UTM (Urchin Tracking Module) parameters are an essential tool for tracking traffic sources. But they don't come without a catch.
UTM (Urchin Tracking Module) parameters are simply tags you add to the URL to understand how visitors interact with your site and where they are coming from. They’re an essential analytics tool, but they come with a catch.
What can you learn from these snippets of text? Here are some of the big uses for
And what’s the catch? Glad you asked.
At this point, you might think, “I will just add a UTM at the end of every link and this solves every analytics problem I've ever had.” Unfortunately, it’s not that simple.
UTMs stick to links even after a user switches platform or medium. Here’s the problem with that.
If the user finds your link — which is tagged by UTM — on TikTok and shares it on Snapchat, the source would still display as TikTok in your analytics.
Unfortunately for us, this happens a lot — your content will inevitably bounce from network to network.
This phenomenon is called network diffusion. And it causes UTMs to lose accuracy.
It's an inherent problem with the tool that doesn't have an easy fix.
Many marketers launch hundreds of ads weekly, and It would have been a living hell if they had to type every single UTM manually.
worse yet, it would lead to a lot of false data. Typos in UTMs can mess with how they’re tracked by your analytics software.
Thankfully, this process can be easily automated.
Google’s Campaign URL builder is a popular tool for creating UTMs. But there are many other free tools: just google “UTM generator” or “UTM builder” and pick the one you like. (they all work pretty much the same, anyway).
The five parameters you need to feed the tool are:
Here’s how it all comes together in a working URL example:
Mind you, you’re not required to fill out all five. You can have a UTM with just the campaign tag if you find that useful.
Let’s quickly go over the practical side of using UTMs along with some industry-standard best practices.
1. Create a naming convention for UTM parameters
Naming can get out of hand quickly. You can avoid a lot of pain by creating a naming convention early and sticking to it as you grow. Mind you, you can always change it later.
Little things matter: choose if you’re going to use dashes, underscores, or hyphens.
Be mindful of capitalization: utm_source=google and utm_source=Google are two separate entities.
You can use CamelCase, start every word with an uppercase letter, or just keep it simple and write everything in lowercase.
2. Write for humans
Basically, structure your UTM tags as if you intend a human to read it.
Avoid overusing abbreviations. They’re ok here and there — especially for industry-standard concepts like CPM, or CPC — but you can easily go overboard.
Here’s an example of an unreadable UTM:
This one is much better:
3. Track UTMs in a Google Sheet
When you have thousands of UTM tags and hundreds of links it's easy to forget what is used where.
Readable naming certainly helps, but having a central hub to get back to and remind yourself what a tag stands for or where it's used is even better.
Most people use Google Sheets to keep track of UTMs and naming conventions.
You can make a simple table in minutes and easily keep it organized with the whole team.
Here's an example of what such a table can look like:
4. Shorten your links
Unfortunately, UTMs are ugly.
There’s just no way around that. What’s more, all those weird symbols in the address bar look machine-generated and can remind users that they’re being tracked.
This is why it’s a good idea to shorten them.
This won't change how they display in the address bar, but at least they will look neat in your content.
You can use a free service like bit.ly to do that.
Let’s take a look at a few common uses for UTM parameters.
1. Perform A/B tests
Also known as split testing, A/B testing is when you run two instances of mostly identical content with one major differentiating element.
This could be two ads where everything except for the title is unique, or two posts, where everything but the visual is the same: maybe one has an image and the other — a video.
The goal is to find the best-performing combination of elements by testing them one by one incrementally.
You can test all kinds of assumptions using UTM parameters. Maybe you think that posts with images that have red backgrounds attract more attention. Let’s test that!
This is how A/B testing looks in the most basic of forms.
Share two identical posts, where one background image is red and the other — blue. Then, tag them appropriately:
2. Track social media traffic
Wouldn’t it be great if you could track users who came to your website by following a particular post, instead of seeing the generic Facebook or Twitter source? With UTM parameters, that's very simple.
For example, you can compare how traffic from paid posts vs. organic posts behaves on your website.
An example URL can look something like this:
3. Don’t use UTM parameters on internal links
UTM parameters were created to track traffic from external sources. As in — not your domain.
Marking internal links with UTMs, actually confuses analytics software. So don’t do that.
Internal links are links from one of your blog posts to another, or links in your website navigation.
Most analytics software track the path of internal traffic automatically on the most basic of levels. And when you need more data, you can use events in Google Analytics to mark interactions like button presses.
UTMs are a super powerful tool that grants insights into the behavior of your visitors. They’re also invaluable for measuring advertising success and comparing performance of different media and content.
Just remember that they are not 100% accurate due to network diffusion: this is when content gets picked up and shared across platforms, together with now mismatched UTMs.
Using UTM parameters at scale can also get confusing — at some point, you may forget what some of your older tags even mean.
But stick to the best practices and keep your UTM spreadsheet up to date and you will never have a problem.
It stands for Urchin Tracking Module.
Urchin was a company that had a tracking software bought by Google in 2005 and later became Google Analytics.
UTM tracking is a way to track the performance of your marketing campaigns across different channels and sources. UTM parameters are tags that you can add to the end of your website URLs to track where your visitors are coming from.
There are five main types of UTM parameters:
There are a number of different ways to create UTM tracking codes. You can use a UTM code generator, such as the one provided by Google Analytics, or you can create them manually.
To create a UTM tracking code manually, simply add the following parameters to the end of your website URL:
CONTENT values with the appropriate information for your campaign.
utm_source value with the name of the social media platform where the link is being shared.