using utm parameters on your marketing campaigns.
- How to Track Marketing Campaigns
- What is UTM and what does it stand for?
- How does it work?
- How to create and use UTM tracking tags
- Understanding What's Working
- Creating trackable links in Google UTM Builder
- UTM Best Practises
- Some More Examples
- URL Tracking Management
- Free UTM builder
- Link Shorteners
- Is Google Analytics the only analytics platform that can understand UTM parameters?
How to Track Marketing Campaigns
The best way to track a shared URL on social media, email, websites, and apps is by using a custom URL.
The manual URL campaign builder
Creating tracking URLs manually doesn't require any software. Just type them out using the protocol below:
(Obviously, change the placeholder in square brackets with the names you want to use)
Don’t use spaces and make sure each parameter is joined by a & symbol.
After the URL place the ? Symbol, which indicates to analytics and browsers that anything after that point is a tracking tag or parameter.
The (better) custom URL way
But that’s the slow way to do it. A better way is to use Google’s tracking URL builder. Google provides a free trackable link generator tool called the Campaign URL Builder.
Use UTM tracking to customize the links you share and to better understand which links drive the most traffic.
The idea is simple.
- Add your website URL (the URL of the post or page you want to share).
- Add several other parameters that identify where the URL will be shared or where the clicks might come from. This part is entirely up to you to decide. You can identify the referring website, medium, campaign name, and other terms using what’s called UTM parameters.
What is UTM and what does it stand for?
UTM is an acronym for the lovely term Urchin Tracking Module. Don’t worry about the details. Just know that a UTM parameter or tag is a variable (medium, source, content) you add on to a standard URL. You can name them whatever you like.
How does it work?
UTM tracking lets you customize the links you share to better understand which links drive the most traffic.
How to create and use UTM tracking tags
The first thing to know is that you can’t really break the UTM parameters or tags. Adding “incorrect” text won’t make the URL unusable. But it will hamper your tracking efforts. Especially if you’re trying to keep things consistent.
Here’s an example of two URLs with UTM parameters used for creating trackable links.
This is the original URL
You also don’t need to add every variant. But you should use 3 of the following as a minimum.
Each variant takes a name or phrase to describe it and distinguish the UTM code from other codes.
For example, UTM_source could be Facebook. You write this:
I try to keep things consistent and avoid using capital letters in the URL.
If I wanted to share Fat Frog Media’s homepage on Facebook, this would be the URL with UTM code
Anything after the ? is a variable.
Later, when someone clicks this link you’ll be able to track the movements of the user in Google Analytics. For example, you’ll see that the Referrer source was Facebook.
Understanding What's Working
Once you've created some trackable links and sent them out into the world, the “hard” part is done. Now it's time to view which links are getting the most traffic and making the most money.
- Open up GA and select your analytics account view
- Go to Acquisition
- Click Campaigns
- Click All Campaigns
- Choose the primary dimension below the graph to change the view to Source, Medium, Campaign, or other parameters.
You might want to see which sources produced the most revenue. If you've set up Ecommerce tracking or Goals in GA, this information will already be there. Just look at the end columns of the All Campaigns report.
Creating trackable links in Google UTM Builder
Here’s a video of the steps to create a URL in Google’s utm tag generator.
If you want to check that the URL using UTM tracking is working, click the new URL while viewing the Real-Time Report.
Under Traffic Sources you will see the Source and Medium parameters.
UTM in Google Adwords
Google Ads has an auto-tagging feature within Ads management console. The auto-tagging feature adds UTM variables to every campaign.
UTM Best Practises
utm_source – use this to refer to the traffic source (Google, Facebook, Pinterest)
utm_medium – use this tag to identify mediums like ads/CPC, email, guest post,
utm_campaign – The campaign name or campaign content
utm_term – Generally used by marketers for paid traffic keywords they target in paid search, such as Google Ads or Facebook Ads.
utm_content – Mostly for paid traffic variations or split tests.
But this tag can also be very useful for tracking different instances of the same link in an email or on a webpage.
Let’s say you have a couple of links in an email newsletter that point to the same place. You want to know which link gets the most clicks. Add content parameters to help distinguish them like this:
Be consistent. Don’t make up a new campaign naming convention every time you start a new campaign. Use similar forms email_campaign_july, email_campaign_august, for example, to make easier work of managing the results.
Keep campaign names short.
Don’t put tags on internal links on your website. There's no reason for using tagging on links within a website as you can track everything that happens on your website with analytics tools.
Some More Examples
Let’s say you’re sharing a new blog post with bloggers that will share your content on Facebook. You could give them the bare URL to your post.
But then you won’t know which bloggers and which posts got the most clicks. And you can’t tell which blogger has the most engaged audience for your content (or which blogger has the best reach).
Using UTM parameters to share URLs with each blogger will help you understand better which contact in your blogging network sends you the most (or best) traffic.
Now there’s nothing to stop them stripping the parameters from the URL but you could make it a requirement that they keep the entire trackable link before posting. You could also use a link shortener.
URL Tracking Management
Google’s UTM tag builder might be free, but it won’t save the URLs you create. It’s not absolutely necessary to save the URLs but it will make your campaigns easier to manage.
One way marketers keep track of their URLs and the results is by keeping each URL on a separate line in a UTM spreadsheet in Excel or Google Docs.
Better still, use a tool like ClickMeter to manage, track, and analyze your links from one central database. ClickMeter offers UTM generators which also add some extra options like Link shortening. The platform also stores all of your links in one central place and track the clicks. ClickMeter can even tell you details about the top-clicking countries.
Improvely is another tool that creates trackable links that you can analyze. This helps discover and avoid click fraud (on Google Ads), learn about visitors, and test new landing pages instantly. Affiliate marketers can track commission sources, hide the affiliate referrers (so your competitors can't copy you), and cloak affiliate links.
Facebook UTM builder
Facebook also has a UTM builder which essentially does the same thing as Google’s version but it’s more suited to creating URLs for sharing on Facebook
Free UTM builder
The prolific team that created one of my favourite tools Convertful, also released a free UTM builder. But not just any URL builder. This one auto-populates the campaign name fields for you. You will save a lot of time creating URLs with many UTM parameters.
A link shortening tool is a great way to change those long and unsightly URLs on your social media shares to short, snappy URLs. Not only do they look good, but they take up less space. This is an important factor for most social media posts.
Billed as the world's shortest link tool, T.LY is a well respected tool for making the more secure links in the fastest time possible for sharing online.
Is Google Analytics the only analytics platform that can understand UTM parameters?
Most analytics platforms can read a UTM code as it's now a web standard. Specialized analytics tools like Smartlook are also capable of fully parsing UTM codes (usually much better than Google's products, in fact).
Google Analytics is losing ground to privacy-first analytics software tools like Fathom and Plausible as website owners start to care more about privacy and personal data. Both of these tools can also use UTM codes to help you understand more about your visitors – as long as no personal information is included.