What Is a UTM in Marketing and How Do You Use It?

Christy Walters

on

May 4, 2023

colored computer code on black background to represent what is a UTM

Monitoring and tracking campaign progress is the only way to tell if your marketing efforts are successful. Luckily, in today’s marketing landscape, there are plenty of tools and processes to make that tracking easier and more efficient. UTM codes are just one option you can choose to monitor your campaign progress and results. Today, we’re looking at what a UTM is and how you can incorporate it into your marketing plan:

What Is a UTM for Marketing?

UTM stands for Urchin Tracking Module. You may also hear this tracking tool called a UTM tag, code, or parameter. These are special codes that you can add to the end of any URL to track the performance of your marketing activities. Since UTMs are part of links, they’re most useful for tracking clicks in certain locations and understanding how traffic flows to your website from marketing campaigns. An example of a marketing UTM in a URL looks like this:

  • www.copypress.com/library/analysis-ebook/?utm_source=linkedin

Within the URL, there are two UTM code components. They are:

  • UTM parameter: This is the part of the URL that starts with “utm” and comes after the question mark (?) but before the equals sign (=). The syntax of the standard parameters doesn’t change, and we’ll explain the five parameters of a UTM in more detail below.
  • Tracking variable: The tracking variable is any information that comes after the equals sign to identify what you’re tracking with each parameter. This variable can, and should, change with each new UTM and campaign, and can only include numbers, letters, hyphens, periods, and plus signs (+) in this part of the URL.

The History of UTM Codes

Urchin Software developed the UTM codes for its proprietary web statistics and analytics program. The exact date for the development is unknown. Google bought out the company in 2005 and turned the Urchin platform into Google Analytics in the same year. By 2012, Google discontinued the use of the Urchin platform and more fully integrated UTM codes into its own analytics program.

The 5 UTM Parameters

There are five common types of UTM parameters that you can use to track your digital marketing campaigns. Each one focuses on a specific data point that may affect your analytics and help you understand if you’re reaching your marketing goals. These parameters always appear at the end of a URL and stand separate from the rest of the URL information with a question mark and ampersands (&). Here are the UTM parameters you can use and the right applications for each one:

1. Source

The UTM source identifies where your traffic comes from. When someone clicks this link and hits your site or content, what referred them there? Common sources for a UTM may include a website, search engine, or social network. Within a URL, the source UTM looks like this:

  • utm_source=facebook

Related: What Is Referral Traffic and Is Your Website Getting It?

2. Medium

The UTM medium tells you how you shared your link with the audience. Common mediums for a UTM may include email, social, or PPC ads. Within a URL, the medium UTM looks like this:

  • utm_medium=email

3. Name

The UTM campaign name tells you which campaign you’re promoting with the tag. This may be a specific promotion or an ongoing marketing effort. Keywords you may use in the UTM name include a product name, contest name, or type of sale. Within a URL, the campaign name looks like this:

  • utm_name=content-analysis-tool

4. Term

The UTM term is most commonly used for paid campaigns. It tracks the relevant keywords for the campaign to tell you which ones referred traffic to your website. Within a URL, the campaign term looks like this:

  • utm_term=analysis-tool

5. Content

The UTM content tag helps you determine what someone clicks to get to your website. It’s often used for ads or links that point to the same URL but come from different locations. You may use this code for A/B testing across a page or for content-targeted ads. Within a URL, the content tag may look like this:

  • utm_content=blue-cta-button

or

  • utm_content=green-cta-button

Can You Combine Parameters in a Single UTM?

Yes, you can use more than one UTM tag in a URL link. If necessary for your campaign, you may actually use all five UTM parameters in a single URL for tracking. When choosing which UTM parameters to use in your URL, it’s important to think about what data you need to collect to track the success of the campaign. 

You’ll often use the UTM source, medium, and name together each time you create a URL. The term and content tags are typically optional and used in more specialized campaign cases. A URL with multiple UTM tags may look like this:

  • www.copypress.com/library/analysis-ebook/?utm_source=linkedin&utm_medium=social&utm_name=content-analysis-tool

Why Do Marketers Use UTM Codes?

UTMs only have one purpose: to help your team track content and traffic. Most companies and agencies use them to get more information about specific campaigns and justify a choice of marketing tactics or budget spending. They also use them as auditing tools to better understand what channels, methods, and content perform best. The more information you collect about your marketing efforts, the better prepared you are to make more effective plans in the future.

Where Would You Use UTM Codes?

The most common place that you use UTM codes is on the internet. You can use them in locations like:

You can also use them across other marketing channels where you share content. These platforms may include:

  • Social media profiles and feeds
  • Email marketing
  • Mobile or SMS marketing
  • Apps or software programs off your domain

Should You Use UTMs for Internal Links?

It’s most common to use UTMs for inbound links on other channels that point to your website. But you may wonder, can I use these trackers internally, too? It’s important not to use UTMs on your internal links because they can confuse your analytics programs. 

For example, if someone visits your website from paid search, the UTM should register in your analytics program that the traffic came from that source. But if you use UTMs internally, too, and someone clicks a link to a blog post on your domain after they’ve navigated from the paid search ad, your program can’t tell how the traffic is moving through your site. Did it come from paid search or from direct traffic on a click? 

If you want to track how people click links once they visit your site, choose a different tracking method, such as a heatmap, to watch a visitor’s behavior on each page of your site.

Can You Create Your Own UTM Codes?

There are plenty of ways to create unique UTM codes for every marketing campaign you develop. The most common way to create a UTM code is to use a generator. Google Analytics provides its own generator to make it easy to add campaign parameters to your URLs. To use the GA generator, you need your website URL, the campaign source, and the medium. Google requires you to fill in these fields to generate any UTM. You also have the option to add a campaign ID, the name, term, and content if those fields apply to the campaign.

Other programs like HubSpot and some email builders and clients allow you to create UTM codes within their programs, too. Many generators are similar in their setup and output functionality. The end result, meaning the generated UTM, works the same and integrates with your analytics program the same no matter what generator you use. You do have the option to write your UTM codes manually if you know the right conventions. This can be time-consuming and increases the chance of an error when writing and sharing the links.

How Does a UTM Code Work?

After you’ve created or generated a UTM code, here is how the process works to monitor your campaigns:

  1. You or a team member pastes in or shares the link with the UTM tag attached to a source, such as attaching it to a paid ad, social media post, or email.
  2. A browser, searcher, or subscriber finds the link and clicks it to get to your website.
  3. Your analytics program registers a visit to your website and evaluates the links for any UTM tags.
  4. If the analytics program finds a UTM tag, it updates the traffic source metrics based on the information you specified in the code.

How Do You View Analytics for UTM Codes?

Because Google Analytics has roots in the original program that developed UTMs, it’s the most common program marketers and web developers use to view UTM codes and the tracking information they provide. Your GA dashboard has a list of reports to tell you more about your web metrics. You can find the information about your designated URM codes under the “All Campaigns” reports. You can also sort these reports by UTM tag for more specialized results.

Related: How To Set Up Google Analytics for a Website

Do UTMs Affect SEO?

UTM codes don’t affect any actual pages on your website or any of your content sources. You could delete all the UTM code information from a URL — meaning all the parts that come after the question mark — and paste that link into the address bar. The page would load as normal. For this reason, UTMs don’t affect your website’s or content’s SEO in any way.

Think of them like tags on a blog. You may tag blog posts to group information together and make it easier for your readers to find related posts through internal site search or while browsing. But adding tags to a blog post doesn’t affect its keywords, search engine positioning, or other SEO factors. Search engines ignore UTM parameters when indexing a page. UTM codes are simply for your marketing and analysis teams to group and track content or page performance internally.

7 Uses for a UTM Code

There are many ways you can use a UTM code to better track your marketing campaigns in digital spaces. Some of these uses include:

1. Traffic Tracking

UTM codes are one of the simplest ways to learn where you’re getting traffic from each campaign. Using the source parameter helps you understand where you’re getting referrals to your site. These are especially helpful if you use Google Analytics to track website traffic. This program tracks only three traffic sources: search, referral, and direct. Within referral traffic, there are many subcategories such as email, social media, and even mobile. When you add a UTM code to your URLs, you can then track specific referral locations that GA doesn’t monitor on its own.

Related: What Is Web Traffic and Why Should You Track It?

UTMs also help you conduct a link analysis across your content and channels. Certain calls to action, anchor text, or even button or link design can affect how your audience clicks links on any channel. By using UTMs with any new CTA links that you want to test, you can learn more about your audience and visitors’ link-clicking behavior.

This is especially helpful for things like email and newsletter campaigns that have more than one link within the content. You can track and analyze which links drive more traffic from these campaigns to determine if one product, service, or CTA type is better than another.

3. PPC and CPC Campaign Tracking

UTMs are extremely helpful when you develop pay-per-click (PPC) or cost-per-click (CPC) paid advertising campaigns. These campaigns aren’t free, so monitoring them is even more important than an organic campaign. Tracking can help preserve your budget. You can use UTM parameters to follow where you share your paid content, what keywords you target, and what your audience has to click to land on your site.

4. Social Media Tracking

Using a UTM on social media can help you understand which of your platforms is most successful for which campaign. You can use it for paid social ads to track information similar to PPC and CPC search campaigns. But you can also use UTMs on social media to watch how and where your organic posts travel across different platforms. This information can help you discover which types of content are most popular on each platform. Knowing that can help you plan future campaigns more effectively.

5. Email Campaign Tracking

UTMs are a common tracking tool used for email campaigns. Whether you send promotional emails, sales emails, or newsletters, you can add UTM links to each one to track click-throughs, conversions, and engagement. Tracking email information with UTMs allows you to understand which promotions are most popular. They can also help you with A/B testing within emails to learn if one layout or call to action is more effective than another. This information can shape more targeted email communications with your audience in the future.

6. Content Performance Tracking

When you share and promote your content across various channels it can be hard to tell where each piece performs best. Use UTMs to track where you share your content and how it performs on each platform. These codes can help you understand if your content is engaging, if it’s right for the platform, or if the campaign it promotes appeals to your audience. 

Content tracking can also tell you what type of content your audience clicked. Was it an image or a display ad? Was it a link for an eBook or a case study? The more you know about the types of content that appeal to your audience, the more effective assets your team can create.

7. Conversion Rate Monitoring

Aside from monitoring traffic, you can also use UTMs to track specific goals and key performance indicators (KPIs) for your marketing campaigns. One of the most common is your conversion rate. Your conversion rate tracks how many people complete a specific action, such as signing up for an event or making a purchase from your company.

You may use UTMs to track conversion rates by monitoring the amount of traffic that you send to a specific landing page that’s optimized for conversions. Then you can compare the traffic volume to the number of conversions registered. Cross-referencing these statistics can help you understand where the bulk of your conversion traffic comes from and which channels are most effective to help you reach your goals.

Related: Conversion Rate Formula and What It Means for Your Business

Best Practices for Using UTM Codes

Here are some best practices to follow for using UTMs in your marketing campaigns:

Establish a UTM Naming Protocol

Just as you have a style guide for your content and a brand guide for your visuals, it’s important to establish a naming protocol for your UTMs. The parameters that start with the letters UTM don’t change, but your tracking variables do. Setting your conventions for this part of a UTM can make it easier for your entire team to use and create them. Some of the conventions may include how you name mediums, campaigns, and traffic sources. For example, will you use linkedIn, li, or linkedin.com for that source?

Other conventions to consider include whether you use underscores or dashes for the tracking variables, or if you only use lowercase letters in the UTM. These tags are case-sensitive, meaning that it matters if you use uppercase or lowercase letters when you create and share them. Using a different variation of the same words or phrases but with different cases alters your analytics results. Typically, all URL characters are lowercase, but you may make exceptions to distinguish one UTM from another.

Choose Simple Words for Parameters

Your UTMs shouldn’t be fancy. Instead, they should be clear and as concise as possible. If someone were to read your UTM, even if they didn’t know or understand the parameters or variables, they could figure out what the code means. Make sure your naming conventions are clear. Use product, service, source, and medium names as they’d appear naturally in a sentence. Don’t throw in random numbers, dashes, or underscores unless they serve a purpose.

Choosing your tracking variables is like picking a URL slug for an article or blog post. It should be clear and easy for both a search engine and a user to understand.

Be Specific

Depending on how many campaigns you run, you could have tons of UTM codes that you track and follow. When you’re specific with tracking variables, it’s easier to know which UTMs match with which campaigns. For example, if you use UTMs in your email newsletters, you don’t want to use “newsletter” as the tracking variable for each one. You won’t know which newsletter brought in the traffic. Instead, you could label them “newsletter_april” or “newsletter-4-5-23” to distinguish which edition led to the traffic.

There isn’t a character limit on how long UTMs can be. But URLs with 2,000 characters or less are compatible with most web servers and browsers. Just as you try to keep regular page or site URLs short if possible, do the same with UTM links. This means keeping your parameters simple and specific, but also shortening the link after you create them. Programs like Bitly shorten URLs to make them appear less clunky when linked in content. 

While some marketing and cybersecurity professionals may recommend against link shortening, there is nothing inherently wrong with doing so, especially if your link is very long. The argument against link shortening is that hackers and spammers also shorten links to make it harder to tell where a URL takes you. While this is true, your audience may also be wary of clicking long links for the same reason. Consider A/B testing shortened and unshortened UTM links to find which option appeals to your audience the most.

Related: Does Link Trust Affect How People Click Content?

Keep a UTM List

Even though your analytics program likely generates a list of the UTMs you use, it’s helpful to keep a separate list for yourself and your team. Keeping a list of UTMs currently in use, ones used in the past, and ones you plan to use in the future can help keep your campaigns more organized. It’s also helpful if you have multiple team members working on campaign assets and projects. By compiling a master list of UTMs, you avoid repeating the same tags and accidentally erasing or skewing any data.

Add UTM Tracking To Your Content Analysis

UTMs are just one tool to help you learn more about your web and campaign metrics. There are plenty more that help you analyze your content and its sources to create the most effective and targeted marketing plan for your brand. To get started developing your road map, download our free eBook How To Analyze Your Content and Craft a Winning Strategy for 2023.

This guide provides in-depth information about how to run a content gap analysis. You’ll also learn how to run a keyword gap analysis on your content, how to locate your direct and indirect competitors, and how to measure the ROI from your content. UTMs can especially help you track and prove if you’re getting the best ROI from your content. After reading, request your SEO and content marketing analysis report to discover all the opportunities waiting for you to improve your marketing efforts.

Author Image - Christy Walters
Christy Walters

CopyPress writer

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