What are UTM Parameters?

UTM (Urchin Tracking Module) parameters are snippets of text added to the end of a URL to track the effectiveness of online marketing campaigns across traffic sources.

They help in identifying how visitors arrive at a website, providing valuable data on campaign performance and return on investment.

UTM parameter examples

Here is a list of the standard UTM parameters and their uses:

utm_source: Identifies the source of the traffic. This could be the name of the search engine, a newsletter name, or a social media platform (e.g., utm_source=google).

utm_medium: Specifies the medium used to reach the audience, such as email, CPC (cost per click), social, affiliate, or display (e.g., utm_medium=cpc).

utm_campaign: Names the specific marketing campaign or promotion. It allows marketers to track the performance of a particular campaign across various platforms (e.g., utm_campaign=bogo).

utm_term: Used primarily for paid search campaigns to identify the keywords for which the ad was shown. This helps in understanding which keywords are most effective in driving traffic (e.g., utm_term=yoga+shorts).

utm_content: Helps differentiate ads or links that point to the same URL but are presented differently, such as text link vs. banner, or links in different locations on a page. This is particularly useful for A/B testing and content-targeted ads (e.g., utm_content=sidebar_textlink).

Note that utm_source and utm_medium are the only parameters that are considered a requirement since they're essential for understanding traffic origins.

Optional parameters (campaign, term, and content) provide more granular details for deeper analytics but aren't necessary for all campaigns.

Putting it all together, here's an example of what a URL might look like with UTM parameters attached.

https://google.com/?utm_source=google&utm_medium=cpc?utm_campaign=bogo&utm_term=yogo+shorts

UTM parameter best practices

UTM parameters can be extremely effective for tracking campaign performance. However, if not used properly, they can mess up internal reporting and do more harm than good.

When setting up UTM parameters, here are some best practices to keep in mind.

  1. Be consistent: Use a consistent, clear, and descriptive naming convention for all your UTM parameters. This helps avoid confusion and ensures you can easily understand and segment your data in analytics reports.
  2. User lowercase: To maintain consistency and avoid discrepancies due to case sensitivity in analytics platforms, always use lowercase letters for your UTM parameters.
  3. Use underscores instead of spaces: This ensures URLs remain clean and readable, as spaces are encoded into %20, making URLs appear cluttered. This practice also promotes consistency and accuracy in analytics tracking, minimizing the risk of parsing errors and improving data segmentation.
  4. Use UTM source and medium effectively: Always include these required parameters to identify the traffic source and medium. This basic information is crucial for understanding the origin and nature of your traffic.
  5. Use optional parameters selectively: Reserve utm_campaign, utm_term and utm_content for specific cases where you need to track campaign/keyword performance or differentiate between content variations.
  6. Don't use UTMs for internal links: Using UTM parameters for internal links on your website can skew your analytics data by initiating new sessions each time a user clicks on an internal link with UTM parameters. This will misrepresent user behavior and distort key metrics like bounce rate and session duration.
  7. Use shot and descriptive values: Keep the values you assign to UTM parameters short but descriptive enough to understand the source, medium, and campaign at a glance. Avoid overly lengthy or vague terms.
  8. Avoid sensitive information: Never include private, confidential, or sensitive information in UTM parameters, as these URLs can be easily shared or accessed by unintended parties.
  9. Document your UTM strategy: Keep a record of the UTM parameters you've used in a centralized document. This helps ensure consistency across your team and will make it easier to analyze long-term trends.

How to add UTM parameters to a URL

Adding UTM parameters to a URL can be done manually or using a UTM builder tool.

Manually

To add UTM parameters manually, append a question mark (?) to the end of the URL, followed by the UTM parameters and their values. Each parameter-value pair is formatted as parameter=value and separated from others by an ampersand (&).

For example:

https://google.com/?utm_source=google&utm_medium=cpc&utm_campaign=newsletter_signup

Using a UTM builder

A UTM builder, such as Google's Campaign URL Builder, simplifies this process by providing fields for each parameter. Once you fill in the desired values, the tool automatically generates the full URL with the UTM parameters attached.

Both methods achieve the same result, but using a UTM builder offers added convenience and accuracy, making it a preferred option for many marketers.