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UTM Parameters Made Simple: 15+ Things Marketers Need to Know

UTM Parameters Made Simple

When and How to Use UTM Parameters to Track your Marketing Efforts

When should you use UTM parameters?

What good will they do you?

And where are you going to track all these results anyways?

With so many marketing tools and analytics platforms, you can sometimes feel helpless to understanding what’s going to actually help you connect A to B to C, or connect a Tweet, to a sign up, to a sale.

Adding UTM parameters to the links you share will help solve this problem and is imperative to tracking, attributing, and accounting for your marketing efforts.

I’m going to show you exactly how to use them…

And I’ve got a new tool you can use that will save you a ton of time when implementing this tedious task of tracking all of your digital marketing efforts and links.

But first let’s make sure we are all on the same page…

What's the Deal with UTM Parameters

What are UTM Parameters?

UTM – Urchin Traffic Monitor or Urchin Tracking Module – Parameters are simple snippets of code that are added to the end of a URL to help you track information about where someone came from – the referring domain – and what they clicked on to bring them here.

The resulting effect is that information is stored inside Google Analytics, allowing you to easily track your off-site to on-site marketing efforts through to conversion.

Fun fact: The early version of Google Analytics used to be a product owned by Urchin on Demand, hence Urchin Traffic Monitor, or UTM. Google acquired them in April 2005, back when passing parameters in a URL was a revolutionary idea.

Example of a link without parameters:

blog.rebrandly.com

Let’s say you shared this link on Twitter. How do you know that that Tweet resulted in a conversion? How do you know that it was your Tweet and not someone else’s that drove the traffic? You don’t.

Insert UTM parameters:

blog.rebrandly.com/?utm_source=twitter&utm_medium=post&utm_campaign=promote-blog

Yes, when you click on the link, the UTM parameters actually append to the address you are going to and show up in the address bar:

UTM Parameters show up in your address bar

For that reason never use malicious or exposing keywords for your parameters. Don’t use things like your password, how much money you are making from driving the traffic, or something like “I-cant-believe-that-idiot-clicked-my-link.” That would all be very bad for you.

Once appended to a URL, this little snippet of code is going to help you sort out your stats in Google Analytics under your Source/Medium filter (Go here for a crash course in Google Analytics):

Looking at UTM Parameters Source Medium Report in Google Analytics  

And/or under your Campaigns tab:

Use_UTM_Parameters_to_easily_categorize_marketing_campaigns_from_within_Google_Analytics

From here you can look at the channels and campaigns that are the most successful and reallocate your time and marketing budget appropriately.

The 5 UTM Parameters and When to Use Each of Them

The UTM tracking parameters come in 5 flavors, but for most of your efforts, you will only need to use these main 3:

Source: This is the place people are coming from. Use this to represent where you will be posting the link. Always use a lowercase version of the domain. Examples: “growthhackers” “inbound” “facebook”.

Medium: This is the type of post you are sharing, such as “post” as a generic answer, or “blog-comment” if you are putting this in the comments of someone elses blog, or “quora-answer” if you answered a Quora question.

Campaign: This is the large scale effort, or reason, you are creating a link. Examples might include “summer-promotion” or “meetup-group” or “sean-connery” (if you just happen to have a promotion with Sir Sean Connery running).

Note: You can usually separate out your efforts fairly easily with just one or two custom keywords within these parameters… But if you are running piles of campaigns on the same site/source (especially during the same time) and you plan on driving enough traffic to make it worth it, then you can get even more granular with your data…

The 2 other UTM parameters are used less frequently, but you can throw them in the mix if you have a very large campaign that you are running.
They actually come in handy a bit more when running paid ads than any other times.

They are:

Term: The keyword used in the ad. Especially handy for AdWords ads to differentiate between keywords.

Content:  Use the keyword in the headline of an image ad, or the “theme” of the Facebook ad for this parameter. For example, maybe your call to action is “Get eBook” vs “Subscribe Now.” Use those as CTAs in this parameter.

Each of these terms can be appended to the end of the link and will be tracked within Google Analytics.

5 Reasons to Always Use UTM Parameters When Sending People Back to Your Site

If the link you are creating/sharing isn’t sending traffic directly back to your site, there is little need to add the parameters, as it is only helping other marketers track their efforts better (and let’s face it, Entrepreneur.com doesn’t care about the 15 users you sent their way).

With a small exception: It can be handy to use for partners or affiliates, or to grab attention of potential partners or sponsors. But otherwise it isn’t doing you much good.

So why track your marketing efforts? And why do you have to use UTM parameters? Here’s the 5 ways UTM parameters can help you:

  1. To separate out the traffic you send to your site versus the traffic other people send to your site.

    This is actually a huge problem that I’ve had when running my agency.
    People forget that getting 1,000 views from social doesn’t mean they got 1,000 views as a result of their social media efforts.
    In fact, I bet most social media managers are over-reporting on their efforts, taking claim for a lot of shares and views brought in through others sharing content.
     

  2. To avoid getting direct traffic (that isn’t really direct).

    When people come to your site, the referral parameters are sometimes lost.
    This can happen for a number of reasons and is generally why you have a lot of “direct” traffic in Google Analytics.
    By embedding the parameters, you will never run that risk and will have cleaner analytics because of it. Cleaner analytics means you can make better decisions and more money.
     

  3. To separate out efforts based on who did what.

    If you’re working with a team then it can be helpful to add names or initials to links to track each members efforts individually.
    This isn’t for bragging rights or to fire someone, it’s so that you can figure out who did the thing that worked and then ask them, “What did you do and how can we all do that?” 
     

  4. To differentiate content types.

    You have a lot of different ways to drive traffic online – backlinks, videos, webinars, blog posts, guest blog posts, emails, email signatures, live video feeds, blog commenting, quora answers, and the list goes on.
    Use “medium” to describe the type of content they are coming from and you will then be able to, for example, sort all your traffic by Medium -> ”blog-commenting” and see if you’re getting any traffic from all your blog commenting efforts. Or do the same with “video” to see if video paid off for you in a big way.
     

  5. To easily report on the efforts of all of your marketing campaigns.

    Look, I get it, the word “campaign” is tossed around to mean anything from sending out an email to launching a whole new product line, but using campaigns to structure and differentiate your marketing efforts will help you determine which ones worked and which didn’t so that you can trim the fat and double down.

How Rebrandly Works

The 5 Rules of Using UTM Parameters

A lot of people use UTM parameters, but they really aren’t using them right. I’ve been studying the mistakes people make for a while and have 5 rules that you should always follow:

  1. Never share a link that shows the UTM parameters inside the link.
    That’s amateur hour… You need to take the link and shorten it (preferably using Rebrandly) that way you can present a clean URL to your audience.
  2. Always use lowercase.
    This simplifies things and prevents you from having two identical campaigns, then having to combine data later (it’s actually quite annoying).
  3. Be specific with your keywords.
    UTM tracking is only as valuable as the information you are getting with it, if you share something on Twitter and use the keyword “social-media” as your source, you can’t track traffic from Twitter directly. This is OK if you need to move fast and only want to create one link for all of Social Media. But it’s not OK if you need to track and report on your efforts directly from Twitter. Be specific.
  4. Never use spaces, use dashes instead.
    Spaces aren’t allowed in URLs. If you use a space when creating the parameter, it will turn into “%20” which is a substitute for the space bar.
  5. Keep your keywords the same.
    If you are running a campaign for your summer promotion, and it doesn’t really have a name, use “summer-promotion” and not “sumpro” or “sp” or anything in between.

    Similarly, if you use Facebook, decide from day one whether you want to use “facebook” or “fb” or whatever else you have in mind.

    Personally, my strategy is to use the referring domain exactly as you see it, so I would stick with “facebook” and “quora” and “growthhackers” and “socialmediaexaminer” and not do anything crazy like add dashes or abbreviate.

    This should help keep things organized and prevent you from having to reference some sheet before creating your parameters. The goal here is speed and accuracy. KISS.

Introducing the Rebrandly UTM Builder

If you’re like me, you visit the Google URL builder (now called Google Campaign URL Builder) 8 times a day, only to copy and paste that URL into your favorite URL shortener.

It’s a 2-step process that costs an extra 15 seconds to go find the page and load up the details…

Not anymore!

Rebrandly UTM Builder

With the Rebrandly UTM builder, combined with the Rebrandly Chrome extension (or whatever browser you use), you will never have to copy and paste a link into a form ever again.

Simply hit the Rebrandly extension button on your browser:

Hit Rebrandly Chrome Extension Button

Fill out your UTM parameters or choose from any of your most common presets

Rebrandly_UTM_Builder

And add them to the URL.

From there you can select your branded domain and URL slug and save your branded link as usual. As you share, the link the UTM parameters will be plugged into the link and ensure proper tracking.

If you want to see it in action, check out our video on how to add UTM parameters to your short links:

The ease of using Rebrandly’s URL builder really does give you no excuse to track your efforts with custom UTM parameters for each channel.

Please note the Rebrandly UTM builder is only available on our paid plans.

Final Thoughts

UTM parameters are a necessary evil for anyone looking to track their digital marketing efforts. While it does take a few seconds to install them on every link you share, we’ve made it easier than ever to create and share branded links with embedded UTM parameters.

This feature will be free forever within Rebrandly.

As you go about creating new UTM parameters, you can easily save them as presets. This will make it very easy to create custom links for each of your social channels. For example, let’s say you are sharing a new blog post on Twitter, Linkedin, Google Plus, and Facebook and want to know which social channel is driving the most traffic.

Create these 4 links, each with their proper UTM parameters (specifically I would just change the source to reflect the appropriate channel and leave medium:post and campaign:social-media):

mybrand.xyz/blog-post-t (Twitter)

mybrand.xyz/blog-post-f (Facebook)

mybrand.xyz/blog-post-l (Linkedin)

mybrand.xyz/blog-post-f (Google Plus)

Using the presets in our UTM builder, you should be able to create those 4 links in under a minute and can easily plug each one into your favorite social media management tool for publishing.

So, what do you think? Are you going to start using UTM parameters every time you link back to your website? Do you still have trouble tracking your results in Google Analytics? Are you unsure how you make better marketing decisions based on your results?

We’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.

Further Reading:

This Article is About:

  • UTM parameters
  • What are UTM parameters?
  • UTM builder
  • How to use UTM parameters?

Originally Posted: 19th August 2016
Last Updated: 14th September 2017

Head of Growth at Rebrandly. Derric is a lifelong entrepreneur and passionate about helping startups and marketers not suck. He speaks, practices, and blogs about growth and digital marketing on Rebrandly and across the universe.