So you've heard of UTM parameters, but now you need to know why they exist (other than Google saying they should) and how you should use them.

UTM Parameters in a Nutshell

The simple goal of UTM parameters is as follows:
Make success replicable
Nothing more and nothing less.
To do this UTM parameters give you the What, Where, Why, When and Who of every tracked click. I'll expand on those a little more.

The Information Contained in UTM Parameters

What - what did they actually click on. Video, image, text link, banner ad, button, gif, modal popover, slide-in content dock?
Where - where did they encounter the element that they clicked on, what was the property on which the interaction happened, Facebook, LinkedIn, your main website, your microsite, within an iframe that loads your content on other websites (think branded badges such as those you get with TypeForm or HotJar?)
Why - what context was that element in? What did they read just before (normally whatever they have been doing should be paired carefully with the Call to Action that's shown to them!). Was it a specific call to action you've tested. This is your chance to test what really motivates and catalyses action in the mind of your prospects! Was it a financial figure? A discount promise? A statement of your quality? A testimonial quote?
When - yes you can tell when. If you have time-bounded campaigns and initiatives, you can tag this into the link too.
Who - OK, so it's going to be difficult to get an actual name, unless you can very precisely control your UTM links and know where they are being used. If you send a specific email newseltter to a sub-segment of your list, you could include the name of a recipient in theory. However, you may fall foul of Google's requirement to not provide identifying information, so tread carefully.

That's five WWWWWs why to use them

There's only one thing more frustrating than not knowing why your marketing initiatives are not working.
Not knowing why the ones that are working, are working!
So any commercially-minded business leader should mandate the use of UTM parameters across their business if they want to know how to spot and kill bad campaigns, and focus instead only on doing more of what's bringing in the new business!

  • Use them in all of your online adverts.
  • Use them in your social posts.
  • Use them in your videos.
  • Use them in your referral/affiliate links.
  • Use them across your digital estate.
  • Use them behind your pretty vanity links (yourdomain.com/promolink > redirects to yourdomain.com/landing-page/?utm_campaign=springpromo&utm_medi... and so on.

Practical UTM parameter explanations

UTM parameters give you the chance to measure where traffic came from, in 7 dimensions. Google analytics is built to capture and use this information to give you deeper insight than you could have otherwise gained without UTM.
What are the different parameters?

utm_campaign

Campaign Grouping
(utm_campaign=)
Top level 'category' that groups together your links under a specific business focus, such as an event or promotional campaign.

utm_source

Campaign Source
(utm_source=)
This is the referrer of traffic to your page, such as Google, Facebook, Mailchimp, LinkedIn - it is "where the person came from" (or from their perspective, where they "found" you at the moment they clicked through to your content via your tagged link.

utm_medium

Campaign Medium
(utm_medium=)
At a practical level, it is useful to know "what" triggered a click too - was it an advert, Facebook post, Instagram post, video, newsletter email, email signature? The 'medium' is the marketing medium that referred the traffic from the source.

utm_term

Campaign Term (optional)
An optional parameter that helps you group together links with a term in common. For example if you were testing two prices of a service or different lengths of money back guarantee you can define these with this parameter.
For Facebook ads, Bing Adverts, Google AdWords creating a campaign term allows you to track the paid keywords of an ad. Organically, you can track keywords which feature heavily in a blog post too.

utm_content

*Campaign Content (optional)
(utm_content=):
You can use this to track different variants of a link too. If you maintain a record of links you have shared, you can save one link to a spreadsheet with the name 'Link A' and another with the name 'Link B' in order to test different wording and Calls to Action (CTAs.

Practical UTM parameter uses and examples

Here are some scenarios where UTM parameters are going to be helpful to you.

1. You want to send great emails.

Most businesses have a problem with tracking marketing emails: They show up as direct visits within Google Analytics. The best way to fix this is to enable UTM parameters within your email solution.
You should have your marketing person do that immediately for whoever your provider is. Here are links to how-tos for some popular platforms:

  • [UTM parameters for Mailchimp]
  • [UTM parameters for Active Campaign]
  • [UTM parameters for Autopilot]
  • [UTM parameters for Drip]
    Insight You'll Gain
  • What sections of your emails generate clickthroughs.
  • Which subject lines contribute to best clickthrough and conversion rates.
  • Which element in the email performs best (image vs text)

2. You want to work well with affiliates and partners.

Some people like to track affiliate activity through UTM parameters, as well as through specific affiliate management or referral tools. It is nice to get a solid overview of all of your campaigns in a single interface, and Google Analytics makes sense as the gathering point.
So if you have a set of referral partners that send traffic to one of your digital assets from one of theirs to drive a conversion event, tagging URLs is a good idea.
You will be able to tell them which of their CTAs generated a clickthrough, so they can sharpen their focus on approaches that work.
You will be able to tell that an affiliate (and which affiliate) sent you a converting visitor. If the clickthrough came from something they posted on Facebook, you wouldn't be able to differentiate it from anything you, or any other affiliate posted on FB.
Your setup might go along the lines of this:
utm_campaign= affiliate / referral / partner
utm_medium= email / banner / article / video / podcast
utm_source= partner1 / partner2 / partner3
utm_content= may17email / springbanner /
utm_term= 20daytrial / bonusservice
You see where that's going, right? Remember the goal: Help make success replicable.
Insight You'll Gain

  • Which affiliates are sending actual business your way.
  • Which medium they are having most success with.
  • What actual content is getting the best results for you, and thus them.
  • Which terms are catalysing the clickthrough.

3. You want to optimise Calls To Action (CTAs) in your content marketing efforts

There could be many motivations for a certain user responding to a certain CTA at a certain time. Remember that UTM parameters should make success replicable. They will allow you to play around with different phrases or images to see which of them generate the best results.
Wouldn't it be fascinating to know that no-one clicked on a link that closely followed a statement about discounted or low-price services. Or moreover that they did click on links that were found in the context of you talking about not being the cheapest option to solve their problem, but the highest quality?
?utm_campaign=price-positioning&utm_source=blog&utm_medium=article-cta&utm_term=pricing&utm_content=not-the-cheapest-but-the-best
Information gleaned from the URL

  • Campaign: A content series that digs into your pricing and positioning
  • Source: Your blog
  • Medium: The article's closing Call to Action
  • Term: Your pricing was the specific issue you were addressing
  • Content: "Not the cheapest, but the best" was the phrase that catalysed the clickthrough.
    As you gather more data from your UTM adventures, begin to optimise your content and apply your lessons learned.
    Extensions
  • Add UTM tags to links within electronic documents you send (PDFs)
  • Where you're using printed materials, create and use different 'vanity' links (links that look pretty for example: example.com/event2018 / example.com/theevent2018 / example.com/thebigone) that redirect to your wonderfully designed UTM tagged hyperlinks, allowing you to test test test... For example:

example.com/event2018 > example.com/the-big-event-2018/?utm_campaign=big-event&utm_source=email&utm_medium=image&utm_term=earlybird&utm_content=smiley-martha
example.com/theevent20 > example.com/the-big-event-2018/?utm_campaign=big-event&utm_source=email&utm_medium=image&utm_term=earlybird&utm_content=fun-teddy
etc...
Insight You'll Gain

  • How sensitive your audience is to certain 'areas' of discussion and education.
  • How far through a content piece someone reaches before taking action (you could have some standard CTA positions set up on your article pages - header, middle, article-end, slide-in dock) that appear in all of your pieces of the same type.
  • How well each Call to Action in your content pieces work.
  • How well the same CTAs work when translated into other areas of your digital estate (such as service sales page headers, case study or testimonial pages)

A Handy UTM Generator

I developed a UTM generator for my clients that runs in Google Sheets. If you would like to obtain a copy for your own use, please get in touch. It will help you to:

  • Save hours of time
  • Keep clear records of your UTM tagged links for future use
  • Optimise the structure and usefulness of your tracking links