UTM Tracking: The Key to Social Media Success

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Marketers use analytics to create stories.  

We collect data to help us understand as much as possible about our target audience, and we use this information to piece together stories about the individuals within it.  

In order to paint the most accurate picture, you need to make sure you’re using accurate, insightful data, such as what time of the day is best to post on any of your social channels. And that’s where UTM tracking comes in. 

In this quick guide, we’ll cover: 

  • What is UTM tracking?
  • How does it work? 
  • Why you should use UTM parameters on social media
  • The 5 different UTM parameters, and how to use them 
  • How to create UTM tracking links for social media campaigns [UTM builder]
  • How to use UTM tracking codes for social media success (with examples)

Ready to jump straight in and start creating UTM tracking links? Try out Rebrandly’s free UTM builder.

What is UTM tracking?

In a nutshell, UTM (or Urchin Tracking Model) tracking refers to parameters, or identifier tags that you add to the end of a link. These tags sync with your Google Analytics account and give you a more granular view of how your campaigns are performing. 

How does it work? 

Once a link that you’ve added these tags (or parameters) to is clicked, they’re sent back to Google Analytics and filed under the identifiers you’ve set. What this means is that you can attribute site visits and conversions to specific posts on any platform you’re running campaigns on, as opposed to just seeing referrals from the platform overall. 

Once you add UTM parameters to your links, they should look something like this: 

www.yourbrand.com/branding-ebook?utm_source=twitter&utm_medium=social&utm_campaign=branding-ebook-2019

Why you should use UTM parameters on social media

Social media moves at a mile a minute, so it can be difficult to cut through the noise and identify what’s working and what’s not in terms of converting impressions to customers. If you have multiple campaigns running simultaneously and see a surge in website traffic and subscribers, you’re going to want to know which campaign (and which ad or post within that campaign) is making the most impact. That’s where UTM tracking comes in. 

By adding UTM tracking codes to every link you share on social media – either in paid campaigns or organic posts – you can attribute site visits and conversions back to the point of origin. Handy, right? 

The 5 different UTM parameters, and how to use them 

So, now that we’ve covered the why, we need to cover the how

To get started, let’s take a look at the five different types of UTM tracking codes you can use:

1. Source 

The source parameter tells you the site visitor’s point of origin. So, say for example you launched a campaign on Facebook and added a UTM tracking code to the end of your link that said “?utm_source=facebook” – once the link is clicked, Google Analytics would register that you got a site visitor and that they came from Facebook.

2. Medium

Similar to source, this parameter is used to identify which medium the link you’re tracking was used on. So in this particular case, it could be: &utm_medium=organic-social, or &utm_medium=paid-social. 

In Google Analytics, you can filter by medium and search for either of these terms (organic-social or paid-social) to give you a birds-eye view of how all of your campaigns on social media are performing collectively.

3. Campaign

This is the golden ticket as far as UTM tracking codes are concerned. When including a link in an ad, a tweet or a post, you can use this parameter to identify the specific campaign it belongs to. When you’re analyzing the results in Google Analytics, you’re then able to refine them at a campaign level. 

4. Term

Less commonly used for social media, the term parameter is used to tag any keywords associated with your campaign. This is most popular for paid search campaigns. 

5. Content 

This can be really useful for keeping track of campaigns that are being A/B tested. If you’re running two or three variations of the same ad, but you want to test different calls-to-action, you can differentiate between them with this parameter and see which one is converting best. 

How to create UTM tracking links for social media campaigns [UTM builder]

Manually creating UTM tracking links is no picnic. 

Traditionally, you’d have to set up a spreadsheet and have columns for the destination URL, source parameter, medium parameter, campaign parameter, term parameter, content parameter and the final link. And you’d have to manually do this for every link you wanted to create. 

Luckily, there are easier ways to do this now. 

Let’s start with the most commonly used “shortcut”: Google’s URL builder.

Google Campaign URL Builder

I say “shortcut”, because if you break it down to brass tax, this tool is probably only saving you a matter of seconds compared with the traditional way of compiling UTM tracked links. Sure, it adds the symbols in and might save you the trouble of manually copying and pasting each parameter into the final link column (the horror).

But, we’re here to cut through the noise- not add to it.

At the end of the day, you still have to manually enter the information into each form field every time you want to create a new link. 

Another reason people use Google’s URL builder is because it gives you the option of shortening your newly created link. 

Buuuut that presents an issue in itself. 

Your only option for shortening a link with Google’s URL builder is to use a generic domain that you have no control over (like butt.ly/hfue38). Not only that, but with most generic URL shorteners, your competitors have the same level of access to your link analytics as you do. 

via GIPHY

Not exactly ideal. 

Being a URL shortener ourselves, this goes against the very grain of what we stand for. We believe in putting control of links back into the hands of their owners- and we practice what we preach. 

That’s exactly why we built a tool to help people:

  1. Create UTM tracking links in a matter of seconds (and save their parameters as presets so they can cut out unnecessary repetition) 
  2. Customize these links with a domain that features your brand and a URL slug that acts as a CTA.

Rebrandly UTM Builder

How to use UTM tracking codes for social media success

As we’ve already touched on, UTM parameters can be super useful for measuring social media performance on a granular level- from campaigns to specific ads and posts. 

Let’s take a look at some of the ways you can use them in more detail. 

1. To refine your social media strategy

UTM parameters allow you to easily identify what types of content people are interacting with most- and more importantly, what they’re interacting with least. 

If you’re able to spot and quickly modify the content you’re serving up to your audience, you’re minimizing the risk of losing site visits and conversions by showing them what they want to see instead of something they’d probably scroll past. 

Keeping an eye on how each platform is performing will give you a great indication as to where you should be focusing most of your efforts. For example, you might see the most activity on Facebook, but find that the large majority of your conversions are coming from LinkedIn.

2. To measure your social media ROI 

One of the main things a marketer needs to know is the cost-per-acquisition (or CPA) of a lead on any channel they’re using to target their audience. If you’re looking at your social media budget versus revenue generated from leads coming from social media without any specifics, you’re going to have a hard time justifying your spend. 

With UTM parameters, you can get a complete breakdown of conversions coming from specific channels, campaigns and ads, which you can then compare with the associated spend and work out how cost-effective each is. 

3. To track influencer marketing campaigns 

Influencer marketing is quickly becoming one of the most popular ways for brands to market their products. But just like any normal campaign, you need to be able to see what results are being generated and from which platforms. 

With influencer marketing campaigns, you can distribute UTM tracking links for the influencers to use across their own channels and you’ll be able to see how many visits and conversions are being generated from each source. 

Depending on the nature and size of the campaign, influencer marketing can be on the more expensive side- so it’s important to feel assured that your investment’s generating the expected return.  

4. To conduct A/B or multivariate tests 

There a million and one ways to A/B test elements of your social media campaigns (okay, maybe not a million and one- but you get the point). 

One of the ways you can do this is by adding multiple links into your ads and using different UTM parameters to track each one. 

For example, by doing this, you can see if people are more likely to click on the big button that says ‘Learn More’ or ‘Get a Demo’, or if they’re bypassing that completely and clicking on the link you’ve put at the end of the descriptor text. 

It’s important to experiment with these types of elements of your campaigns because it helps you learn more about your audience’s behavior- which will inevitably help you market to them better. 

Wrapping up 

As with anything, the end justifies the means. 

You want to know that your precious marketing budget is going to good use, and you need a reliable way to be able to track that. 

UTM tracking is the bridge between that tweet you posted and the person who landed on your pricing page 30 seconds later. It helps you identify things like what type of content your audience prefers, how they react to certain language and calls-to-action, and so much more. 

Have you got experience using UTMs to track social media success? How else do you think it benefits your company? Let us know in the comments! 

Further reading:

This article is about: 

  • UTM parameters
  • How to use UTM parameters on social media
  • Using UTM parameters to track social media success
Beth McEntee
Beth is a Marketing Manager at Rebrandly, the URL shortener and link management solution. When she’s not dreaming about generating leads you’ll find her wandering the streets of Dublin with her golden retriever (getting rained on, most likely) or curled up by the fire with a book and a cup of tea.