UTM guide: Trackable links for google analytics

UTM Guide: Tracking Your Links For Google Analytics

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.

The Solution:

Track links and shares with special URLs that give you all of the information you need to make informed decisions about marketing.

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:

URL?utm_source=[utm_source]&utm_medium=[utm_medium]&utm_campaign=[utm_campaign]

(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 tool called the Campaign URL Builder.

UTM tracking lets you customize the links you share 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 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.

https://fatfrogmedia.com/beginners-guide-google-analytics/?utm_source=google&utm_medium=ppc&utm_campaign=book_launch
https://fatfrogmedia.com/beginners-guide-google-analytics/?utm_source=email_newsletter&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=2019_promo&utm_content=top_of_email_button

This is the original URL

 https://fatfrogmedia.com/beginners-guide-google-analytics

You also don’t need to add every variant. But you should use 3 of the following as a minimum.

  • utm_source
  • utm_medium
  • utm_campaign
  • utm_term
  • utm_content 

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:
utm_source=facebook

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

https://fatfrogmedia.com?utm_source=facebook
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.

Campaigns in Google Analytics with tracking UTMs

Understanding What's Working

Once you've created some 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 Google Analytics and select your analytics account view
  • Go to Acquisition
  • Click Campaigns
  • Click All Campaigns
Campaigns in Google Analytics with tracking UTMs
  • Choose the primary dimension below the graph to change the view to Source, Medium, Campaign, or other parameters.
Google Analytics demo account source medium campaigns

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.

View which source generate the most revenue in Google Analytics

Creating trackable links in Google UTM Builder

Here’s a video of the steps to create a URL in Google’s UTM tracking code generator

If you want to check that the URL with UTM parameters is working, click the new URL while viewing the Google Analytics Real Time Report. 

Under Traffic Sources you will see the Source and Medium parameters.

Google Analytics real time report with UTM parameters
Google Analytics real time report with source and medium shown

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 as the top level source (Google, Facebook, Pinterest)
Example: utm_source=pinterest

utm_medium – use this tag to identify mediums like ads/CPC, email, guest post, social
Example: utm_medium=social

utm_campaign – The name of the campaign
Example: utm_campaign=august_newsletter

utm_term – Generally used by marketers for paid traffic keywords they target in Google Ads or Facebook Ads. 
Example: utm_term=osteopaths_near_me

utm_content – Mostly for paid traffic variations or split tests.
Example: utm_content=variation_1
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:

  • utm_content=top_of_newsletter
  • utm_content=footer_of_newsletter

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. 

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).

Adding different UTM parameters to URLs shared 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 off 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 (see below)

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.

Another way is to use a tool like Trello to track active and finished campaigns. You might want to reuse campaigns to save time.

Better still is to use tools like Replug.io and ClickMeter which manage, track, and analyze your links from one central database. Both tools offer UTM generators which also add some extra options like Link shortening They also store all of the links you create and track the clicks. They can even tell you details about the top clicking countries. Both services offer handy plugins for Chrome browser that allow you to create links even quicker.

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

Facebook's UTM campaign builder for Google Analytics
Facebook's UTM campaign builder for Google Analytics

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 campaign builder. This one auto-populates the campaign fields for you. You will save a lot of time with this tool.

Link shortening

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.

Free tools include Bit.ly, UTM.io, and tinyurl.

Google offers a link shortening tool too but it’s scheduled to close down in 2019 so I’d recommend avoiding this.

UTM guide: Trackable links for google analytics

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