February 01 2021

The Most Common Errors in UTM Tracking and How to Avoid Them

UTM MistakesUTM tracking is an important tool to use when it comes to online marketing. By adding bits of code to your URL, it is possible to track where website visitors are coming from and what they are doing. Whether this is something that you handle in-house or work with an outside agency on, it is crucial for marketers to use and understand UTM tracking codes.

Misunderstandings can lead to errors in setup and even invalid and unclear information. Here are some common mistakes to avoid:

Adding UTM Tracking to Internal Links

UTM codes are designed to help you and your business track external traffic—keyword: external. If a website visitor is already on your site and clicks an internal link with UTM tracking, this data will now be skewed in several ways:

  • UTM parameters associated with a user will be incorrectly attributed. Let’s say a user comes to your website through direct traffic and immediately clicks your internal link with a UTM code (e.g., http://xyzcreditunion.com/?utm_source=google&utm_medium=cpc&utm_campaign=auto-loan). All of the user’s website activity will now be associated with a source of google, the medium cpc and the campaign auto-loan instead of associated with direct traffic.

  • The number of sessions will be falsely inflated. When a user enters your site, a new session is created. However, once that user clicks your internal link with a UTM code, a second session is created. This results in inflated data.

  • Bounce rate can be falsely boosted. If a user were to enter your site and only view one page before clicking on your internal link with a UTM code, not only will a second session be created, but the first session will count as a bounce.

  • Average session duration can be falsely deflated. Session duration is based on time elapsed between the first and last pageview of a session. If a user only viewed one page before clicking the UTM link and falsely bounced, the session duration would be 0.

Only UTM links that are coming from external sources like email, paid search, social media, etc. should have UTM tracking links.

Inconsistencies in Spelling, Symbols and Casing

It is important for businesses to have a written set of standards to use when creating UTM tracking links. UTM codes are very sensitive when it comes to spelling, symbols and letter case.

  • UTM codes do not have spellcheck. Make sure you are spelling everything in your code correctly. If your medium is supposed to be “email” and you mistype it as “emal,” you will now be tracking email mediums in two places.

  • UTM codes do not have a built-in thesaurus. Make sure you are clear on what your company’s standards are when creating UTM codes. For example, some companies use “cpc” as a source while others use “ppc.” Both are meant to track paid search but will be tracked in two different places.
  • UTM codes are case sensitive. If one employee is using “facebook” as a source and another is using “Facebook” as a source, these will now be tracked as two different source types.
  • UTM codes are symbol sensitive. When creating a campaign name that has more than one term, make sure you are clear on your company standard. If one person is using “checking-account” and another person is using “checking_account,” these will now be tracked as two separate campaigns.

Misunderstanding UTM Parameters

Each UTM parameter has a special purpose. You may not need to use all the parameters every time you create a UTM link, but it is important to know the difference.

  • Medium: The type of traffic that drove a visitor to your website (e.g., social, email, CPC, etc.)

  • Source: Which specific platform your website visitor came from (e.g., Google, Facebook, etc.)

  • Campaign: The product, program, or initiative you are promoting (e.g., auto loans, checking accounts, etc.)

  • Term: Which paid keyword led a user to your website. Only use this field for paid search.

  • Content: Helps differentiate UTM tracking links pointed to the same URL. This can be used for a variety of things. For example, if an email has two links to the same page, you can use content to distinguish the location of each link in the email.

Source and medium are commonly confused, but it is important to remember which is which. If you are looking at visitor traffic from Facebook for the month, you want to make sure the data is in one location, not spread across source and medium.

Creating Extra Work for Yourself

Typically, the more information you provide in your tracking URL, the better. However, there are some cases where you may be wasting your own time. If you are running Google Ads campaigns, there is an option to setup auto-tagging that automatically appends tracking parameters to your URLs.

If your Google Ads account is connected to your Google Analytics account and you have auto-tagging set up, there should be no need to add UTM tracking to your Google Ads campaigns. If you do have auto-tagging enabled, but you also want to create UTM codes for some campaigns, make sure you allow manual tagging to override auto-tagging in your Google Analytics account settings.

Another way you may be making extra work for yourself is by providing duplicate information in your UTM parameters. Source, medium and campaign are all required parameters, but term and content are not required. Only use these parameters when they make sense for your tracking.

With an understanding of UTM codes and consistent standards, you will be on your way to better tracking external links in no time!

Looking to get help with tracking for your digital marketing campaigns? Contact an expert at ZAG to get started.

  • Analytics
  • Email Marketing
  • Paid Advertising
  • Social Media
  • Website

posted by
Kelsey Dombrosky
Kelsey Dombrosky

ZAG Interactive is a full-service digital agency in Glastonbury, CT, offering website design, development, marketing and digital strategy to clients nationwide. See current job openings.
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