What are UTM Codes? And, How to Use Them

what are utm codes

A UTM code is a way to track the performance of campaigns and content for your digital marketing activities. By adding the UTM code to the end of a URL, you’ll be able to see where your traffic is coming from.

Why is this important? Whether you run digital marketing campaigns for clients or you work for a company, proving your marketing efforts will be vital. Tracking performance will enable you, your client or leadership team to understand what’s working and what’’s not. This will help you shift your initiatives to what has proven to be effective. Let’s face it, not everything you do will be a success. But, some things will and that’s where we should focus on.

UTM which stands for Urchin Traffic Monitor and comes in some variety.

An example of a UTM code is: https://coastalpanda.com/an-awesome-post/?utm_source=facebook

The bold part that starts with “?“ is your UTM code. What does this mean exactly? The UTM is letting us know via Google Analytics that when someone clicks on this link that it’s coming from Facebook.

The UTM code does not affect the URL at all.

There are a couple pieces to the UTM code:

  • UTM Parameter: The UTM parameter starts with “utm_”. In addition to “utm_source”, there are four other parameters that you can track. They include, medium, campaign, content and term. More on each below.
  • Tracking Variable: This is the unique identifier that is after the “=” sign. This is case sensitive and can only include letters, numbers, hyphens, plus sign and periods.

Creating UTM Codes to Track Marketing Performance

As we mentioned above, there are five UTM parameters we can use. Source and Medium are used the most. While, Campaign, Content and Term are helpful in certain situations. Let’s dig into each.

Source (utm_source)

The source parameter enables you to track where (origin) the traffic is coming from. Sources could include google, facebook, guest-post and client-email-list.

Medium (utm_medium)

The medium parameter tracks what type – or the general category of the source – of traffic the visitor originated from. The medium could include email, paid and social.

Campaign (utm_campaign)

The campaign name comes in when you want to track the performance of a specific campaign. Let’s say you are running two email campaigns. Which one performed better? You’ll know by using two different campaign parameters (Ex. coastalpanda.com/free-trial/?utm_campaign=email-1-promo and coastalpanda.com/30-day-trial/?utm_campaign=email-2-promo).

Content (utm_content)

The content parameter will help you identify which link was clicked on in a single campaign. For example, you may want to use two different content parameters if you send out an email that has a CTA link and a CTA button pointing to the same URL.

Keyword (utm_keyword)

The keyword parameter is used in paid search where you’ll want to track the term that the visitor searched on.

You can use any of these parameters in any combination as long as you separate each parameter with a “&” sign.

For example: coastalpanda.com?utm_source=linkedin&utm_medium=cpc&utm_campaign=bogo-promo

How to Create UTM Codes Easily?

Luckily, Google has saved us time…again. Campaign URL Builder is a free tool that allows you to easily add your parameters to URLs without fumbling.

Google Campaign URL Builder

You can also create your own. Again, you’ll need to start with “?” and separate each parameter with “&” sign.

Where to Find the UTM Data – Google Analytics

utm-code-google-analyticsNow that you understand what UTM codes are and how to build them, let’s dig into how you can measure them. Remember, the primary purpose of including UTM codes in your links is that you’ll be able to track performance by source, medium, campaign, etc.

If you have Google Analytics installed on your site then Google will automatically track campaigns inside its platform.

Here’s how to view your campaigns in Google Analytics:

  1. Login to Google Analytics
  2. Click on “Acquisition” then “Campaigns”
  3. The “Medium” or general category is listed here, click on each to view the source and campaign info.

Parting Advice on UTM Codes

As you you’ve read, implementing UTM codes in your links is valuable to understanding which marketing activities are working. Without these, you’re almost guessing or assuming which could cause a lot headache down the road.

Here are some quick – and probably obvious – tips when you starting using UTM codes:

  • Use lowercase letters: UTM codes are case sensitive so it’s best for practicality sakes to keep everything lowercase. Otherwise, you run the risk of your data being split by a measly letter.
  • Use common naming conventions: It’s best to stick to easy to understand words that are specific to your business. An outsider should be able to look at the link and understand what the general idea is. For example, with the earlier example, you know this link (coastalpanda.com?utm_source=linkedin&utm_medium=cpc&utm_campaign=bogo-promo) is coming from LinkedIn paid ads and is promoting a buy one get one offer of some sort.
  • Set naming conventions from the beginning: This is especially true if you are working with a team. You’ll want everyone on the same page and using the same codes. Establish what you’ll use from the start. Over time, you’ll add more but you can come up with a foundation that will help you and your team understand traffic patterns.
  • Shorten those links: As you probably already noticed, the links with the UTM codes added to the end can get pretty lengthy. For this reason, we recommend using a link shortener such as Bitly.

There you have it! Now it’s your turn to take this and start using UTM codes for your marketing. Please leave any questions in the comment section and we’ll answer them for you!

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