Google Analytics and UTM Tracking for better reporting and cleaner website data

February 2, 2021

Using Google Analytics and UTM tracking

What are UTM parameters?

UTM stands for Urchin Tracking Module. !!!

The name comes from the Urchin Software Company, one of the original web analytics software developers. Google acquired the company in 2005 to create Google Analytics.

I know, zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz.

UTM parameters are bits of code added to the end of a URL to allow you to track that URL in Google Analytics.

They look like this : 


When added to your URL, it becomes this :

Then once shortened eg, they end up like this :


Or :

Why use UTM parameters?

In terms of tracking your campaigns, you can get a fair bit of data from the platform eg Facebook, Mailchimp or Twitter. You can probably get enough to report on this campaign at a high level, but it’s not granular, and in not tracking your campaign properly you’re inadvertently polluting website data for the wider domain. 

This makes it much harder to track overall site performance (or troubleshoot) especially when looking back, and you’re further limited in your ability to identify behaviours or anomalies that if otherwise accounted for would potentially open up new areas of insight and opportunity.

Quite simply, the more we can attribute traffic, identify user behaviour and why they did something, the better we can become at building and optimising campaigns. 

Imagine a vaguely typical scenario - 

Thursday : You run a mini campaign on social pushing a deal on a core product. You use a standard URL, or a straight equivalent without UTM. 

Friday : You look on FB and can see good engagement so you decide to boost it to all social ad types inc IG, Messenger and partner networks. 

Saturday : You then run an email campaign and get good click through rates. Coincidentally, at the same time, a colleague has issued a voucher code for site wide discount to be used by an influencer and this generates some traffic. 

Sunday : This code gets leaked and appears on a few voucher sites generating some traffic.

Tuesday : Your Marketing Director asks for some data and learning from your social campaign. You can see likes, shares and click through. You can see a few conversions. You go on GA and can view product level activity, but the rest is a blur because there’s also been a random spike of traffic for the same dates, and typically none of the data matches what you see in Facebook.

So you dig into traffic sources for the dates you were running the campaign exploring both the product page and the top level domain, and you can see the product sales and the total traffic volumes. However when you click source, instead of learning anything, the majority of this traffic is grouped under ‘direct’ and tells you nothing as you can’t attach it to your campaign. 

You’re basically left wondering how to process all of this data, and ultimately opt for guessing, and providing a woolly opinion as to how things happened. With some detective work and cross referencing of data you can mostly guess where traffic might have come.

However the issue with direct traffic is that it could have come from multiple sources, and none of it is tracked. You can filter certain traffic out, but it’s laborious and annoying. 

Direct traffic could be any of the following : 

  • Typing a URL into the browser is direct.
  • Email traffic is direct. 
  • Facebook Messenger is direct, plus other dark social (ie some other social shares, whatsapp, anything encrypted etc)
  • HTTPS to HTTP can get logged as direct - if you typed the landing page URL wrong, then you’ve already broken attribution. 
  • Organic social can sometimes show as direct depending on whether Google could work it out.
  • Organic search can even show as direct for the same reason (perhaps depending on the user browser settings).

So you might be able to pull enough metrics from all your platforms combined, and your report might have enough on there to make a decision on whether to run it again….but it’s not perfect. It could be a lot better and in view of taking a best practice approach, we must do our best to reduce the cause of direct traffic that would otherwise not be attributed. 

How to structure a UTM parameter.

There are five different UTM parameters. You should use the first three in all UTM tracking links. The last two are specifically for tracking paid campaigns.

You can use all of the UTM parameters together in one link. They all come after the ?, and they’re separated by & symbols.

When added to your URL, it becomes something like this :

1. Campaign source (essential)

This is the social network, search engine, newsletter name, or other specific source driving the traffic.

Examples: facebook, twitter, blog, newsletter, etc.

UTM code: utm_source

Sample code: utm_source=facebook

2. Campaign medium (essential)

This tracks the type of channel driving the traffic, like organic social, paid social, email, and so on.

Examples: cpc, organic_social

UTM code: utm_medium

Sample code: utm_medium=fb_ad

3. Campaign name (essential)

Give each campaign a name so you can keep track of your efforts. For example, this could be the product name, a contest name, a code to identify a specific sale or promotion, or a tagline.

Examples: summer_sale, free_tria

UTM code: utm_campaign

Sample code: utm_campaign=summer_sale

4. Campaign term (paid only)

Use this to track paid keywords or key phrases.

Examples: social_media, newyork_cupcakes

UTM code: utm_term

Sample code: utm_term=social_media

5. Campaign content (paid only)

This parameter allows you to track different ads within a campaign.

Examples: video_ad, text_ad, blue_banner, green_banner

UTM code: utm_content

Sample code: utm_content=video_ad

How to build a UTM parameter.

Use a utm builder like Google’s own Campaign URL Builder.

Enter your campaign tracking identifiers, and click ‘convert to short link’ at the bottom.

If you want something prettier, then you’ll need to copy the long link into and convert there where you can edit the URL slug. Alternatively use the chrome browser extension.

How to pull a report in GA:

Log on to GA and click Acquisition. If you don’t have access to GA then maybe it’s time you did!

Select All Campaigns

Make sure you have the correct dates!

Scroll down to look for your campaign (or search in the box using your campaign ID) and by clicking on the campaign, you’ll see all the data for all visitors that used your link. Combine this data with data from FB Events Manager (or build your own custom events / goals within GA( and you’ve got a full picture of user behaviour allowing you to troubleshoot drop offs, basket abandonment, bounce rate etc. 

6 UTM tracking tips

1. Use UTM parameters to measure social media ROI

Adding unique UTM parameters to social links helps you measure each post and campaign, and acquire a much deeper level of understanding, and enabling you to see a clearer ROI. When combined with transaction tracking / e-commerce events in GA (currently working for VR and FP and soon MR!) you can see their journey from the moment they click your link.

2. Use UTM parameters to refine strategy

UTM parameters allow you to clearly see which strategies are most effective. For example, maybe Twitter brings more traffic, but Facebook creates more leads and conversions. You can use that information to help set more realistic goals and use UTM’s to track progress.

3. Use UTM parameters to conduct A/B tests

A/B split testing allows you to test and confirm theories about what works best for your audience. Is that video? Or does your audience prefer something else? With UTM codes you can test that theory. Share two identical posts, one with a video and one without. Tag each with an appropriate campaign content UTM code. You’ll soon see which drives more traffic to your site.

4. Use UTM parameters to track influencer marketing results

Influencer marketing is really hard to track and prove value.

So using a unique UTM code for each influencer can help you decide which influencers to work with, and for what.

5. Use a consistent naming convention

It is important to be consistent. Inconsistent UTM parameters will result in inconsistent records / data. To be more effective, create a master list of UTM parameters for the high level items like source and medium. Specify which parameters should be used for new content, terms, and campaigns.

By sticking to a naming convention, the data will always be readable - if you make a mistake and the campaign launches, you cannot rectify this as the data will already be sitting in GA and cannot be changes.

-Stick to lower-case
UTM codes are case-sensitive. That means facebook, Facebook, FaceBook, and FACEBOOK  all track separately. If you use a different format on every campaign, the data separates and becomes more difficult to combine.

-Use underscores instead of spaces
For example, organic-social, organic_social, organic social, and organic social will all track separately. Even worse, “organic social” with a space will become “organic%20social” in the URL. Replace all spaces with an underscore.

-Keep it simple
If your UTM codes are simple, you’re less likely to make mistakes when using them. Simple, easy-to-understand codes are also easier to work with in GA. They allow you to know at a glance what the codes refer to (and so will everyone else on your team).

6. Track UTM links in a spreadsheet

You should keep your links organised in a spreadsheet to make them easier to manage and help eliminate duplicate links.

Your spreadsheet should list each campaign, the date, channel, and the short link. Then, track the full, pre-shortened URL, all of the individual UTM codes, and the date the shortened URL was created. Leave a field for notes so you can keep track of any important details.

A shared spreadsheet for the whole team might be suitable and can become a useful resource for the whole team to look back on a campaign, and to see how their efforts link into wider website performance. This could be combined with a content calendar. 

Other learning

Take the free courses for GA with Google Academy : 

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