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.