Web Analytics

All About UTM Parameters. The What, Why and How of it.

Yesterday, we started talking about url tracking, and its importance to business owners and entrepreneurs into getting a better understanding of their audience and use that understanding to grow their traffic even further. We ended the discussion with a promise to talk about the most commonly used technique to track urls - UTM parameters.

Here I am, keeping that promise.

If you have ever looked up on UTM parameters, you would have noticed that typically it is described as the way for you to map the exact path someone takes from your ads, all the way to your landing pages, your website, or even conversion. But as we discussed yesterday, URL tracking goes way beyond just your paid advertising. It is, in fact, crucial to any and every aspect of your digital marketing.

Even without UTM parameters, your analytics provider helps you understand your traffic a little bit out of the box.

You may remember having seen your traffic source represented like this in your analytics dashboard.

traffic source

Even if you don’t use UTM parameters, just a basic understanding of where your traffic is coming from is quite helpful in itself. Here is a flowchart I found that will help you understand how your analytics provider categorises your traffic in the absence of utm parameters.

traffic source flowchart

You may ask, if you are already getting this much information by default, it is already giving you an indication of how much search traffic you are getting, how your social media posts are performing etc. So why do you even need UTM parameters? Because they take the game to the next level.

When you use UTM parameters, and use them correctly, you get a lot of context on exactly where the traffic is coming from, and what is resulting in this flow. In the dashboard screenshot we just saw, it is just giving you a broad indicative idea of where the traffic is originating from. Any further information is simply not there for you to feast upon.

Why and how you use UTM parameters?

If you don’t use UTM parameters, it becomes extremely painful for you to differentiate and further ungroup the traffic sources that are feeding visitors to your site. And in some cases, pretty much impossible. For example, you may know that your emails are bringing in a thousand visitors to your website every day, but which emails are performing the best? Which landing pages are witnessing the most conversion as a result of your email marketing, and which emails are working for a particular landing page, and which aren’t.

So, essentially you just made it harder for yourself to take data driven decisions. It becomes hard to measure the effectiveness of your campaigns. As a result, at best, you continue your campaigns as they were originally set up, which is a mistake since your good performing campaigns could use some of those $ you are wasting away on your poorly performing campaigns. And at worst, your poorly performing campaigns corrupt your overall impression of the efficacy of your campaigns, and you end up shutting the whole marketing channel down, despite a few campaigns hidden there that were performing great for your business.

Ideally, you should make sure that every ad your run, every CTA you create, every newsletter you send out, and every social media post you make is embedded with these UTM parameters. This way, you get an exact idea of precisely which Facebook ad is driving more traffic than the others, and which twitter post is responsible for the latest traffic spike.

All this contextual data mapping will help you analyze what’s most appealing to and resonating with your customers, resulting in better marketing activities in future. You would be able to use this data to optimise your marketing strategy, resulting in more valuable traffic to your website for every dollar you spend and every hour you devote to your marketing activities.

So, how do you create these UTM parameters? There are a few UTM parameter generator tools online, but before you use them, this is what I strongly recommend. Have a spreadsheet detailing out the guidelines for the naming conventions of your parameters. I have seen many a businesses make the mistake of populating their UTM parameters with whatever keyword comes to their mind in the moment. The result is a shitload of data that has no consistency and flow to it, making an effective analysis quite a lot of work. Nothing could be more infuriating, because now you have a lot of contextual data, but it needs to undergo serious cleaning and processing before you can use it efficiently.

Your Benne Analytics dashboard has a built in UTM parameter generator, along with helpful tips on how to come up with the right set of parameters. You will also be able to download a sample guideline spreadsheet to fasten your process of zeroing down on the naming convention you would be following.

There are five different UTM parameters you can use. Using the first three is highly recommended. The last two, while valuable, can be ignored in the early stages and as you continue building and improving your marketing methods, you can start using them again.

utm parameters structure

This categorisation will also help you come up with the guideline spreadsheet. There is no right or wrong way to name these parameters, you are the person it is valuable to, so use the naming convention that makes the most sense to you. There are only two things you need to remember.

First, have a method that will work as well for a campaign today as it would for a campaign a year from now. This guidelines and naming conventions should withstand the test of time, and should not be fluctuating with every campaign you create.

Second, the parameters should give you a birds eye view of the campaign and the activity they are referring to. If all you are looking at is a spreadsheet where your UTM parameters are mentioned in each column, then just by looking at any row, you should be able to tell what marketing activity goes with that particular set of UTM parameters. It becomes important because the more clarity these parameters provide, the more quick, valuable, free of confusion, and insightful your analysis of your marketing performance data would be. It is quite inefficient, ineffective, and frankly, a waste of time if you need to switch between the spreadsheet, your ad account dashboard, and your analytics dashboard all the time while you are analysing your marketing performance data.

Some help to get you started

Before I call it a day, let me give you a quick runaround of the different parameter types, what they represent and how you should look at them. This will probably help you get started with your spreadsheet and naming convention.

utm_source, utm_medium, and utm_name These are all referring to the broader campaign level. All three of them point to a unique trait of the campaign you are running. (Which is why I called them highly recommended).

While you can play around with the order in which you place them in your url string, it is advised to maintain this hierarchy and this order. It would help you look at your data in a more meaningful way when you are drilling down on any aspect of your performance analysis.

utm_source The source of your traffic. If I am running a Facebook ad, I would keep the source as facebook.

Please note, I am using the source as Facebook and not Facebook Ads. Since this is a top level category, you want it to encapsulate things on a macro level and not get extremely specific. Any branching out you need can be handled by the subsequent categories. Keep the top level as clean as possible, with few macro categories to choose from.

utm_medium The marketing channel, or the medium the link would be shared on.

It could be social. It could be email. Something that will add to the information from the previous layer.

If we had used Facebook ad instead of Facebook in utm_source, we would have had at least 4 different utm sources just for Google and Facebook. facebook-ads, facebook-others, google-ads, google-others. As a result as we went deeper into the hierarchy, we would end up massively increasing the number of branches, especially at the deepest level. But now, we have things cleaner. Just facebook and google on top, and an “ad” at the second level. Much better!

utm_campaign The specific campaign you have created that landing page/link for. It could be a product launch, product tour, launch promotion, sale, giveaway. Anything.

utm_term Identifying trait for your campaign. If you are using Google Ads, you could use this to tag the search term you are using. For facebook ads, you could use it to indicate audience selection or interests.

utm_content Any additional information you may need while you are analysing your performance data. This is mostly used to do an analysis on performance of different ad types that vary from one another ever so slightly. Extremely useful when doing A/B testing, trying out different ad copies and creatives etc.

There you have it. Everything you needed to know about utm parameters to start creating them yourself and analysing it efficiently, i.e. only if you don’t want Benne Analytics to handle that analysis for you. ;-)

Since our focus, as a product, has always been on helping businesses get actionable insights from their marketing data, our insights module handles UTM parameter analysis out of the box, saving you countless hours of painful analysis every single month.

Oh, and there is one more thing to remember when you are creating your UTM parameter embedded url. The whole url string is visible to your users as well as anyone else who comes across it. So make sure you don’t include any sensitive information in there.

If you are facing challenges with figuring out how to get useful and actionable insights from your current web traffic data, shoot me a message. I would be happy to chat. Let me help you overcome a challenge or two, no matter which analytics tool you use.

Alright then.

That’s it for today, see you tomorrow.

Cheers

Abhishek

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