How to Correctly Use UTMs in URLs to Track the Source, Medium, Campaign, Content, and More

Sean Lund-Brown

Lead and traffic tracking are essential parts of business analytics in the online world. However, like anything, if you’re not doing it right, you could be making a lot of critical errors that are costing you a small fortune. URL tracking hasn’t changed much over the years, with the exception of advancements that have made things better, easier, and more effective. Keeping up with the changes isn’t difficult, but you do have to keep up.

In this guide, we’ll take a closer look at what UTMs are and how you can use them to better track your sources, mediums, content, campaigns, and other stats to ensure that you’ve got the most informed data insights to help you measure your success and course correct in real-time for minimal impact on your business or your bottom line. 

Do you know which online marketing campaigns are driving maximum traffic? Perhaps more importantly, do you know which campaigns aren’t working, or worse, maybe even working against you? That's where you can use UTM parameters to your advantage. 

What are UTMs?

UTM stands for Urchin Tracking Module. It is a code that is used to generate the information about where the campaign came from and more. The UTM parameters are found at the end of a URL and can track various aspects of your marketing campaigns. In print, it looks like this:

https://www.website.com/rug-help-guide?utm_source=google&utm_medium=display&utm_campaign=spring-release&utm_term=rugs&utm_content=help-guide

Starting with the question mark, you’ll see the UTM parameters listed to track the campaign content:

  • Source
  • Medium
  • Campaign
  • Term
  • Content

This was created long before Google Analytics, and for some, it is the original way to keep track of all of their marketing campaigns. In fact, UTM comes from Urchin Software, an online analytics company that actually started pulling stats from campaigns in less than 30 minutes for days’ worth of traffic—of course people were interested. 

By 2002, Urchin had rolled out the UTM feature to the general public, allowing everyone to pull traditional information, custom reports, and more tracking details. Of course, this company was creating tools that were exposing a lot of highly sensitive analytics and tracking information so it wouldn’t have complied with guidelines and Google didn’t even want to touch it at first. 

Eventually, Google did buy Urchin, and the tools were absorbed and rebranded into the Google Analytics platform. Today, UTM tracking is one of the most valuable tools people have for monitoring their marketing campaigns. With the integration of Google Analytics, it’s easier than ever to generate these codes and the URLs that go with them to ensure proper tracking. 

The parameters

In UTM tracking, there are five main parameters being used that you can define and track. The first three are required by Google, while the last two are optional choices for paid campaigns and other tracking needs. 

Source

This is the source of the traffic or where the link was generated. For example, you might be sourcing the link from a search engine (utm_source=google) or from a social network (utm_source=facebook), newsletter, forum, or other page. Whatever is driving the traffic is what you want to track here. Source tracking allows you to see where traffic is coming from, and which sources are most effective in your marketing campaigns. 

Medium

The medium refers to the channel that is driving the traffic to the website. This could be one of several forms: organic search, social, paid social, email marketing, and so forth. In the UTM tracking, it will typically by listed as something like:

  • utm_medium=paid_social
  • utm_medium=cpc
  • utm_medium=email

Campaign

This is the name of the campaign, and brings us to an important tip: name your campaigns something short and sweet for easy tracking. This could be a product name, a seasonal reference (spring fling), a contest name, etc. You’ll want to make sure that you use this to differentiate your campaigns so that you can track them seamlessly and don’t credit the wrong campaigns with success. 

Term

This parameter is specifically for paid campaigns or organic campaigns where you are trying to track specific keywords or phrases that are helping you get paid. For example, if you’re marketing for the keyword “ohio IT services”, your UTM would look like: 

utm_term=ohio_it_services

Most marketers don’t use this parameter for unpaid campaigns, but it can be used if you really want to home in on your keyword targeting and SEO marketing, whether the campaigns are paid or not. Just remember to track the exact keyword for accurate results. 

Content

This is the UTM parameter that allows you to track the campaign’s various ads and touchpoints, such as videos, banner ads, and even blogs posted to assist with SEO and keyword marketing. You'll be able to use codes like: video_ad, scrolling_banner, email_banner, text_ad, and so forth. In the code, it would look like:

utm_content=text_ad

Once you have all of the parameters defined, they will be added all together, as shown in the example in the beginning with the full URL that includes UTM codes. And don’t worry—it's not a manual job. You can use a UTM builder to help generate the perfect UTM codes to attach to all of your links without errors or hassle. Google Analytics, Hootsuite, and other platforms have UTM generators that can help you here. 

UTM tracking tips and insights

Now that you know more about UTM codes and how they work, let’s talk about how you can actually put them to work for your marketing needs. Although there are a lot of opinions out there on what’s best, here are the most valuable tips that you’ll want to keep in mind when setting up your own UTM campaigns.

Measure social media ROI

When you use UTM parameters to social media links, you’ll be able to put a price on your social media efforts—literally. You can use this data to show people where leads are coming from, referral traffic, and conversion rates from social. You can also calculate the costs needed for lead acquisition and customer conversion via social, helping you calculate just how big of a return you can get from social media marketing. Plus, you can even break it down and measure it on a post-by-post basis to see which types of posts are most profitable. 

Test and refine with UTM codes

UTM tracking also allows you the opportunity to clearly examine which marketing strategies and campaigns are working most effectively. It will help you see if certain terms or types of ads work better in one market or on a particular channel, and even see which ones offer the most conversions. It can even help you see which campaigns are outright failing, and why. 

This will help you set realistic goals and even do some A/B testing to figure out what’s best for your audience and your marketing efforts. You might assume one thing, but through your UTM tracking realize that it’s actually an entirely different situation. For example, a lot of people think video posts perform better on social media than any other format. However, if you’ve got an audience that isn’t a fan of online videos or an industry where that’s not relevant or useful, you’ll want to find a better campaign solution. 

UTM tracking is for landing pages

You shouldn’t use UTM codes on internal links and deep website pages. Although you can, you shouldn’t. It not only doesn’t help your efforts, but it can actually create errors in tracking and confuse Google Analytics—two things you want to avoid. Stick to using UTM tracking on your main website page or landing pages for the best results. 

You can use UTMs for influencer marketing 

Influencer marketing is a relatively new concept, and one that several brands are embracing wholeheartedly. Of course, if you want to make the most of your success with influencer marketing, you can add the UTM code to make sure that you know which ones are the best connections. That will make it easy for you to focus on the long-term relationships that are going to help your brand the most. 

Choose a naming convention (and stick with it)

When you are dealing with tagging UTM codes, you need a simple, effective way to name all of your tracking parameters. Having a single system in place will ensure that you have consistent names to gather consistent, accurate data. Not only that, but it will ensure that everyone can keep up with the campaigns, even if you’ve got multiple people working on them. 

If you’re using different names or just letting anyone set their own UTM codes, you’re never going to be able to streamline and manage your campaigns effectively. It’s helpful if you create a general UTM style guide that everyone can follow so that you can keep everyone on the same page. It might also be a good idea to limit the administrative features of UTM tracking to one or two key players in the department. 

As a bonus, here are some tips to help with naming conventions:

  • Lowercase Letters: UTM codes are case-sensitive. You need to stick to a uniform format if you are going to track the right data and avoid confusion or ineffective tracking. Use lowercase letters to make it simple. 
  • Underscores: You can’t have spaces in URLs. If you leave a space, it will render as “%20”, which is confusing and can mess up your UTM tracking. Even the difference between the dash (utm-tracking) and the underscore (utm_tracking) will generate different results because they are tracked separately. Stick with underscores, again, for the sake of uniformity and accurate tracking. 
  • Keep it Simple: There’s no need to overcomplicate things. After all, you’re trying to track things and you need to make sure that you don’t confuse the AI that’s doing all the calculating. Not only that, but you don’t need to confuse your human team when they are trying to keep up with marketing stats and the tracking codes are a mess. 

You can use UTMs for all campaigns

There are so many different types of marketing campaigns, which is part of the reason that UTM tracking was designed in the first place. People wanted to make sure that you could track everything with ease, and thanks to modern UTM tools, you can do that and it’s easier than ever before. You can track things like:

  • Newsletter Links
  • Email Marketing
  • Website Banners
  • Social Media Posts
  • QR Codes
  • Printed Ads (That’s right, with a URL shortener, you can redirect to a UTM coded URL to advertise on billboards, in print, and elsewhere!)

Be careful when copying and pasting

It’s important to keep an eye on your copy/paste habits. It's really easy for people to go into autopilot mode here, and you can’t afford to do that. Make sure that you don’t include any irrelevant UTM codes in your link posting, such as in the case of sites like Instagram that include their own UTM source in their link copy. (https://www.instagram.com/p/CNXyPIXj3AG/?utm_source=ig_web_copy_link) 

In order for you to avoid conflict or confusion with your own UTM source code, you’d need to remove the phrase “ig_web_copy_link” so that your own source is recognized. This doesn’t happen a lot, but if you get in the habit of keeping an eye for those three letters—UTM—in URLs, you’ll make sure that your copy/paste efforts are flawless. 

UTM codes are your key to metrics: use them well

When it comes to tracking your marketing campaigns, UTM codes are a great tool to have on your side. Of course, you have to make sure that you’re using them properly in order to get the most out of your metrics and your campaigns, no matter where you are advertising or what kind of campaigns you run. 

Speaking of getting the most out of things, consider getting more free time to spend on your business by enlisting the help of the virtual receptionists at Smith.ai. We can handle things like lead intake, which you may need help with once your UTM tracking starts generating more traffic for your website. Plus, we can even help with 24/7 live chat and phone answering services, and plenty of other administrative tasks so that you can focus on the areas of business that need your attention. 

Schedule your consultation now to learn more about how we can help, or reach out to us at hello@smith.ai or (650) 727-6484.

Sean Lund-Brown

Sean Lund-Brown is a current Marketing Assistant for Smith.ai. A graduate from Metropolitan State University of Denver, Sean graduated with a BA in Music and an individualized degree in Teaching Vocal Pedagogy.

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