Everything you need to know about UTM parameters, including what they are, why to use them and best practices for getting started

Where do you reach your prospects and customers these days? Go ahead and rattle off the list, we’ll wait.

Done yet? If you have a list that goes on and on, you’re not alone. From email to your website to social media to search to display advertising to direct mail and so on, the number of channels through which modern marketers engage with prospects is dizzying.

Now comes an even more important question: How do you keep track of engagement across all of those channels? Answering that question isn’t always easy, but one of the best ways to do so is through UTM parameters.

A Primer on UTM Parameters

UTM (which stands for Urchin Tracking Module) parameters are a string of terms that you can use to track different links within Google Analytics.

For example, instead of simply sharing a link like http://www.salesfusion.com, you can append UTM parameters to track activity on that link in a variety of different ways. A link with UTM parameters looks like this: http://www.salesfusion.com/?utm_source=google&utm_medium=adwords&utm_campaign=2018-paid-search&utm_term=marketing-automation&utm_content=testimonials

Breaking that down, you can append up to five different UTM parameters to your links:

  1. UTM source: Captures the source of your traffic and is usually the website on which you shared the link. Common examples of UTM source parameters include Google, LinkedIn, Twitter and Salesfusion.
  2. UTM medium: Covers the marketing medium, which typically depends on your source. For instance, if your source is Google, your medium might be AdWords. But if your source is LinkedIn, your medium will be social and if your source is Salesfusion, your medium might be email or landing page.
  3. UTM campaign: Highlights the campaign in which you shared the link. This field can be whatever you want it to be, such as “Prospect Newsletter,” “Persona 1 Nurture” or anything else.
  4. UTM term: Typically only used in paid advertising, the UTM term is an optional parameter that captures the term you bid on for sharing the link. For instance, if you ran an AdWords campaign in which you bid on the term “marketing automation” (per above), “marketing automation” would be your UTM term.
  5. UTM content: Another optional field usually used to determine which piece of content received engagement when multiple links point to the same destination. This parameter is most useful if you are A/B testing or running multiple versions of the same ad (in which case two links would be exactly the same and the UTM content parameter can help differentiate between them).

Why Should You Use UTM Parameters?

Once you share a link appended with UTM parameters, you can track all of those details through Google Analytics or other marketing systems that can capture these parameters, such as your marketing automation platform.

This tracking allows you to see how many visitors came from a certain source, medium (or source/medium combination) or campaign. If you use the optional parameters, you can also see how many people engage through certain keywords (UTM term) or with different versions of ads (UTM content).

In particular, there are three primary benefits that come from using UTM parameters:

  1. Tracking cross-channel traffic: Great news: Your latest blog post or landing page is on fire! Visits are piling up everyday and your team continues to promote it across channels to build on that success. But which efforts are really paying off? What if all of that traffic is actually coming from just one channel? Wouldn’t you want to know that so you can double down on that channel? Of course you would, and with UTM parameters, you can gain exactly that insight for both individual assets and long term trends. By viewing the source and medium parameters for traffic, you can easily determine where traffic comes from. In turn, this view makes it simple to identify your most effective channels (where you definitely want to keep the status quo and potentially increase your efforts) and your least effective channels (where you may decide to discontinue your efforts or revamp your approach).
  2. Attributing traffic to different campaigns: You know you have eBook gold on your hands because that piece of content has steadily attracted traffic over the past eight months and prospects who read it usually become customers. As a result, you use that eBook everywhere. While identifying the channels that bring prospects to the eBook is a great first step, you also want to dive deeper because you’re currently using the eBook in four different email campaigns and two social campaigns. Or let’s say you want to take a long term view and understand how each different email campaign contributes to overall engagement on your site. Once again, it’s UTM parameters to the rescue. All it takes to determine how effective one campaign is compared to another is tracking the UTM campaign details. From there, you can take what works well from one campaign and consider how you might bring that into lesser performing campaigns or retire those lesser performing campaigns to devote more resources elsewhere.
  3. Understanding the impact of A/B testing: Ah, A/B testing — if it’s your idea of a fun day on the job, you’re not alone. But it’s not all that fun if you can’t determine the winner of your tests. One of the simplest ways to do so is through UTM parameters. Let’s say you run an A/B test on the color of a banner ad. Since both ads point to the same link, you need a way to differentiate traffic that comes from the yellow version versus the green version. Using the UTM content parameter, you can do just that. In this case, all of your parameters would be the same except for that last one, which might read “yellow” and “green.” Simple enough, right? With that difference noted, you can easily compare engagement with each of those links to determine whether your target audience responds better to the yellow banner or the green one.

6 Best Practices for Using UTM Parameters

Before you unleash UTM parameters on all of your links, keep these best practices in mind:

  1. Use standard naming conventions: Consistency is everything when it comes to UTM parameters. If you want to track long term trends, you can’t list your UTM medium as Social in some cases and Social Media in other cases. Equally as important, this consistency extends to capitalization, as UTM parameters are case sensitive. That means “Social” will track differently than “social,” so pay close attention to your capitalizations.
  2. Understand the different parameters: In order to both remain consistent in your UTM parameters and properly attribute traffic to different channels, campaigns, etc., you need to understand what each of the parameters means and how you should label each one.
  3. Consider using a link shortener for sharing: Let’s face it — despite all their value, UTM parameters are long and they don’t make links look very good. So unless you’re hyperlinking text, you likely want to use a link shortener when sharing links appended with UTM parameters.
  4. Remember UTM parameters are visible: Even if you hide your long string of UTM parameters in a short link or hyperlinked text, when someone clicks on the link, they will see the full URL (UTM parameters and all) in their address bar. As a result, make sure you don’t use any naming conventions that you don’t want your prospects and customers to see.
  5. Recognize the limitations: UTM parameters make a big difference when it comes to understanding performance across channels and campaigns, but they do have their limitations. The biggest one you should be aware of is when someone sees your link in an email and then copies it to share on Facebook. Anyone who clicks on that link from the Facebook post will register as coming from email. This is because UTM parameters are static and only track information based on the data that you feed them — they do not change dynamically based on where the link gets shared.
  6. Manage your existing URLs: Finally, it’s important to manage your existing URLs that have UTM parameters, that way you always know what you have and so you don’t have to recreate those trackable links every time. This management should also help you keep track of naming conventions to help you stay consistent.

It’s Time to Get Tracking

Knowing the benefits of UTM parameters and best practices for using them is all well and good, but how do you actually create those crazy-looking links? It’s not as hard as it might seem! In fact, you can use a simple URL builder to make the process quick and easy. All you need to do is put in the original URL, add information for each parameter as needed and the tool will append the link with UTM parameters for you. We told you it was easy!

Armed with the knowledge of what UTM parameters are, why they’re important and best practices for using them, there’s nothing left to do but to start adding them to your links so you can better understand engagement.