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.

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:


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.


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.

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.


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:


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.
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.”
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:


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


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.

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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.
» More blog posts by Dan McGaw


  1. 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!!

  2. 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?

    • 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 :)

    • Dan McGaw

      This is a great question! GA and some other tools will automatically pull in social media sites as the source or medium. This can be helpful, but you are leaving your tracking up to the person making it to your site with a link that GA understands.

      I would recommend using UTMs so you can make sure things get assign appropriately. It is also very helpful to understand why the FB or TW traffic came to your site, so having the campaign name attached to it is really helpful.

    • Dan McGaw

      GA will pull in the referrer data, but it is not always accurate. I recommend always using UTMs as for it will also show the data cleanly in your campaigns tab in GA and other tools.

  3. 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.

    • Dan McGaw


      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?

      • 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.

        • Dan McGaw


          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.

  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.

  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 ?

    • 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.

  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!

  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

    • 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:)

      • 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?

  8. 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

  9. 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?

    • 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:)


  10. 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…

    • 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?

  11. 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?

  12. 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.

  13. 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/

  14. omer

    I have a question here it is :
    We use slash before ?utm..

    Some websites URL is like below .Why don’t we use slash here

    If I use slash for this website does it make any difference?
    http://www.example.com/example?utm and http://www.example.com/example/utm?

  15. Yaser

    Interesting article. I am new to Analytics and this is very crucial point here. I was under the impression it’s tough to implement but it’s pretty straight forward.
    Few points here is that
    As an advertiser on behalf of a client do i need to always ask to be an admin on GA before doing this? Is there any other way where i as an advertising agency can set this up and track this campaign to GA or any other similar program without getting being added by the client as admin on GA? Often clients give you go ahead but when it comes to Admin on GA- it takes time
    Another question is i used to know about ClickTags to be implemented within banners. How are these UTM different from the clicktag to be embedded in banners?

  16. Art Tschopp

    Just joined. I found your UTM artcile to be very helpful. Thanks!

  17. Ratko Ivanović

    Hey Dan, great read. Especially love the part of “if your doing it wrong, or worse – you’re not doing it at all”. Have question, what if you don’t include source but include everything else? Google url builder doesn’t allow you to not include source. Would google analytics find out source on its own?

    • Dan McGaw

      Great question.

      Google requires the source for UTMs to work in Google Analytics. Not all tools are like this though. If you do not have campaign source when using tools like Kissmetrics, it will still store the other UTMs. However, if you do not include UTM_Source in google Analytics, it will not track any of the UTMs.

  18. Venkat

    My question is sounds like funny but from long time its confusing me, What will happens when i use two same sources and mediums in one url?

  19. Hemis

    Would you recommend using utm tags on an on-site banner (internal promos) or setting up a campaign url parameters or tracking the banner as an event?

  20. Hemis

    What’s the best way to track internal promos (banners)? Utm tags, events or custom url parameters?

    • Dan McGaw

      If you are using these banner on your site and promoting other things on your own site, you don’t really need UTMs. If you are referring to banners used in retargeting and such, you would of course want to use UTM tags to know where that customer is coming from.

      If these do not answer your questions, please help me better understand what you are asking :)

  21. Nik

    Hi Dan! I have a question if you don’t mind. We’ve been using UTM Tracking for quite some time, but have been getting “duplicate meta description errors” according to our SEMRush. Do you have any suggestions to avoid and/or fix this? Thank you in advance! Cheers!

  22. Jill Koskosky

    Hey Dan! Great read. Late to the party here, but I am running into a similar issue as some other folks that see analytics lumping all facebook traffic into “facebook / referral” results, but not necessarily tracking the purchase. I have two things working against me – Facebook pixel is not in place and my tech team is SLAMMED launching a new onboarding process, and the transaction currently takes place on an old .com version of our site while we get this new onboarding up and running. That said, my workaround is adding a ‘thank you’ page as the conversion destination URL. My thoughts here are to track the UTM to that page, if the UTM is tracking to that page, then I can see how the Facebook campaigns are doing since that ‘thank you’ page is only accessible via a transaction completion…

    Any other recommendations here?

  23. Matt Rock

    Great article!

    I have a question tagging links to be posted in various social network accounts. For example, I’m posting a link to a page on my personal twitter account, as well as my company’s twitter account. What would you recommend to different these? One suggestion I came across was to use the medium parameter to distinguish the two (rather than using “social”, for example, otherwise):



    Any recommendations on this?


  24. Angel Smith

    Have you heard about Taglynx? It is a campaign link tagging solution for marketers to use while creating campaigns than can be tracked in analytics tools such as Google Analytics and Adobe Analytics.

  25. Peps

    Hi! Would you advise using the utm_source parameter on link-building-links? Or would it be strange for google to see links with utm_source in a blogpost?

  26. Eric Miltsch


    Great post.

    What’s your position on using UTMs on links within your website as well? Thanks!

    • Dan from EffinAmazing.com

      Hey Eric,

      Thank you for the kind words. You should not use UTM on your site if the link is to your site. UTMs are meant to be used only when you are driving traffic from another source to your site.

      • Sheena

        What should you use to understand different promotional elements on your site and how it is driving results?

        • Dan from EffinAmazing.com

          The easiest way to do this is by using Google Analytics events, or even a heatmapping tool. Ultimately it sounds like you are trying to track a micro-conversion from an ad on your site to a purchase later in the funnel?

          • Sheena

            Thanks for the response! Yes, we’re looking to track a few different promotional elements we have on the site (an interstitial pop up, a persistent CTA button). We have an event set up to track when someone fills out a form on our site, and that’s the place where we’re using our UTMs to see what drove that form fill. The current state shows both on-site promotion (the CTAs and the pop ups) and off-site promotion (organic search, social, email). If we add event tracking, will we still have visibility all the way to the form submission?

            • Dan from EffinAmazing.com

              This is a great question.

              It seems like you are comparing your pop up or CTA to traffic sources. I would not recommend this as if someone comes to your site via email and clicks either the pop up or CTA, they will be double counted.

              You would rather understand which channel is driving the traffic, then segment that traffic by which channel clicked on the element and then evaluate the conversion rates. Using the events here make it easier to create that segmentation.

      • Laura Norvig

        What about sub domains? Our main domain points to a sub domain where ecommerce takes place. General referral is tracked pretty well already but I’m wondering if there might be reasons to track specific CTAs on the blog, for example.

        • Dan from EffinAmazing.com

          You should turn on your cross domain tracking and use the same tracking code across both sites. This way you know how people enter, exit and pass through things easily.

          Never use UTMs on your internal site links. you can setup events in analytics to track those things :)

  27. Alb Lan

    Hi Dan, nice article. What about redirecting to a page inside an application that requires authentification (thus redirection to login). Are utm information lost after redirection? Does the page has the time to trigger the GA analytics JS before visitors gets redirected? That’s an issue I am trying to solve. Do you envision any solution to monitor this type of traffic (from email to in- app, for example). Thanks a lot

    • Dan from EffinAmazing.com

      Alb, Great question! If you are sending folks from an email to a redirect page before being authenticated, in most cases you will lose the UTMs. Why do you need the redirect though? Could you not just send people to the authentication page with UTMs intact?

      If not, you could make the redirect page load your analytics JS and then redirect after it has loaded. This would store the information before they get redirected.

      Let me know if you have any other questions!

  28. Julian Lee

    Hi Dan,

    Great article! It’s certainly a good 101 crash course for newbies like myself. If i already have an existing campaign/links, is the UTM able to backtrack past data or does it only start upon implementation?

    • Dan from EffinAmazing.com

      Thanks for the question Julian. The UTMs will not backdate on historical links. The analytics tools only know of what traffic has been sent to them with the UTM at the time of entrance to the site. Let me know if this does not answer the questions, or you need more help :)

  29. Shelley Greiver

    Dan, does UTM tracking work also for PPV campaigns (pop ups)? Can I track domain name, bid, targets and other macros? Or do I need to use a tracking platform like CPV Lab instead of Google Analytics?

  30. Laura Norvig

    For some general cases sometimes I don’t have a specific campaign parameter to track. Is it OK to leave off the utm_campaign? I have done this in the past and it still tracks Source and Medium. Or should I think of some broad buckets I could use for those cases?

    • Dan from EffinAmazing.com

      Laura, good question.

      You can leave campaign off in most cases, but this also depends on the tool. GA used to reject things if they did not have the three requirements (name, medium and source). Not sure if this is still the case though.

      I would recommend having campaign names for you UTMs as it keeps things organized.