Yousif Abood
Yousif Abood

Understanding the basics of UTM parameters

A practical guide to utm parameters and how to use them effectively for your social media and digital marketing campaigns.
Understanding the basics of UTM parameters

If you’ve spent any amount of time in the marketing industry, you’ve probably heard of UTM parameters. Marketers swear by them, and with good reason – but what exactly are they?

“TM” stands for “tracking module,” and you might think that the “U” stands for “universal.” In fact, the full acronym stands for “Urchin Tracking Module,” with Urchin being the name of an analytical company that Google acquired back in 2005. It was the acquisition of Urchin that eventually led to the creation of Google Analytics.

What are UTM parameters?

UTM parameters are essentially little tags that can be added to the end of a URL to gather more information on the way that people are accessing and using your website. When you combine UTM parameters with Google Analytics, Kissmetrics, and other analytical tools, you can find out much more about your marketing campaigns.

For example, you could see that visitors clicked on a link from an email newsletter that went out in November 2021 to promote your Black Friday sale. You could then look specifically at what these visitors did, such as whether they went on to make a purchase or whether they redeemed one of your discount codes.

Of course, as with most good things, there’s also a downside, which in this case is that they make your links longer and much less aesthetically pleasing. That’s why a lot of marketers combine links using UTM parameters with URL shorteners.

If you were creating a link with UTM parameters to track email traffic from your flash sale campaign and were sending out three different emails, you might end up with a link that looked a little something like this:

You’re probably starting to see why it can be a good idea to run those links through a URL shortener. The good news is that most people don’t actually look at the address bar after they’ve clicked on a link, and so the average browser doesn’t even notice. Now that you know to look out for them though, you’ll see them everywhere.

Why use UTM parameters

There are a lot of great reasons to use UTM parameters. Let’s say that you’re running a Christmas campaign, and it’s generating a good amount of revenue, but you want to see which social media channels are sending you the best customers, or you want to compare email marketing versus pay-per-click.

UTM parameters help you track the performance of individual marketing programs, campaigns, and channels, providing precise data on conversions and conversion rates. It makes your reporting much more accurate. You can even start calculating the exact amount of money it will cost you to acquire a new customer.

At a more granular level, UTM parameters can help you see success on a post-by-post or ad-by-ad basis. You can run A/B tests, track influencer marketing campaigns by providing tailored links to each influencer and ultimately get a much better idea of what’s going on across your marketing channels.

UTM parameters list

When you’re using UTM parameters, there are three values that are required: source, medium, and campaign. Let’s take a look at those first.

utm_source is designed to help you understand where your traffic is coming from, such as a banner ad or a social media post. For example:

  • utm_source=facebook for social posts and advertisements on Facebook.
  • utm_source=signature for links in email signatures.
  • utm_source=gdn for links in display advertisements on Google’s display network.

utm_medium is the broadest and is used to categorize the communication medium that’s being used. For example:

  • utm_medium=social for all social networking traffic.
  • utm_medium=email for all email traffic.
  • utm_medium=cpc for all cost-per-click advertisements.

utm_campaign refers to the specific campaign that’s being run and will change the most often of the three required parameters. For example:

  • utm_campaign=winterclothes for all activities promoting your winter clothes.
  • utm_campaign=blackfriday for all activities promoting your Black Friday sale.
  • utm_campaign=onboarding for all onboarding activities for new customers.

Even though the parameters below are optional, it’s still a good idea to use them because it will help provide you with some additional info on how people are using your website and interacting with your content.

utm_term is designed to help you understand which keywords attract your visitors. Most people use this parameter to track the keywords they’re paying for in their Google ads, but you can also use it to tag keywords in your calls-to-action. For example:

  • utm_term=metallica_tshirt to tag paid search campaigns for Metallica t-shirts.
  • utm_term=download to tag calls-to-action pushing people to download some content.

utm_content is designed to provide further context on the content you’re linking to, but it can also be used to track any other information. It’s often used for A/B testing or differentiating between buttons and images.

  • utm_content=variant_one to tag the first variant in one of your A/B tests.
  • utm_content=button to tag a link that is attached to a button.

Tips for using UTM parameters

There’s an art and a science to using UTM parameters, and perhaps the most important thing is to make sure that they’re consistent. This is easy enough to do if you’re the only member of your team that’s using them, but if it’s a department-wide effort, then you’ll want to make sure that you’ve created a set of guidelines.

The goal here is to make sure that the data you receive is as easy to read and understand as possible, which is why consistency is key. If one person uses “email” and one uses “email marketing,” the data will be split into two different categories. UTMs are case sensitive too, so consider always using lower case to avoid that being a problem.

You should also avoid using UTM tags on internal links across your website because that can mess with your tracking and cause more problems than it solves. And while we’re on the subject of problems, be sure to check your analytics regularly to spot any inconsistent or mistyped UTM codes so that you can fix them before they throw all of your reports out.

Of course, if you’re struggling to wrap your head around UTM parameters, help is available. There’s no shortage of tools out there designed to help you create links that use UTM parameters, including one from Google.

SocialWeaver has got you covered, too. If you use our platform to manage your social media marketing campaigns, you can take advantage of our URL builder. It allows you to add UTM tracking to any links that you share from within the composer, and it integrates with Bitly so that you can shorten the links before publishing.

So if you haven’t already, why not give SocialWeaver a try? No credit card needed to get started.

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