UTM Parameters: How to Track Your Links
February 6, 2022·7 min read
UTM parameters are powerful tools for marketers and businesses who want to get better acquainted with their traffic and gain insights into the performance of specific marketing campaigns.
Don't worry if you've never heard of a UTM parameter before, at Panelbear, we will tell you everything you need to know. By the end, you'll be setting up and tracking UTM parameters with no problems!
What are UTM Parameters?
UTM (or “Urchin Tracking Module”) parameters are a group of five URL parameters used to track the effectiveness of online marketing campaigns. You can think of UTM parameters similar to hashtags on a social media site. Traffic gets “tagged” with different UTM parameters based on characteristics of the link that connected it to your website.
In practice, UTM parameters are pieces of text that get tacked onto the end of URLs. Let's take a look at an example:
The bolded text above contains all five of the possible UTM parameters. The name of the parameter is represented by the left-side of the equation (e.g., “utm_source”) while the value of that parameter is represented by the right-side (e.g., “red”).
Why are UTM Parameters important?
If you engage in digital marketing of any kind, there are probably links to your website scattered all over the internet. There might be links on guest blog posts, social media ads, YouTube tutorials, product reviews… the list goes on.
Wouldn't it be nice to know which sources were generating the most traffic? Or the least? Or the most conversions? That's where UTM parameters come in.
UTM parameters are powerful tools for segmenting and analyzing traffic data because of the wealth of descriptors that can add to analyses. They help marketers break down data into smaller groups in the pursuit of more meaningful insights.
What are the five UTM Parameter varieties?
With that background out of the way, let's get more specific about the kinds of UTM parameters and what they represent:
This UTM parameter lets you know where your traffic is coming from. You can add any source you want to the value field of the parameter, whether it's a specific blog, a social media platform, or even a specific article. This information will help you see which sites and content types generate the most traffic.
In the example above, Google search is identified as the referrer.
This parameter designates what kind of traffic is connecting with your website. Is it organic search traffic? Is it paid traffic? Is it traffic from an affiliate? These are the kinds of questions this parameter can help you answer.
In the example above, the traffic is being identified as paid search traffic as opposed to organic or affiliate traffic.
This UTM parameter is used to describe what campaign the traffic is connected to. This might look something like “spring_sale” or “product_launch” depending on what marketing campaign the user interacted with.
In the example above, the traffic is being linked to a launch campaign.
This parameter helps you discover which keywords are driving the most paid traffic to your site. The more specific, the better. While this parameter isn't especially common these days, it can still be useful for supporting a balanced and effective keyword strategy.
In the example above, the parameter is describing the keywords that lead the traffic to the website—in this case “traffic” and “monitoring”.
Adding the content parameter lets you know what kind of content was clicked on to initiate the session on your website. This information can be useful in learning what kind of content is drawing visitors to your site, which will help you decide if there are any changes that need to be made to your content strategy.
In the example above, the parameter is telling us that the session was initiated when the user clicked a text-based link.
Each of those parameters will be parsed by the analytics software to better categorize the metrics being measured. And the actual values you assign to these parameters, it's entirely up to you! This enables a very simple, but powerful way to better organize your analytics data.
How can I use UTM Parameters?
Using UTM parameters starts with creating them. To do this, you'll want to look into the tools you have at your disposal. Feel free to scroll back up to the top of this page to check out Panelbear's free URL building tool! If you want to get a sense of your options, read on.
UTM Campaign Builder Tools
Here various tools to help you build campaign URLs:
- Panelbear URL Builder: Free UTM code builder to track campaign URLs. Compatible with all popular tools including Google Analytics, Mixpanel, and Kissmetrics.
- utm.io: This option is a UTM tracking code builder with free templates. The service offers a free basic plan to get you started, but you'll be looking at $69/month for full functionality.
- UTM Builder: UTM Builder is a popular URL builder by Terminus that helps you create UTM tracking codes. It's free to use and easy to understand, albeit a bit lacking in the feature department.
- GA Dev. Tools: You've probably heard of Google Analytics before. Well, the wildly popular analytics program also offers a suit of tools for creating and deploying campaign parameters to URLs, so you can easily measure Custom Campaigns in GA.
- Matomo: Matomo is a popular, open-source URL builder that offers a free plan with basic features and an affordably priced paid plan at $17/month.
- KeyPerformance: KeyPerformance is a simple URL builder that offers all the tools you'll need to stay on top of your UTM tracking codes.
How to track UTM Parameters
To start tracking UTM parameters, you'll need to choose an analysis software to work with. There are tons of options out there, but in this article we'll only be covering Panelbear and Google Analytics.
In Panelbear, the process of tracking UTM codes is incredibly simple. All of Panelbear's traffic filters and analysis is conveniently located on a single page—no need to flip between tabs!
When you're looking at the home screen, scroll down until you see the Contents or Sources block. There, you'll be able to see all the UTM parameters you designated earlier. Click on any parameter you'd like, and the data and chart at the top of your screen will automatically update to reflect the segmentation.
Tracking UTM parameters in Google Analytics is relatively simple. You can track the performance of your campaigns in Google Analytics in a few different reports:
- You can create a custom report by clicking on Customization > Custom Reports. There, you can designate Medium, Campaign, or Source as characteristics for analysis.
- You can also go to Acquisition > Overview > All Traffic > Source/Medium to view all your traffic sources.
- Finally, you can go to Acquisition > Campaigns > All Campaigns to view traffic segmented by your campaigns.
UTM Parameter best practices
To get the most out of your UTM parameters, there are a few things you'll want to keep in mind:
1) Stay organized
This might seem obvious, but it's incredibly important. If you and your team use different codes to represent the same campaign, your data won't be accurate. Make a spreadsheet to keep your team in the loop, or use the organizational features built into paid UTM services like utm.io and KeyPerformance.
2) Keep it simple
Here's another potentially obvious suggestion that is incredibly important. Use short, simple naming conventions to limit the frequency of mistakes in measuring and analysis.
3) Use link shorteners
While you aren't obligated to use all five UTM codes in every single campaign, you may want to for more complex campaigns. In those cases, the URLs can get quite long. Remember the example URL from earlier? URL shorteners are a great way to cut down on this length if you want to make your links more shareable, postable, or just generally more appealing.
UTM parameters are a valuable tool for marketers who want to have more comprehensive insights into the performance of their website. UTMs can help you understand where your traffic is coming from, which content on your site has been most popular, and how users interact with links that you share online.
In this article, we've provided some best practices as well as examples of different ways UTM parameters can be used in marketing campaigns. We hope these tips will inspire you to try tracking UTMs on your own website or blog—it's a great way to make smarter decisions about digital strategy!