The Complete Guide To UTM Tags For Beginners ( Plus 5 Bonus Tips)

As a child, I used to love playing Maze Puzzle. And now as marketer, my love for it has never fallen short. I still use it in the form of UTM Tags.

Just like the puzzle, where you can see the starting point after you finish the puzzle, UTM tags helps you trace back the origin of your marketing efforts that derived traffic.

What I mean is, when a few links are shared via email & somebody clicks on one of the links, Google Analytics reports such click under direct Traffic (which of course is not true)

BUT If UTM tags are attached with those links, not only you’ll know that the traffic originated from email, but also about which link the user clicked to come to your website, which campaign the email was part of, etc.

If you want to learn more about UTM tags, you’ve landed at the right place. I’ll make sure that by the end of this article, you’re all packed up with UTM information & ready to apply.

UTM tags

Table Of Contents

1. Introduction to UTM Tags
2. Why do we need UTM Tags
3. How to Create UTM Tags & measure campaign success
4. Potential Drawbacks of UTM Tags
5. 5 Best Practices to Ace at UTM Tags
5.1 Naming Convention
5.2 How to add UTM Tags in Social Media & Emails
5.3 A/B Testing using UTM Tags
5.3 Avoid UTM with Internal Links
5.5 Test your URL before deploying UTM Codes

Introduction To UTM Tags

Most of the time, Google Analytics tells where the person is coming from by parsing that extra pieces of information in the URL/link of your website.

These chunks of extensions are known as UTM tags [Urchin Tracking Module] that are added manually to the end of a regular URL to derive meaningful information that is not recorded in analytics platforms by default. 

It’ll help you track the effectiveness of your marketing efforts at different levels. To put it simply, you might want to know how well your piece of content performed on different social media channels or even how frequently the subscribers clicked on the CTA button in the newsletter. UTM Tags will help you accomplish that whenever your boss summons a report.

breaking down utm tags in URL
-UTM Tag Dissect

Why Do We Need UTM Tags

The online world is pacing and to keep up with it we adopt many digital platforms that can help us grow, such as social media channels, email marketing, guest posting, etc.

Data collection is limited when we go beyond our website. What I mean by this is that Google Analytics reports the source as direct traffic when a link is shared via email.

Imagine how your boss would react when he sees all your efforts & his money are flushed in the weekly newsletters, which made zero conversions only because the surge in traffic was reported as direct. Quite misleading & painful, right?

Get ready to learn how easy it is to align your links by transforming your data from Below to After (Refer to the image below).

google analytics report before & after adding UTM tag
-Google Analytics Realtime Report Before & After UTM Tags

The tags can help you with:

  • Identify top-performing social media channels
  • Which Guest Posts are lucrative
  • Forum Posts
  • Identify highly converting emails
  • A/B Testing
  • Display Ads
  • Affiliate Marketing
  • Monitor Sales Team Performance
  • And most importantly make informed decisions

How To Create UTM Tags

Step 1: Navigate to Google’s Campaign URL Builder or rather use the amazing UTM builder Chrome Extension

Step 2: Start by filling your full website URL in the first field.

Step 3: Populate the UTM fields with suitable values of different UTM parameters. Refer to the UTM Glossary Table right below the image to learn about each parameter.

how to create utm tags
UTM CodeMeaning
1. utm_source*A source is a platform where the traffic originates. It can be Facebook, guest posts, emails, etc.
Example: utm_source=facebook
2. utm_medium*A medium is a means of promotion of your content. it can be CPC, social, banner ad, etc.
Example: utm_medium=social
3.utm_campaign*This is just the name of your campaign unique to the promotion of the chosen product or service. such as End Of Season Sale, Black Friday Sale, Early Subscribers, etc.
Example: utm_campaign=spring-sale-off
4. utm_contentThe content tag can be helpful to identify how different pieces of content performed. It can also be helpful for A/B testing
Example: utm_content=blue-button
5. utm_termUTM for terms is passed to identify keywords people use to search for you. This can help you know which keywords to use when placing PPC Ads or even display ads to know about your audience. But nowadays this tag is rarely used as marketers prefer linking Google Analytics & Google Ads to automate keyword tracking
Example: utm_term=google-analytics
6. Ampersand or && acts as a separator between different UTM tags.
Example: utm_medium=social&utm_source=facebook
7. QuestionMark or ?The question mark comes after the main/regular URL to signal the start of UTM codes.
Example: https://www.optimizingkitty.com/?utm_source=email

Note: Always use hyphens/dash for values to fill spaces instead of underscore to avoid confusion. Later in the article, I’ll explain the best practices and UTM optimization techniques. so stay tuned 😉

Step 4: Copy the shortened URL & test it in Google Analytics by navigating to Realtime Reports.

Step 5: Once the link is ready, copy & paste the shortened URL at the right location & you’re all set to start tracking your campaigns in Google Analytics

  1. Sign in your Google Analytics Account.
  2. Click on Acquisition Report on the left.
  3. Go to “All Campaigns” under the “Campaigns” Report.
track website with UTM tags in google analytics

Potential Drawbacks of UTM Tags

Know that you know how to create UTM tags, let’s explore the lesser-known dark side of UTM tags.

UTM Parameters are clingy by nature. What I mean is they stick to your URL even if a person picks your link (with URL tags) from Facebook & then shares it via email.

So If you create highly shareable content, get ready for some skewed reports in google analytics or refer to stripping off UTM codes from URLs guide.

The other dark side may arise because of you IF you’re not careful. This can land a user on 404 page which happens usually when you tweak permalink or add a redirect

Some of these links, such as the email ones, can’t be changed. But make sure to change the social media ones.

5 Best Practices To Ace UTM Tags

1. Naming Convention

To start with the best practices, Naming Convention occupies the first place. It is like a first impression. Don’t mess this up at any cost.

  • Simple & Recallable: The whole point of using UTM codes is to bring clarity with the reports. So while assigning values to the tags, make sure they are simple & recallable. Putting in numbers or abbreviating is just not recommended.
  • Case Sensitivity: Google Analytics is case-sensitive, meaning “Email” & “email” are treated differently. Traffic on a link such as “https://www.optimizingkitty/?utm_source=Email” will be reported separately from traffic on “https://www.optimizingkitty/?utm_source=email“. So better choose lower-case for each parameter to stay consistent.
Case sensitive UTM tags
  • Use URL Shortner: Nobody wants to see a URL that doesn’t seem to end. It looks spammy. Make sure to use a URL Shortner after adding the UTM codes to your URL.
  • Use Dashes to fill spaces: Space in UTM value is filled by “%20”, which is quite irritating, to me at least. In the video below, Matt Cutts explains why we should use dashes over spaces/underscores in URLs.

2. How to add UTM tags in Social Media & Emails

The essence of Social Media & Emails is that there are multiple ways to share your content which, of course, should not be treated same.

Each position has its own value & purpose. For example – on Facebook, the link shared in a post has a different reach than the same link shared via Facebook stories. The same goes for the Emails.

The beauty of UTM tags is that it can treat both the positioning differently if you tag them properly.

Below is the example of an email that I got from Udemy. Just by tagging the source as email, you’ll know this much of traffic is coming from emails. But you can take your game ahead by also tagging the content pieces to know which piece of content intrigued the user to visit your website. Whether it is “My Courses” or “Shop Now” button that intrigued user to go to your website.

how to add utm tags in social media & emails

3. A/B Testing Using UTM Tags

As a marketer, A/B testing has become a must-have. This is where things start to heat up as now comes the turn of utm_content.

Leveraging utm_content will help you compare different pieces of content. Like in the Image below, the differentiating factor is the size of both the images which can be used to value the utm_content. As you can see in the image below.

Use utm_content to point out all the differentiating factors with respect to pieces of content. It can be a different background color, different CTAs, different button color, etc.

But outdoing it invites uncertainty in concluding which factor intrigued the user to click the link, was it the “button” or the “background-color”. So try keeping one or at max 2 differentiating points to value utm_content

A/B testing with the help of utm tag
-A/B Testing using UTM Tags

Until here was A/B testing your content. You can even A/B test different platforms & placements with the same content. The only difference would be to use utm_source & utm_medium respective purposes.

A/B testing for different placements would be like “https://www.optimizingkitty.com/utm_source=facebook&utm_medium=organic-post&utm_content=image1” and for another placement “https://www.optimizingkitty.com/utm_source=facebook&utm_medium=organic-story&utm_content=image1

UTM Tags are not meant for internal tracking, for example, tracking a button on your website & adding “utm_source=yourwebsite.com” to the button link.

Now why this is not recommended is because let’s assume someone comes to your website through twitter with “utm_source=twitter” & clicks on a button with “utm_source=yourwebsite.com“. As soon as the user clicks the button, a new session begins with “yourwebsite.com” as a new source, which is not the case.

Moreover, event tracking is best for tracking internal links rather than using UTMs to skew your data.

Google Analytic’s Realtime Reports are quite underrated. Unlike other reports which take some time to get populated, realtime reports are populated in seconds which fast tracks the testing process.

It will help you detect mistagging & correct them before putting it all over the place.

To check your tags:

  1. Open the link that you’ve created in a new tab.
  2. Sign in to your Google Analytics Account.
  3. Click on “Realtime” report in the left.
  4. Go to “Overview” or “Traffic Source” to check the source/medium of the traffic.
how to test the UTM tagged links before pasting

You Are All Caught Up!

I want to end it by saying that, always test anything that you start, not just UTMs but everything that you plan to deploy on your website. Who knows, you might discover a new treasure nobody told you as yet.

As far as UTM is concerned, I would say this is something very easy so why not use it to make our analytics more insightful.

Over to you guys! Let me know in the comments Are you using UTM tags? If not, are you going to use it now? Any problem that you might have encountered while adding UTMs? Which URL builder do you use?

Play around in the comment section, It’s all yours. ❤

F.A.Q.

What does UTM tag stand for?

UTM Tag, a frequently used acronym in marketing world, stands for “Urchin Tracking Module

What is a UTM tag?

UTM tag is text snippet extensions that are added manually to the end of a regular URL of your website to derive meaningful information that is not recorded in analytics platforms by default. Adding UTM tags records data like source, medium, and campaign of your website’s traffic, which in turn can be used to analyze & finetune your marketing practices.

How to generate UTM tag?

1. Go to Google dev tools.
2. Navigate to Campaign URL Builder.
3. Start by filling your full URL in the first field.
4. Add all the UTM parameters in the respected fields.
5. Click on “Copy the shortened URL”
6. Test your URL in google analytics before pasting it.
7. After verification, paste your URL with UTM tags & track them Google Analytics

  1. I really like what you guys tend to be up too. This kind of clever work and reporting!
    Keep up the excellent works guys I’ve added you guys to my
    own blogroll.

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