Every online marketer should have a basic understanding of UTM parameters as well as of URL parameters in general. If you see lots of direct or (other) traffic in your web analytics tool, you may try reducing this by managing UTM parameters of URLs you are using in your marketing campaigns.
Basics – how does tracking of website visitors source work at all?
The most important information which Google Analytics or just any other web analytics tool provides is where your visitors came to your website from. One way how those tools determine the traffic source is by using the referrer URL which is set by the visitor’s browser.
However, sometimes the referrer will be missing. For example, it will be missing if a user came via email client or clicked on a link in a document. So these visitors will appear as coming via Direct channel. Besides, referrer information cannot provide more detailed information about a particular marketing campaign or content.
To have more control over information on your traffic, UTM parameters are used.
What are UTM parameters exactly and should you bother about using them?
UTM parameters are just one type, even though the most common ones, of URL tracking parameters. URL parameters, also known as “query strings”, are just a small piece of text in an URL which can pass information about a click. For example, if you start a social media campaign, add UTM parameters to the links which you plan to share online. This way you can ensure that the clicks will be allocated to the actual campaign and not to just generic social media traffic.
Besides tracking, URL parameters can also be used to modify content so that, for example, a visitor could see a particular product on a page (functioning like a filter). A common example would be a display of search results on a website:
Marketers know URL parameters as a powerful tool for tracking traffic sources. This information can be then passed to your web analytics tool (for example, Google Analytics), including corresponding marketing campaign, source or content.
You can add UTM parameters manually to the link, but some platforms will also tag a link automatically (for example, all links in Google Ads will be automatically tagged with Google Click ID (GCLID) which will then can get decoded by Google to identify through which campaign, ad group or keyword a user came to a website.
Here is an example of URL with UTM parameters to track clicks from a weekly newsletter:
So we want to pass the information that if sb clicked on this URL and landed at our website, they did it via the weekly newsletter, in particular the one which came out in calendar week 13.
UTM Parameters Overview – what and how to track?
You can use following UTM parameters to collect more information about the clicks to your website:
- utm_source identifies the source of traffic such as twitter, facebook, google
- utm_medium identifies the medium of traffic such as email, social, cpc
- utm_campaign identifies the marketing campaign behind a click
- utm_term identifies the paid keyword for paid search keywords
- utm_content can identify the call to action or content of a click
The order of parameters does not matter. The question mark serves as a separator to indicate what are the URL parameters. If you are trying to track a lot of information for just one URL, it may make sense to shorten your URL with a tool such as bit.ly. Be aware, however, that some service providers or social media platforms may strip your link of its parameters and you will not be able to track as expected.
There are, of course, other URL parameters which you can encounter. For example, HubSpot will add some extra HSA parameters to your landing pages on Google or Facebook, such as campaign id or keyword.
Some best practices for managing your UTM parameters are:
- Consistency. You should keep up the same pattern when applying UTM parameters or naming your campaigns to avoid seeing a mess in your final reports. Keep in mind that UTM parameters are case sensitive. For example, “Newsletter” and “newsletter” may appear as different sources in your reports. If you have to work with a lot of URLs or you are working in a larger team, try using a spreadsheet template. You can also use our free Google Sheet template for managing UTM parameters.
- Attention to spaces and special characters. You should avoid using spaces in your UTM parameters as they are automatically replaced by percentage signs, which can mess with your report results. Try to use dashes or underscores instead. However, remember that you should be consistent with your decision. If you have a marketing campaign named Spring Collection and you use “spring_collection” or “spring-collection” at the same time, you will end up seeing it as two different campaigns in your reports.
- Redirects and UTM parameters. Do not use utm parameters for redirects as they will strip your URL off these parameters and you will lose the information.
A short remark on when not to use UTM parameters
Internal Links: you should not use UTM parameters for your internal links as it will “overwrite” the original source of traffic. You can look at the previous page path to learn more about how a visitor navigates on your website.
Natural Referrers: some websites will add links to your website on their own as they find your content very useful and relevant. You should not try to add any parameters to those links, for example, by contacting website owners. You will see this kind of traffic under Referral in Google Analytics which is a valuable source of information.
It is inevitable that you will not be able to collect detailed information on a part of your traffic. For example, if many people share links to your website on their own via private messages, it is impossible to add URL parameters there. You can try making some assumptions about your traffic to understand if this is the case for you. Does your direct traffic have many sessions starting on a particular page, like a blog article? People who would just type a website into their address bar are more likely to go to a homepage than to a particular article. So you can guess that a particular article is shared by people organically (or a marketing email went out without tracking in the URLs).
If you experience problems on a particular platform that your tracking parameters are getting striped, you can create a dedicated landing page just for that campaign and platform. Just be aware that you should not have duplicated content indexed by Google.
Finally, managing your parameters properly is a good investment into your future reports. Only by ensuring that you get good data in, you can rely upon the reports to make decisions for your business. Visit this page to learn how we can support you in Business Intelligence.
UTM parameters stand for Urchin Tracking Module parameters. Urchin was a web analytics company acquired by Google. Thus, the use of this word is a legacy and not a hidden reference to the marketers’ most desired food. URL parameters are the most common ones.
GCLID (Google Search Link ID) is a parameter added to links in Google ads which is used to identify the campaign, ad group and keyword associated with a particular click.
DCLID (DoubleClick Identifier) is a parameter added to links in Google Display ads which is used to identify the campaign, ad group and keyword associated with a particular click on a display ad.
FBCLID (Facebook click identifier) is a parameter added to links in Facebook ads which is used to identify the campaign, ad group and keyword associated with a particular click.
Tracking Template is available in Google Ads and allows you to customize tracking parameters according to your specific needs. You can see your tracking template under Account Settings:
But do not worry about the tracking template too much, unless you want to add some extra parameters (for example, HubSpot parameters). Google Ads will collect all information needed for its reporting automatically.