If you manage a website, you likely use Google Analytics. Most marketers and webmasters want to not only track what comes out of the box with Google Analytics, but also understand which marketing tactics work and which do not. Chances are that you have heard of UTM codes but many of us don’t entirely understand what they truly are and why they might be helpful in making sense of your marketing performance.
What are UTM codes?
For websites using Google Analytics, every visit is assigned a traffic source. This is typically reported with both a Source and a Medium. One example might be facebook/referral or google/organic, where the initial portion is the source and the latter is the medium. When running ads or hosting links through a third party, these traffic sources could show in a number of different ways, such as referrals from a third-party domain (xyz.com/referral). Traffic could also be defined as direct/none or Other, meaning that Google Analytics can’t find a suitable way to define the traffic source or can’t easily group the traffic with similar sources.
This can be confusing if you’re trying to track the success of paid ads or unique links from third party websites. If you’re placing banners through a third-party media buyer, how will you find that traffic in your Google Analytics? While you can trust the performance reporting that your media partner may provide, it’s more reliable to track that data right in your Google Analytics account.
Luckily, Google has a tool that lets you easily identify this traffic. Google’s Campaign URL Builder allows you to define the traffic source, medium and campaign of the session in Google Analytics using an approach called UTM codes (Urchin Tracking Module). This allows you to know where to find specific traffic in your reports determine the success of campaigns. And, it’s pretty easy to setup once you know what you are doing.
When Not to Use UTM Codes
While using UTM codes to track campaign performance is pretty awesome, there are circumstances where you should not take this tracking approach. It’s not smart to use UTM codes to track clicks from Google’s own paid search and display service (Google Ads). Instead, these online marketing services should be linked to your Google Analytics under your Admin settings. This will allow you to segment traffic based on the individual Google Ads campaign you’re running, as well as view metrics from the Google Ads platform within Google Analytics.
Additionally, you should not use UTM codes to track the performance of a marketing banner on your website, such as a homepage carousel. If a visitor arrives from organic search, then clicks a link on your website with a UTM code without leaving the site, their session will be associated with the UTM parameters and not organic search. This therefore defeats the purpose of tracking your source. Instead, the best way to track engagement with on-site banners or promotional spaces is through event tracking, which will track when a visitor clicked on a banner without removing their original traffic source.
Creating a UTM Tagged URL
Google’s Campaign URL Builder will generate a query string at the end of your destination URL called a UTM tag. When you initially access the URL builder, you will find a form with a number of boxes to fill out. While Website URL and Campaign Source are the only two boxes with the red ‘required’ asterisk, we also recommend filling out Campaign Medium and Campaign Name.
Website URL: This is the destination page that your links or banners will go to. This should be the final URL and not a redirect. In other words, avoid using vanity URLs and pages that point to another page.
Campaign Source: This should be the website or vendor that is hosting the banners or links. This could be the website URL (ex. xyz.com) or the name of a media company (ex. XYZ Publishing).
Campaign Medium: This should be something that further defines the nature of the incoming traffic. This could be something broad (banner) or very specific (ex. 728x90 news sponsorship banner). The more specific you are in this field, the more granularly you will be able to monitor different mediums.
Campaign Name: This is typically the promotion that is associated with the banners or links. The Campaign Name may be shared across multiple UTM tagged links that go to different media vendors, but since all are promoting the same thing (ex. Summer Auto Loans Promo), the name should allow you to uniquely separate this traffic from other campaigns or tactics.
After you have entered this information, you will find the generated campaign URL further down the page as illustrated in this example:
After using the form we go from the original landing page URL for tracking (http://www.example.com/LandingPage) to http://www.example.com/LandingPage?utm_source=Vendor_XYZ&utm_medium=Banners&utm_campaign=Summer_Promotion
The difference you can see is all of that UTM code, but the code is the magic that tells Google Analytics how to separate this traffic from the rest. Once you have this code, the generated URL should be used as the destination link when setting up your campaigns, or provided to your media vendor running banners or hosting links. Remember: the entire campaign URL including the UTM query string should be used as the destination URL so Google Analytics can recognize the Source, Medium and Campaign.
Where to Find UTM Traffic in Google Analytics
Once you’ve run a campaign which includes a UTM-tagged link, you’ll want to see how it’s performing. The results of a campaign-tagged URL can be found under the Acquisition menu in the left-hand navigation of Google Analytics.
Source/Medium will display all traffic including the variables you provided in the Campaign URL Builder
Campaigns will show metrics based on the Campaign provided above. If you have multiple Source/Mediums under an umbrella Campaign, this is where you can look at all campaign data in one place.
If you cannot find your Source/Medium or Campaign, there is a search bar at the top of the screen that will display traffic sources that match your search term.
You can also click advanced on the toolbar and update the table to include or exclude certain parameters.
On any report in Google Analytics you also have the option to define a Secondary Dimension (button below Primary Dimension, above the reporting table). This allows you to apply a second level of detail to a report such as Mobile Device, Geography, Exit Page, or User Type to your Source/Medium or Campaign report.
If the resulting table shows rows of information unrelated to your Campaign, you can use the advanced option on the toolbar to filter what data is shown.
Now that you understand the role of UTM codes in your analytics reporting, you should begin to identify when during your planning process you utilize these before launching campaigns. And importantly, now that you have the data waiting for you in Google Analytics, be sure to check it often to closely monitor what is working so that you can invest in your marketing wisely. If you need help in understanding custom analytics tracking or reporting, or just want to geek out with one of our analytics gurus, get in touch.