Do you know the Google UTM parameters? Although the marketers who dominate them are still few, these codes are the key to correctly attributing the traffic to your website once and for all.
With UTM parameters, you will be able to know exactly where your visitors are coming from and accurately measure the results of each campaign. But to apply them to our marketing, we first need to know how Google’s traffic sources are recognized. In this guide, we tell you all the details so that you too can take advantage of the power of the UTM.
How traffic is attributed in Google Analytics: HTTP Referrer and UTM Parameters
To know which marketing actions are being effective and which are not, marketers have to be able to attribute conversions to the correct source.
This is especially important considering that a single conversion may require different touchpoints and devices. If we cannot clearly identify the traffic sources that contribute to each action, we will not be able to calculate the cost per acquisition or the return on advertising investment of the different channels.
Google Analytics divides all traffic to a website into sessions (formerly known as visits). A session in Google Analytics is defined as a set of interactions that take place on a website in a certain period. A single session can contain multiple page views, events, social interactions, and e-commerce transactions.
Google identifies a single source of traffic for each session using two resources: HTTP Referrers and UTM parameters.
When a user clicks on a link to navigate from page A (source) to page B (destination), the browser sends the source URL to the destination page through the browser in a field called “HTTP Referrer”. This field can be read by any script run on the landing page.
Google Analytics uses the HTTP Referrer to understand which page sent the user to log in, and identifies the origin page as the source of traffic. But there are quite a few cases where we cannot access this parameter, for example:
- If the user has gone from a secure page (HTTPS) to a non-secure page (HTTP).
- If the user comes from a link that does not pass the HTTP Referrer, for example, links in PDF documents, emails, mobile applications, or instant messages.
- If the user has entered the address of the page directly or has accessed it from their favorites.
- If the user has scanned a QR code.
As we have just seen, the HTTP Referrer is not always available, which prevents us from knowing where a good part of our traffic comes from. In addition, the information you provide us is limited.
And to solve this, we have the UTM parameters.
The UTM parameters (“Urchin Tracking Modules”, after the company that invented them) are 5 parameters that we can add to the links that lead to our website :
- utm_source: the site that is sending the traffic
- utm_medium: the channel, for example, email or CPC
- utm_campaign: the promotion that generated the session
- utm_term: the search term used by the user or the specific element within a channel
- utm_content: the specific content that has led the user to our website
In this way, we can identify a much higher percentage of our traffic and with much more precision. Note that if a link has UTM parameters, Google will ignore the HTTP Referrer.
Best practices for each UTM parameter
The value of utm_source should be the name of the platform or tool used, for example, Facebook, YouTube, or MailChimp. Both utm_source and utm_medium must be included so that Google can register the source of traffic.
Here it is interesting to stop and think about how we are going to report the traffic from email marketing. In Google documentation, it is recommended to include the name of the specific mailing list or newsletter, rather than the email service provider.
This approach makes sense for analyzing the results of different email campaigns, but it can be very impractical, as a lot of different email sources will end up in the results, and you won’t be able to aggregate the results well.
Therefore, the recommendation is that the utm_source is always the automation tool that we are using (for example, Active Campaign) and that the mailing list or the newsletter go in utm_medium.
The utm_medium value identifies the general channel through which a user reaches your website, for example, email, search engine advertising, or social networks.
A single channel can have multiple different sources. For example, within the email channel, we can have different automation tools or even e-commerce platforms that send transactional emails to customers.
For the information to be as ordered as possible, it is recommended to always configure the utm_medium following the standard grouping of Google channels:
- organic: unpaid traffic from search engines. You cannot add UTM parameters to links in search engines, but Google Analytics automatically detects the traffic of the main search engines through the HTTP Referrer.
- CPC – Paid traffic from ads using a cost-per-click model. This is the channel used by default for Google Ads campaigns.
- PPC – Paid traffic where the advertiser pays for each click on the link.
- CPM: display and banner campaigns with a payment model based on cost per thousand.
- display: display campaigns and banners.
- social: traffic coming from social media platforms.
- referral: traffic coming from websites that are neither a search engine nor a social media platform.
- affiliate: traffic from affiliate marketing.
- email: traffic from email marketing campaigns.
- (none) : when there are no UTM parameters or Google Analytics cannot find the traffic source.
A couple of things to keep in mind:
- Many tools have built-in functionality to add UTMs to all the links they generate. Sometimes these UTMs are different than the list we have shown above, so if possible, customize them so that all the information is well grouped.
- Bear in mind that the same source (source) can give rise to different channels (mediums). For example, Facebook can send traffic through “referral” (when someone shares a link on your wall), “CPC” (Facebook Ads), or “social” (when someone clicks on a post on your page).
Although this parameter called utm_campaign is not mandatory as in the case of the previous two, it is still highly recommended to be able to measure the effectiveness of your marketing actions individually.
The most important thing to use this parameter well is that the nomenclature is clear and consistent. It is recommended to use a value that identifies either the promoted product, category or event, or the objective of the promotion.
For example, let’s imagine that we have an e-commerce for sports products and that we launch specific campaigns for certain dates: Christmas, Black Friday, Father’s Day … Each campaign has Facebook Ads, Google Ads, and emails.
In this case, we would use a different UTM parameter for each campaign, for example, black-Friday, regardless of the channel. In this way, we can compare the campaigns with each other on a global level. And if we want to delve into the data of each campaign, we can enter it to see the information separated by channels.
Of course, if we take this approach, the same campaign can span different sources and channels.
The utm_term can seem a bit fuzzy, as its content depends on the source and the channel. When you assign a value to this channel, think about what will help you the most to identify the specific element within the promotion or marketing activity.
For example, you can use utm_term for an email, an advertisement, a post on social networks, the title of an article on your blog, a search term … These are the recommendations based on the combination of “source” and ” medium”:
- Google / CPC: the search keyword
- Facebook / CPC: the title of the ad
- Twitter / social: the text of the tweet
- active campaign/email: the subject of the email
- Facebook / social: the title of the post
- youtube / social: the video title
- website.com/referral: the title of the blog post
- Instagram / social: the title of the Story
The utm_content parameter is used to differentiate similar content, links within an advertisement or a blog article, call-to-action buttons within an email, or variants of an A / B test.
This parameter is totally optional, but it is very useful to expand the information available within Google Analytics. Here are some ideas to use it:
- In email marketing: use the utm_content to distinguish the list to which an email was sent, the variant in an A / B test, the specific link within an email, or the date the campaign was sent.
- In Facebook Ads: use it to identify the audience of the ads, the type, and format of the ad, or the phase of the conversion funnel.
- In YouTube videos: use the utm_content to identify the clicked link (on a card, in the description …), the category of the video, the duration of the author.
- In blog articles: rank traffic sources based on the category or author of the article or the specific link that the user has clicked.
UTM parameter tools
As you can see, properly managing UTM parameters can get quite complex. But luckily, there are several specialized tools for UTM parameters to save time and avoid human error. To start, sign up for these three:
Google URL Builder: a free tool from Google to add UTM parameters to our URLs.
UTM.io – Web-based tool for creating, sharing, and syncing UTM parameters.
Terminus: another web tool that helps you manage the nomenclature of your UTM parameters.
Tips and tricks to make the most of UTMs
Send multiple values via utm_content
utm_source, utm_medium, utm_campaign, and utm_term have limitations to the information you can send with them, but you can take advantage of the utm_content parameter to send the rest of the data you need to know about a click.
To send multiple values through a single UTM attribute, it is recommended to use this format:
key1 – value-01_key2 – value-02
In this case, “key” would be the type of information to send and “value” its value.
Don’t use UTM parameters in internal links
Never use UTM in the internal links of your website, because if you do, the current session of the user will end and the new session will be attributed to the internal link. Therefore, you will not be able to attribute the user’s actions to the external traffic source.
Don’t include sensitive information in UTM parameters
UTM parameters are visible in the URL, so users’ personal information (name, email address, phone number …) should never be put there. Additionally, collecting personal information is prohibited in the Google Analytics terms of service.
Use shortened links
Links to UTM parameters can become very long, so before sharing it is better to pass them through a link shortener like bit.ly.
Hide UTM parameters from users
Even if you use a shortened link, the user will be redirected to the destination URL, which includes the UTM parameters. You can fix this with Wistia’s Fresh URL tool, which hides the UTM parameters from the browser’s address bar once they have been recorded by Google Analytics.
Get organized from the start
As you have seen throughout this article, UTM parameters can provide us with a lot of information, but if they are not well classified and labeled, the result can be chaos. That is why my recommendation is that you do not get carried away by the rush and, before implementing them, decide on nomenclature and train your entire team to use it consistently.
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