UTM (“Urchin tracking module”) codes are an ingenious way to manually insert tracking mechanisms into URLs. Using Google Analytics, bloggers can use these codes to uncover remarkable intelligence that provides insight and directs focus toward marketing campaigns that work, every time.
UTM codes track five primary types of intelligence, though the first three types are by far the most common:
- Marketing campaigns (utm_campaign)
- Highest level tracking parameter for overall marketing campaigns
- Link mediums (categories) (utm_medium)
- The category of a link, like a social media post or email newsletter
- Link sources (locations) (utm_source)
- The specific source of a link, like Twitter, Facebook or a blog post
- Link placement (utm_content)
- Used to differentiate links on a page or newsletter
- Search term (utm_term)
- Used to track a specific keyword term from a search ad
Why use UTM codes?
Most bloggers understand how to use Google Analytics to figure out pageviews and sessions, referrals and their best performing pages. That’s great.
That’s definitely the first step for bloggers.
The next step is to track the performance of digital marketing campaigns to uncover what types of links perform the best.
As a part of your marketing campaign, how do bloggers track links contained in emails? Or worse yet, social media? Referrals don’t always come through cleanly. Or even when they do, the reason you’re posting your link isn’t easy to track in Google analytics. When I say “reason”, I’m referring to the specific marketing campaign.
Or, the link type.
Most email marketing services will track link clicks, but those clicks are not integrated into Google Analytics. Reporting is hodge-podge and isn’t clean.
And, Google Analytics captures referrals, but even this isn’t enough. Multiple links on the same web site can be tough to track individually, and it’s almost impossible to track social media campaigns by using Google’s referral traffic.
For example, you might unleash a Black Friday campaign with a series of social media posts and emails. Or, it’s your blog’s fifth anniversary and you’re plugging some of your best content from your first five years.
Google Analytics will measure
UTM codes give bloggers the incredible flexibility of tracking link clicks for any reason imaginable. The most common application is digital marketing.
What do UTM codes look like?
UTM codes are small bits of text (called URL parameters) that are appended to the end of a web address. You control the parameter value. For example:
This URL contains three different UTM parameters with a user-defined value for each. While the UTM parameter code names are pre-defined, these parameter values can be anything. Ensure that they make sense and are descriptive.
Let’s go through the web address.
In this case, BlackFriday2018 is the name of our digital marketing campaign, and we posted this link on Twitter, which is a Social link type.
If we were to post a similar link on Facebook, the web address might look like this:
Or, how about posting this link in our weekly newsletter:
Notice what changed between these links. The utm_campaign value remains the same because all of these links are a part of the same marketing campaign.
The utm_medium value changes based on the link type (Social, Email) and the utm_source value also changes for each link based on where we posted it (Twitter, Facebook, Week48Newsletter).
The intelligence-gathering potential is nearly endless.
Between these three URL examples, we could use Google Analytics to determine how many total hits our BlackFriday2018 campaign received across all mediums and sources. But, the intelligence doesn’t stop there.
These UTM codes further allow us to drill down into the type of links that performed the best and also the specific locations (utm_source) that outperformed others.
Further, these UTM codes reveal specific insights to include bounce rates, geographic reader locations and demographic information based on campaigns and link types, which provide us with the intelligence necessary to make better and more effective decisions in the future.
Decisions to help focus our time, energy and money toward the right places.
Bloggers can’t afford to NOT use UTM codes in their marketing campaigns.
Where do we find UTM data in Google Analytics?
Google Analytics is a powerful and well-rounded (and free!) data analytics platform for our blogs, but finding specific bits of data can be tough.
Including UTM codes.
There are a couple different ways to get at your UTM data. Here is exactly where to find the three most common UTM codes in GA ().
- Click Acquisition -> All Traffic -> Source/Medium
- Click Acquisition -> Campaigns -> All Campaigns
- Custom Report: “Customization” -> “Custom Reports” -> New Custom Report. Name your report, then select a metric (ie: “pageviews”). Then, select Medium, Campaign, or Source as dimension drilldowns
I’ve also taken the liberty of creating a video screencast of how to access your UTM intelligence in Google Analytics. Take a look below.
How can you build UTM codes?
Bloggers can simply tack on the specific UTM codes that they want to use to the end of any URL by hand before including the link in a marketing campaign. A simple copy and paste of the UTM codes will do the trick.
Alternatively, Google provides a little UTM builder that’ll help.
Here’s an example of how to use the tool using our fictional Black Friday 2018 marketing campaign:
Examples of using UTM codes
UTM codes work anywhere.
For example, if you have links to your site in an eBook or PDF document, consider tracking the source and campaign from each link:
Or, maybe you’re a big-time Quora or Reddit poster. Including the title of the Reddit thread or Quora post will tell you exactly what links are performing the best:
And, if you have multiple links in a post or thread, use the utm_content parameter to track each of those links separately:
A few additional ways to use UTM codes (note: the parameter values can, of course, be different. I’ve included sample values for demonstration purposes only):
- Use utm_campaign=EmailSig to track link clicks from your email signature
- Use utm_campaign=35Off to track each sale through any medium or source
- Use utm_medium=Social on all social media links to track social engagement
- Use utm_content=CTA to track the success of your “call to action” links in your email newsletter (differentiates the CTA click from others to the same page)
Easy-to-use UTM best practices
- Be consistent. For example, don’t include UTM links in some of your email campaigns and not others. Your Google Analytics data is only as valuable as you make it. The more consistent you are, the more intel you’ll get.
- Enforce a naming convention. Whatever you decide on, stick with it and keep using that convention. The more comfortable you become with the naming convention, the easier it will be to dive through UTM codes in GA.
- Simple is generally better. For example, using a shorter value like 35OFF instead of 35PercentOffPurchasePrice is probably a better name. It’s more compact. It’s easier to read. Opt for simplicity and saving characters. That said, also ensure that your values make sense and include enough detail so they instantly convey enough meaning in Google Analytics.
Are you using UTM codes in your links, yet? If so, what are your best practices and how are you using that intelligence?
Steve is a 38-year-old early retiree who writes about the intersection of happiness and financial independence. Steve is a regular contributor to MarketWatch, CNBC, and The Ladders and lives full-time in his 30′ Airstream Classic and travels with the country with his wife Courtney and two rescued dogs. He blogs at Think Save Retire.