Guide to UTM tracking

As a performance marketing agency, one of our responsibilities is to ensure that we can measure the effectiveness of the work that we’re carrying out for our clients. Our clients invest in our expertise, and in the platforms and channels that we suggest will work for their business.

Being able to demonstrate the return from these channels then, is incredibly important. 

What is UTM tracking?

Now for most channels, Google Analytics is more than capable – and offers an off-the-shelf solution for robust, simple reporting and measurement. Part of what makes Analytics so successful is its ability to measure where clicks or traffic is coming from, and offer its users handy reports to explore this.

However, there are a few channels or sources that Google Analytics struggles to “categorise” or identify correctly. In these instances, we can use “UTM Tracking” to tell Google where this traffic is coming from. 

What are UTM tracking codes?

When we set up UTM tracking, we add “query parameters” to the end of an existing URL on our website. These parameters help to tell Google where this traffic is coming from. 

The term “UTM code” simply refers to the string of query parameters which are placed at the end of a URL on your website, as shown in red below.

There are five tracking parameters that can be used:

  1. Source 
  2. Medium
  3. Campaign
  4. Term
  5. Content

Don’t worry if you don’t know what each of these parameters relate to at the moment – all we need to know for now is that these parameters are what Google will use to categorise your traffic. You can see these parameters within the UTM code in red below:

A UTM code then, refers to the string of information highlighted in red here. You may be able to see however, that A UTM code has two parts. Firstly, it has the five tracking parameters we listed above. A simple way to think of these is as the “question” (ie. what is the source of this traffic?). Secondly, it has the variables that populate these “questions” – so the answers. 

Looking at the link below, we’ve highlighted the parameters in red, and the variables in blue:

Here, we can see each “answer” in blue that is being given to Google Analytics for the various questions (in red). You will often see these parameters at the end of a URL that you click on – most frequently from email campaigns, but also sometimes social media and other channels too. 

How to build UTM links?

There are two different ways to create UTM tracking codes. You can either do so manually, or using a UTM builder. We’re not going to explore the manual method, because frankly, we don’t know why anybody would do that! There are plenty of builder tools out there that make this a very quick process.

Our preferred method though, is Google’s URL builder, which you can find here

This allows you to quickly and simply turn your standard website URL, into one complete with the UTM tracking code. 

Below, we’ve gone into a bit more detail on what each of these fields are, and covered some examples of how best to use them.

  • Website URL – This is just the website URL that you are directing traffic to, for example: https://www.clicky.co.uk/landing-page-example
  • Campaign source – this is where the traffic originated from, for example: Google, Facebook, subscribed email newsletter list.
  • Campaign MediumThis is the type of traffic that is being sent. For example: cpc, display, email, sponsored content, etc.
  • Campaign NameThis allows you to report upon a specific campaign – if you’re running one. For example: spring sale campaign, december email marketing sale, etc.
  • Campaign Term – This is used for the specific keyword or phrase that drove the traffic. For example, “digital agency chester.” 
  • Campaign Content – This can be used to help understand which specific piece of content drove the traffic. This is particularly helpful if there might be more than one link pointing to the same page, within a piece of content – for example, within an email newsletter. We can specify which piece of content drove the visit (ie. “introduction link” or “read more banner”).

A key thing to bear in mind when creating UTM links, is that you don’t need to populate all of these fields. You can just use the few that apply to you. For example, we’ll regularly use source, medium, name, and often content – but far less regularly make use of the “campaign term” parameter. That’s fine, just leave those fields blank when working through the page.

Once you’re done, simply press “Copy URL” and that’s it! There’s your shiny new website URL, complete with the UTM tracking code. You can use this within your email build, within ads, or wherever your wish to track traffic in a bit more detail. 

How to view this within Google Analytics?

Once you’ve created a UTM link, and traffic has gone through it, you can begin to see this within Google Analytics. This data will show in a few different locations; basically wherever you would traditionally see these dimensions, acquisition reports, campaign reports, etc. 

However, an easy place to quickly check that UTM tracking is working as intended, is within the “real time report” within Google Analytics:

If you click on the acquisition report within the real time section, you should see your visit showing within Google Analytics, complete with the source and medium fields populated with the variables you entered. This is just a quick and easy way to double check that it’s working as intended!

Why use UTM tracking?

The simple reason we use UTM tracking is to track which links people are clicking on. That’s it. 

The big advantage of UTM tracking however, is that it can be used for pretty much any link that points to your website. This is great for those pesky channels or sources that Google struggles to identify. Alternatively, it’s helpful in situations where we might want more detail than just the “page” or “source” that referred the user.

For example, we could use UTM tracking with an email marketing campaign. This would allow us to see not only where the traffic came from (“email”), but also which newsletter drove the traffic (“March Spring Newsletter”), and even which button drove the visit (“Green CTA Button In Content Section”).

We could also use UTM traffic for any sponsored links we might have on other websites, that drive traffic to our own. Again, we could tell not only where this traffic came from (“www.examplereferrer.com”), but also what type of content it was using the medium (ie. “sponsored content”), as well as the content that drove the visit (ie. “guest september blog”). 

Broadly speaking then, we should look to use UTM tracking for any instances in which we either can’t see where the traffic is coming from, or alternatively, where we’d like a bit more detail than just what drove the traffic. We most frequently utilise UTM tracking for things like email newsletters, third party content, organic social media campaigns, etc.

Bonus question: What does UTM actually stand for?

UTM this, UTM that… you may be wondering what on earth “UTM” stands for. It stands for “Urchin Traffic Monitor.” Urchin is the analytics tracking software on which Google Analytics is / was based. We’re not sure this will ever appear on a pub quiz anytime soon though!

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Written by David Berry

Head of Performance & Analytics