UTM tracking is very important for measuring your data. The problem with UTM tracking is nobody ever explains how to accurately set it up to be useful. If you’ve been marketing online and only half heartedly tracking the results, you’ll want to keep in mind the best practices we’ve listed below.

What exactly is UTM tagging?

Mildly interesting fact: The name UTM comes from Urchin Software, a company acquired by Google in 2005. It went on to become Google Analytics, but UTM (Urchin Tracking Modules) remains as the tagging convention for URLs.

If you look on the URLs you click from most marketing email or banner ads, you’ll see UTM tagging right there. It is those long links that end with things like utm_source and utm_medium. These are tracking parameters that let you analyze where your users are coming from.

Have you ever wondered how Google Analytics knows where your traffic is coming from? Some of this information comes from the HTTP referer—a topic for another day—but the rest of it you have to supply yourself with UTM parameters.

When you see “google adwords” or “email marketing” it means those UTM parameters being recorded from the original link click and then stored in users’ cookies. From there, GA uses that data to attribute interesting behaviors on your site. Understanding what those parameters are for helps you understand how best to set up and use UTM tagging.

Best practices for UTM tagging

Setting your URLs up with UTM tagging isn’t really that complicated. Here are the five most important things you need to remember.

1. Aim to tag every URL you can control coming to your site.

Every time you ask people to click a link, you should be setting up UTM tagging. This includes all your email links (your email service provider likely has a way to automatically tag your URLs), ad links, press articles, blog posts, etc.

2. Use a tool to create the URL.

UTM-tagged URLs can be pretty cumbersome. Instead of trying to type them out longhand, use a tool like this to help you. This ensures you are thinking through adding all sensible parameters to the URL, and bonus…you get the URL to copy-paste right out of it. To manage social links, tools like Hootsuite include the option to add custom URL parameters to all of your links.

3. Make sure you are case sensitive in the parameter values.

Is this the worst part of UTM tagging? Annoyingly, yes. It is important to remember that the tag “utm_source=adwords” is a different tag than “utm_source=Adwords” (you may just want to make everything lower-case; that’s what we do!).

4. Store the UTM parameter values in your database.

Each time a transaction or event happens, you’ll want to evaluate the performance of your marketing activities. You can do this by reading the values of the UTM parameter values from the Google Analytics cookie into your database.

5. Think about how you name campaigns.

In order to track how your marketing efforts are improving over time, you’ll need to be smart about your naming conventions. Keep it simple and minimize as much as possible. Complicated naming systems are harder to maintain!

Want to do more? Once you are capturing this data in your database, you can evaluate the performance of your marketing and advertising by more sophisticated analysis including Customer Lifetime Value, Repeat Purchase Rates, and Average Order Value.

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  • Brady

    Hi, this article is interesting. I have a few questions. What does adding UTMs do that google analitics can not do for reporting? I was also wondering if UTMs are better used if you are working with multiple Channels? Is it not as important if you just have one or two online platforms at the moment?

    • http://rjmetrics.com/ Tristan Handy

      Hi Brady, thanks for the comment 🙂

      To your first question: UTM parameters are actually part of GA. You’ll see data the data in GA when you tag your links like this. There are a number of examples where GA can’t appropriately categorize inbound traffic and you should really do it via UTM tagging: paid advertising campaigns, email promotions and social media are probably the three biggest (from my perspective at least).

      Your second question: if you’re not doing any online marketing at all, then link tagging isn’t really very important. But if you’re like most of the online world (and it seems you are, since you’re leaving comments on a blog post about online marketing!) then this is probably relevant & important for you. It’s the nature of digital marketing to get more diverse as an organization matures, and link tagging is critical to measuring the ever-expanding set of marketing activities you’re engaged in. Starting off when you’re small and simple is definitely a best practice, as it will make things much easier when you get bigger 🙂

      Thanks again and have a good one.

  • http://term.li/1eFEesN Puru Choudhary

    I agree with all the points, especially about using the lower-case one. However, storing the UTM parameters in a database may not always be possible. A simple landing page on a static website is most likely not backed by a database. But I do think that storing the UTM parameters (e.g. in a spreadsheet) for future reference is important to be consistent.

  • Robert Haar

    Hi, I have a question regarding this article’s topic.
    Let’s say we have too many advertising channels. And we will use manual tagging for GA.
    The channels are: adwords/emailing/social/ remarketing&retargeting campaigns etc..
    So, my question is; How should I have to determine the right names of UTM parameters for each campaign?
    Shoul all channels have the same attribute in utm parameters?

    Could you please give me a clue how to set the naming convention for better measurement in GA?

    Thanks a lot.

    • Sarah Lang

      If I’m understanding your question correctly, I think what you’ll want to do is try to keep campaign source, medium and name as simple as possible. You’ll want to measure how all of your different channels/campaigns are doing over time, so you’ll want to be consistent when building out new links.

      If you want to track specific content, you can add that in under campaign term and content, without sacrificing your ability to track all of your campaigns over time.

      Hope this helps and let us know if you have any other questions!

  • http://www.socialreflections.com Shailesh

    Hello there – how about when you have dynamic page URL’s? In my situation it’s not possible to manually generate these URL’s. The client will not give us access to their inventory system for us to manipulate their URL’s. Also, we have a high volume of pages we need to tag.

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  • http://www.jantichy.cz/ Jan Tichý

    “You can do this by reading the values of the UTM parameter values from the Google Analytics cookie into your database.”

    No, with Universal Analytics you cannot. There is no more __utmz cookie providing UTM parameters values in Universal Analytics. UA stores the source information only at Google side. The only information saved in cookies is random client id stored in _ga cookie. The solution is to couple source information with each transaction via GA Core Reporting API.

  • https://www.diib.com G.T. Marie

    Thanks for this blog. It gave me some really useful ideas for tracking backlinks. Those are not necessarily URLs that you have direct control of, but it might be a good way to track the quality of your backlinks.

  • http://www.mixandgo.com/ Cezar Halmagean

    Hey guys,

    Here’s a tool to help you create UTM tags easier. You can define some presets and reuse them to tag your links with UTMs. Check it out: http://utmtag.com

    – Cezar

  • Taglynx

    Thank you Anita for making such a useful article. We have been dealing with UTM tracking for a while as well. In fact, we have a solution online that create UTM codes for you while checking that the syntax is correct. Learn more at http://ta.gl/FBhXSy