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4 Ways You’re Using UTM Tags Wrong

The only way for us marketers to run more successful campaigns is to track what works and what doesn’t. Without proper tracking in place, we’re basically driving with our hands over our eyes, hoping it’ll all work out.

blindtest-650
Yeah, not the brightest idea. Image source.

One of the ways that marketers track the success of their campaigns is with UTM tags, which allow you to append a unique string to your URL so you can track the traffic that a particular source sends to your page.

They make your links look a little something like this:

http://example.com/?utm_source=google&utm_medium=search&utm_campaign=campaign_1

Sounds pretty basic, right? Well it is, for the most part.

Except for when you’re using your UTM tags incorrectly or — even worse — not at all. When this happens, you can’t track traffic from each referral source and most importantly, you can’t keep tabs on what’s working and what’s not.

Which means you’re not likely to improve your campaigns and conversion rates.

But before we go into what not to do with your UTM codes, let’s start off with the basics of what you should be doing.

How to create a UTM tag

You can build UTM tags through Google’s free URL builder.

It’s a super simple form that’s easy to fill in once you’ve got a landing page URL and some basic information about your campaign.

create-a-utm-tag

All you need to do is:

  • Paste your campaign landing page URL under “Website URL.”
  • Choose a source. This is the referral origin, which is typically the site, platform or search engine people are coming from (for example: Google, Twitter, blog, etc).
  • Choose a medium. This is the generator of the traffic, such as a particular ad, image or piece of content (for example: cost-per-click, email, social, banner, etc).
  • Choose a name. This name is for your own internal tracking purposes and so each campaign has a unique identifier (for example: promo code, product launch, sale, etc).

“Campaign Term” and “Campaign Content” are optional fields which allow you to include additional information (read about how to use those here).

Once you plug in this information, Google will generate your UTM link and you can copy/paste it for use in your emails, blog posts, social and any other method of distribution you’re using to spread the word about your campaign.

UTM_example
An example UTM code which shows how Website URL, Campaign Source, Campaign Medium, and Campaign Name appear.

Alternatively, you can use this free UTM builder than can be installed directly in Chrome, which saves you at least one step when you’re building out UTM tags.

utm-builder-chrome-extension

Okay, now that you know what to do, let’s jump into what not to do – here are four common ways people fail at using UTM codes.

1. Not keeping tabs on the performance of each distribution channel

When you run a marketing campaign, you’re likely going to promote it through multiple channels: paid advertising, email, social media, your blog and whatever else you can dream up.

Let’s say you’re launching a new feature and you want to promote a landing page that flaunts it. You might want to send a blast out to your email list, social channels, and maybe even guest post on someone else’s blog to spread the word to a different audience.

If you neglect to append a unique UTM on the link you’re placing on each channel, then how will you know which channel is driving traffic to your post?

The answer is you won’t.

And you’ll likely miss out on some key insights down the road, such as which source of traffic and which campaign is sending the most qualified leads to your page.

For every channel, be sure that you’re keeping tabs on each referral source for every campaign. And use unique naming conventions so that you don’t get any wires crossed.

2. Neglecting to use link shorteners

Getting specific with the data you track is great, but there are things you have to watch out for. When you append a UTM tag to a URL, that URL becomes really long and bulky. Like this one, for example:

http://effinamazing.com/?utm_source=unbounce&utm_medium=content&utm_campaign=unbounce_guest_post

As you can imagine, this isn’t conducive to a good user experience. Your links can look a little unwieldy in campaign emails and on social media, and they can even come across as spammy – which is why you should always use link shorteners to clean up those ugly links.

Use services like bit.ly or Google URL shortener, or simply hide the ugly UTM code by linking to it from cleaner-looking anchor text.

3. Tracking clicks but not conversions

Assuming you have Google Analytics set up, you’ll be able to see the performance of your URLs with unique UTM tags by going to Campaigns > All Campaigns.

While tracking referral traffic from your UTM tags is incredibly helpful, you should go a step further and create Google Analytics goals so you can see which referral traffic converts the best as well.

If you’ve never set up a goal in Google Analytics, it’s a simple process:

  1. Sign in to your Google Analytics account.
  2. Select the “Admin” tab and navigate to the desired account, property and view.
  3. In the “View” column, click “Goals.”
  4. Click the red “+NEW GOAL” button.
new-goal-small
Click for larger image.
  1. Next, you’ll want to follow the instructions of the “Goal setup” wizard, depending on what kind of conversion you’re looking for. For example, if you were collecting leads on a lead gen page, you might set the goal as “Engagement” > “Sign up.”
goal-google-analytics-650
Click for larger image.

Setting up goals in GA allows you to look beyond which channel is driving the most traffic – and it gives you insight into which channel is actually converting best.

If it’s AdWords, then you know you can up your spend and focus on conversions to get the most lift. If it’s email, then you know to double-down on building your email list and focus more converting those subscribers.

4. Creating meaningless UTM campaign terms

When you’re building your UTM tag, it’s important to remember that you’re doing so because you want to be able to track each individual campaign and sources easily. So, if you name each campaign something weird, such as “f3356” you’re going to end up mixing campaigns up and wasting time decoding your campaign terms.

Do yourself a favor and only write short, descriptive campaign terms such as “04_15_newsletter” or “summer_15_promo.”

For example, take a look at this CTA from a Jackthreads’ email newsletter:

jackthreads-newsletter-utm

When you click-through on this image, this is the UTM:

https://www.jackthreads.com/?utm_source=members&utm_medium=email&utm_content=main_sale_img&utm_term
=sale&utm_campaign=JT_MainSale_05072015_Thursday%20Noon_%5BEngaged
%20B%5D&tmem=bpindulic%40gmail.com

They are very descriptive here. They cite the source (members – meaning their active members group), campaign term (sale – as in a promotional sale), the time and date the email went out, and even the email of the person who clicked through!

Each one of these assets can be found directly in the UTM link – and you can get the same level of detail out of each of your campaigns if you take the time to create detailed and data-rich UTM links.

Wrapping up

As data-driven marketers, we’re constantly looking for ways to improve our campaigns.

When you have the tools to track referrals, you get insight into which channels are bringing you the most traffic. Better yet, when you combine UTM links with Google Analytics goals, you can look deep down into your funnel and determine which sources are bringing you the most conversions.

It’s all pretty straightforward – as long as you’re doing it right.

About Dan McGaw
Dan, one of the original growth-hackers, has lead teams at Code School and KISSmetrics to create massive growth. He previously founded the companies Fuelzee, Starter Studio and Bootstrap Academy to name a few. He's currently the Founder and Head of Analytics and Growth at Effin Amazing, an analytics and growth consultancy.
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Comments:

  1. Laure

    Hey, great article, thanks for sharing. For some channels, GA is able to identify the medium/source (Facebook, Twitter) even when there’s no utm param. Does it mean we only need the more granular utms such as campaign and terms? Are there any rules around this?

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    • Dan McGaw

      When you see the facebook and twitter it is usally from referrer, or a tool you are already using is adding the campaign code.

      You can of course see that Facebook and Twitter are sending you traffic, but if you do not use the UTM codes you will not see it in your campaign report.

      Let me know if you need help finding your campaign report :)

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      Reply
  2. Stacey Lee

    Thanks for the great post. I have a question regarding construction of UTM codes. We have always used them in the following order “source, medium, campaign” Will they still work if they are created out of order?

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    • Dan Mcgaw

      Stacey this is a great question. UTMs are a special beast :)

      They will still work in no matter what order they are. Even though Google says that the three things are required, they will still track them even if you do not have all the pieces with the link. It will just show (not set).

      Please let me know how else I can support you:)

      Dan

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  3. Drivetrain

    Also–if you add a hidden field in your Unbounce form (like utm_term, utm_campaign, etc) you can determine where that lead actually came from!!

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  4. online games

    Good post. I learn something new and challenging on blogs I
    stumbleupon on a daily basis. It’s always useful to read conyent from other writers and use
    something from other websites.

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    Reply
  5. Pushpendra singh

    Hey Dan, my website is at second page of google for 5 keywords and at first page with 6 keywords. i am getting impression but not getting clicks. Now i want to ask you that if i change my Title would it be beneficiary or not ?. But it should not affect my ranking. Is there any solution by creating catchy title but not getting down in ranking ?

    (0)
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    • Dan McGaw

      Since I am not an SEO expert I am probably not the most qualified to answer this question. To my knowledge your page title is pretty important for SEO and if changed you could hurt your rankings.

      If you are looking for ways to test catchy headlines I would try using Adwords.

      You can show different ads all day and do all sorts of cool AB tests. Once you find the title that wins you may attempt testing the title on your website.

      Be aware, you may lose some rankings, but get more clicks to your site.

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  6. Flat Pack Bart

    This was my first take on UTM’s! Another highly descriptive and informative article! I would love to implement it in one of our future ikea assembly service promotional campaigns!

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    Reply
  7. NEil

    The Jackthreads example should NOT be sending or using email addresses which will go back to GA – it is against T&C’s

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    Reply
    • Dan Mcgaw

      As explained in another comment, we are not saying JackThreads is loading this into their Google Analytics account. This could be used with no issues in either Mixpanel or Kissmetrics:)

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      Reply
      • Drew

        Does that fact that they included the email after the UTM tags make a difference in terms of whether the email is being recorded in GA?

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        Reply
  8. Gerry White

    So one of the most important aspects missing from this post is being consistent with mediums, do not use anything like paid search for medium, only use cpc not CPC, ppc, or PaidSearch…. Otherwise Google makes a mess of it…

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    • Dan McGaw

      This is a great point Gerry. Using the right Medium is very important. Can you link to any other posts which explain the Google PPC as the Medium issue?

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  9. Tracy

    Great article! I’m having a hard time with a URL build. The URL my client created isn’t the actual URL to the landing page but it does point to that page. The link itself works, but when I add on the UTM parameters it I get an error message. Any advice or thoughts?

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    Reply
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  11. Miranda

    Great article! I’m constantly running into an issue with running facebook ads – I UTM code all my ads and use unique parameters, but Google Analytics is still not attributing most of my transactions to the ad campaigns, instead just facebook.com / referral and (not set). I always use Google’s UTM builder, but it seems somewhere in the process the utm codes are getting lost and my sales are just lumped into facebook with no tie ins to campaigns.

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  12. Shubham Jain

    Good post. One missing aspect in this post which was partly our own frustration is how people end up mixing up tags or fail to follow any common conventions. To be honest, UTM Tags are confusing and it takes some time to build a mental model to know them at your fingertips.

    Plug: We built a free step-by-step tool to make it really easy to build UTM Tags. Do give it a try – https://utmbuilder.net/

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  13. Steve

    There would be privacy implications for exposing people’s email addresses in the tracking code – I found this out to my cost a few years ago. Best practice would be to use a hash/key ID.

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    • Dan McGaw

      Steve,

      I agree about using the hash or id tag. Not aware of privacy laws in the states which would cause us any problem. Can you refer me to any materials?

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      • Danny de Vries

        Hi Dan,
        I’m not sure if the American/State law prohibits you from collecting data that personally identifies an individual , but Google Analytics sure does. You can find more information in Article 7. of the Google Analytics ToS (http://www.google.com/analytics/terms/us.html). Even in hashed form it is not allowed. So the only option is to use unique identifiers/key-ID’s. See also: https://support.google.com/analytics/answer/2795983?hl=en.

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        • Dan McGaw

          Danny,

          You should not be tracking the email in your Google Analytics account, but I know plenty of people who do.

          In the example by JackThreads they are using the email in the UTM, but this UTM can be picked up by man of the tools installed on their site.

          I personally have used UTM with emails so I can collect emails of folks visiting my site through Mixpanel. Was a hacky way of connecting dots, but it worked for that use case.

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  14. Cezar Halmagean

    Hey guys,

    I’ve just launched the beta version of my UTM tagging tool. It will help you tag your links with UTM tags. Let me know if you like it.

    Here it is: http://utmtag.com

    — Cezar

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Comments