January 26 2021

UTM Codes: How to Build Custom URLs For Better Tracking

UTM TrackingWith so many different marketing channels driving traffic to your website, it can be hard to keep track of all your user data. It’s important to determine where those users are coming from so you know which tactics are most effective. So what’s the best way to do this? Sure, you could log into your email marketing platform to see how many contacts clicked on your call to action (CTA), then go to Facebook Business Manager to evaluate your social traffic, then check your Google Ads account for your paid search performance, and so on and so forth. But wouldn’t it be easier to view all this information in one place, where you can also see what users are doing after they get to your site?

This is where analytics comes into play. If you are using Google Analytics and appending UTM codes to your URLs, you can get a powerful picture of where your traffic is coming from and how your website visitors are behaving. Whether this is something you do in-house or use an agency to help with, marketers need to understand what UTM codes are and how they work.

What Are UTM Codes?

UTM tracking codes are bits of code appended to the end of your URL that tell you specific information about how a visitor arrived on your site. When a user clicks any of your links with UTM codes, this information is then sent directly to Google Analytics. You may have seen a UTM link before when clicking on a link in an email or on a social post. A UTM tracking may look something like this

These links are longer than a typical link because of the tracking information that is added. In short, UTM tracking is used to determine where exactly your external traffic comes from.

UTM Parameters Broken Down

Parameters that make up a UTM code include source, medium, campaign, term and content. So what exactly are these parameters and what do they mean?

  • Source is typically the name of the particular platform that a visitor used to access your website. For example, if your UTM code is used in a social media campaign, the source might be Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, etc.

  • Medium indicates the general type or category of traffic, such as email marketing (email), paid advertising (CPC), social media marketing (social), etc.

  • Campaign indicates the specific ad or promotion with which the UTM code is associated. If you are running a paid search campaign focused on promoting auto loans, for example, your campaign name might be “auto-loans.”

  • Content is used less often than the first three parameters. Content is used to distinguish UTM links pointing to the same URL. For example, let’s say you had one of your mortgage emails pointing to your website’s homepage in the header, but also in a call-to-action button. You may want to use this parameter to distinguish “header” click from “CTA button” so you know specifically which touchpoint drove the click.

  • Term is a parameter most commonly used for paid search ads. It indicates which search term a user came from.

Where to Start

Now that you know the ins and outs of UTM tracking, how do you actually generate a UTM code? You can manually create your UTM link, but there are many great generator tools on the web to use instead.

Google URL Campaign Builder Tool

Let’s say you are a financial institution that is running a campaign to promote your personal checking account. You are promoting this initiative via paid search, email and paid Facebook campaigns. You have created a new landing page where you want to drive visitors to learn more and open an account.

  1. Let’s start with your Facebook links first. Where are you driving visitors on your website? https://www.xyzbank.com/checking. Input this link into “Website URL.”

  2. Next is Source. You are only running ads on Facebook and not any other platform like Twitter or LinkedIn. Input “facebook” into “Campaign Source.”

  3. Because you are running paid Facebook ads, the “Campaign Medium” is going to be “social.” If you are looking to distinguish paid social and organic social, you can make your medium “paidsocial.” However, if you do this, you will need to pay attention to Google’s default channel grouping. Because “paidsocial” is not part of the default channel grouping, you can add it in your Google Analytics account. This will ensure that your paid social traffic will still fall under the “Social” channel instead of “Other.” For the sake of simplicity, let’s say you are not looking to distinguish paid and organic search at this time.

  4.  “Campaign Name” can be anything, but should be simple and related to the overall topic of your promotion. Do not overthink this! Input “checking-account” as the “Campaign Name” in this example.

Now that we have…

  • URL: https://www.xyzbank.com/checking

  • Source: facebook

  • Medium: social

  • Campaign Name: checking-account

  • Content: checking

Our UTM link should look like this: https://www.xyzbank.com/checking?utm_source=social&utm_medium=facebook&utm_campaign=checking-account&utm_content=checking

Once a user clicks this link, you will be able to see that the visitor came from your Checking Account Campaign on Facebook and clicked the first tile of the carousel. If you filter by any of these criteria in Google Analytics—visitors from social media, visitors from Facebook, visitors from your checking campaign, etc.—this traffic will be displayed.

UTM Best Practices

There are various ways to setup UTM tracking links, but there are some best practices to keep in mind. Make sure you are only adding UTM codes to traffic coming from your marketing campaigns. UTM tracking is meant to track inbound traffic from external sources. Using UTM tracking on internal links will lead to incorrect data.
Another best practice is to, at the very least, fill in the source, medium and campaign when creating your links. These are crucial in determining where your traffic is coming from. The more detailed information you can provide, the better.

Lastly, a best practice is to have internal documentation on UTM standards for your company/institution. Because there are various ways to track your links, this can lead to inconsistencies among your team. Those inconsistencies can cause your data to be spread across multiple places in Google Analytics. Remember, UTM codes are meant to make viewing your website visitor data easier. It is important for you to understand your codes and where to view the data, but it is also important for others to understand your codes and know where to view the data.

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

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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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