on June 11, 2021 (last modified on February 3, 2023) • 19 minute read
Direct, referral, social, and organic: They’re the four traffic sources Google Analytics shows by default.
The only problem? You can’t dive much deeper than that top-line information.
Sure, you can see how many people come from each traffic channel, and use segments to see what they do on your website.
But that’s it. You can’t click through and see the individual social media post someone saw before clicking to your site, nor track which link someone clicked inside your marketing email.
…Unless you’re using UTM codes in your links.
Confused by yet another marketing acronym: UTM?
“UTM stands for Urchin Tracking Module parameters,” Jessica Johnson of Beyond Big Blue explains. “These parameters are data that we add to the campaign URLs in order to see where a variety of traffic comes from in our analytics reports.”
They’re short bits of code you add to the end of your URL.
Obaid Khan of Planet Content adds that once you’ve added UTM codes to your links, “you can track the URLs’ performances in Google Analytics by going into the ‘Acquisition’ tab, then ‘Campaigns’, and then ‘All Campaigns’.”
Then, change the primary dimension to “source/medium” to see exactly where your traffic comes from:
“We use custom UTMs for every link back to the website from our clients’ social media posts, tweets, bios, and social ad campaigns,” WideFoc.us Social Media’s Eric Elkins explains.
“This allows us to track content and campaign performance, including how many clicks came from any post or tweet, social-driven conversions, increases in website traffic from social media, and what site visitors did once they clicked through.”
Related: 25 Insightful Google Analytics Custom Dimensions for Analyzing Website Conversions
Now we know what UTM parameters mean (and what they do), let’s move onto the fun part: how to actually use UTM codes.
A UTM code typically has these parameters:
This information is added to the end of every external link you’re placing. That way, you can drill down into the UTM codes through Google Analytics and see exactly where your traffic comes from.
However, Alex Birkett of Omniscient Digital has a word of warning: “Don’t use UTMs to track internal links on your own website. That will strip acquisition source data and split your sessions.”
Don’t feel overwhelmed at the thought of setting UTM parameters manually.
You can use a simple tool to create UTM codes. Google Analytics Campaign URL Builder is a great tool both for manual tagging in GA and for non-Google advertising campaigns.
To use Google Analytics Campaign URL builder to build UTM codes, just enter the website URL and campaign information.
There’s no doubt that UTM codes add more color to your Google Analytics data.
Instead of seeing that traffic, engagement, and conversions come from a platform, you can drill even further into your marketing performance. You’re able to pinpoint website activity to a specific campaign.
We wanted to find out how marketing teams actually do experts do that. So, we asked 50+ experts for their UTM parameter best practices. They shared how they’re using UTM codes to monitor campaign performance. Their answers include:
You can monitor acquisition metrics in Google Analytics like traffic by source, sessions by social network, top paid keywords by sessions, sessions by organic traffic, bounce rate, and more, to quickly identify how are people finding your website, what your most profitable traffic sources are, and how successful specific marketing campaigns are in attracting website visitors.
Keep in mind though, the amount of channels, dimensions, and demographics you can sort by in GA is one of the easiest things you can overcomplicate.
To better understand how your website performs in terms of acquisition and conversion, we built this Google Analytics dashboard template that contains all the essential metrics for understanding how successful you are at attracting visitors from different channels.
With this Google Analytics Acquisition Snapshot dashboard, you can quickly identify how users arrive at your website, and details such as:
You can easily set it up in just a few clicks – no coding required.
To set up the dashboard, follow these 3 simple steps:
Step 1: Get the template
Step 2: Connect your Google Analytics account with Databox.
Step 3: Watch your dashboard populate in seconds.
“To optimize your business for local searches, utilizing UTM tracking on a Google My Business listing is absolutely vital to gain a better understanding of how your local SEO strategy is contributing to your overall SEO goals,” says Hunter Adams of Power Digital Marketing.
“Prior to adding a UTM, the data has been shown to inflate your direct channel performance, not giving the GMB listing (and you) the organic credit it deserves.”
“Simply add: [?utm_source=GMBlisting&utm_medium=organic] to the end of your Google My Business website link and you’re all set.”
Chris Manariti of Manariti Plumbing also says that since using these UTM codes, “Ee know now that a much larger percentage of our traffic is coming through GMB than we ever originally thought. UTM tracking allows us to track the performance of:
Manariti explains: “We as the Medium or Campaign input to create completely different tracking URLs, for example like this:
Manariti adds: “Being able to split the data within Google Analytics to truly track the performance has been hugely beneficial to tracking individual campaign performance. Doing this has also allowed us to determine how well GMB traffic converts and how different it is to other channels.”
Ardent Growth‘s Skyler Reeves explains: “By default, Google doesn’t distinguish between traffic from the standard organic results and traffic from the local map pack results.”
“I parse these out by going into Google My Business and appending UTM parameters to the website address field like so: ?utm_source=gmb&utm_medium=organic&utm_content=listing&utm_campaign=local.”
“Taking this approach is useful because it can help inform whether or not you want to put your effort into traditional SEO tactics or tactics more specific to local SEO.”
Summarizing, Intuitive Digital‘s Max Allegro says: “Using UTM parameters for all your Google Posts is essential for tracking how well your posts are performing.”
“You can use the Campaign Name “gmb-post” for all your posts, or switch it up depending on the type of post: gmb-event, gmb-offer, gmb-product, etc. But make sure you are consistent whichever you choose.”
“One of the most common ways we use UTMs is to track email campaign performance,” says EnergyBot‘s Thad Warren.
“By appending unique UTM parameters to each link in a campaign, we can track exactly which CTA, image, headline, etc is most engaging for the user.”
“For example. If I’m sending out generic newsletter type email with multiple article links my UTM would look like this: /?utm_source=april-newsletter&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=newsletter&utm_term=cta-name&utm_content=headline-1
Alejandro Rioja adds: “I attach UTMs into email links to get the differential click-through metrics. It helps in identifying the clicks behavior-whether the users are clicking at the top or the bottom.”
Dylan Zsigray explains how they do this at Kiwi Creative: “When we form lead nurturing email campaigns, we sometimes use the same webpages in multiple emails.”
“For example, this could be the contact page linked to a button each email. As such, it’s important for us to see where the views of our contact page came from. This is where our UTM tracking comes into play.”
“We add UTM codes to ends of our URLs in email campaigns to not only see which email visits came from but what portion of an email (e.g. a specific button) the view can be attributed to,” Zsigray continues.
“This helps us to continue to optimize our email campaigns based on what works and what doesn’t.”
Dave Davies adds: By default, [Beanstalk Internet Marketing] add UTM parameters to email campaigns with at minimum the following:
“So often I see email traffic dumped into analytics as direct. It drives me crazy and is so very easy to fix,” Davies says.
Similarly, Daniel Ashton of Brookside Pomskies writes: “When sending out informational/editorial email blasts to our subscribers we have used UTM parameters to track the amount of traffic we got from that particular email. Sometimes this has even ended up with our UTM link being used as a backlink reference on other sites.”
Gabriella Horvath of PanIQ Room Franchising summarizes: “For email campaigns we are sending out offers in special campaign periods (for example Mothers Day, Valentine’s Day, Black Friday) and we are tracking the opening rates and conversion rates with the UTM parameters.”
If you’re using guest blogging or advertising to drive traffic to your website, your data might be pooled under the Referral traffic channel.
“At Mashvisor, we use UTM tracking to track the performance of our guest blogs. As part of our backlinking efforts, we submit guest blogs to various different websites on a regular basis,” Daniela Andreevska explains.
“We add UTM tracking to all of them in order to be able to identify which bring the most benefit for us in terms of both traffic and ecommerce conversions. This helps us target our backlinking efforts where they give the best results with regards to websites, topics, keywords used, and others.”
Riley Adams of Young and the Invested adds: “I use the UTM tracking codes in Google Analytics when I distribute my weekly newsletter to readers.”
“These tracking codes allow me to track campaign performance and also to target which pages people visited as a result of their inclusion in my email distribution. This can provide valuable insight into the types of content my audience finds most useful as well as offering guidance on which topics I should cover in the future.”
Sarah Petrova says the team at Intel Corporation is also “using UTMs for A/B testing different banner ad designs. UTMs are used by us to calculate the ROIs for different ad designs and based on that data, optimize our ad campaigns and campaigns for our clients.”
Plus, Ashley Hill of ashleyidesign says: “A client of mine is testing out various forms of advertising, including a banner ad on an industry forum. By using UTM tracking, we’ll be able to determine not only how much traffic the ad is generating, but also attribute it to specific leads once they convert.”
Summarizing, Keyhole‘s Karen Fang says: “We use UTM tracking for many different purposes, but ultimately we mostly use it to track where traffic and conversions from our website are coming from, whether it’s paid ads, social media, or other link-backs to our marketing efforts.”
“I make it standard practice to include UTM parameters in press releases for new developments within our company,” says Anthony Mastri of MARION Marketing.
“Press releases can be syndicated to hundreds of different news sites and picked up by tens of different journalists. When I see page visits to a page containing my press UTMs, I can tell how popular the news was, and how many reporters used my release links to craft a story of their own.”
Mastri explains: “This is a great way to attribute which syndication platforms work, and which type of news is worth sharing when it comes to your brand.”
David Erickson of e-Strategy also does this by “using UTM tracking in email signatures to measure the website traffic that is generated via email correspondence.”
“As a public relations/digital marketing consultancy, we do a significant amount of outreach to reporters, editors and broadcasters, to bloggers, podcasters and influencers, as well as executing link building campaigns for SEO.”
“Tracking email signature clicks provides another signal as well as harnessing an under-appreciated source of website traffic,” Erickson says.
Related: How Do You Craft a Successful Media Pitch that Actually Lands Coverage?
Your social media strategy includes posting on tons of different platforms.
The only problem? You know which drives the most traffic–but not which individual posts or campaigns perform best.
Bruce Hogan explains how they do this at SoftwarePundit: “We include the same keyword across all of the same type of Facebook posts so that we can use Google Analytics to easily monitor the performance of all categories within Facebook.”
“At the same time, we ensure that each individual post has a unique UTM value to track individual performance.”
Alistair Dodds of Ever Increasing Circles adds: “We use UTM tags on most campaigns, especially Facebook and remarketing campaigns. They are a great way to ensure Google Analytics and Facebook pixel data closely match and give us the opportunity to troubleshoot when we see disparities.”
“This is crucially important in helping us calculate ROAS for each campaign and optimize performance through a given campaign’s sales funnel.”
Eulises David of Titoma Design also does this with Quora: “Every time we reply to a question in Quora, we leave a link to our website with URL parameters specific to each question topic.”
“Then we look at Google Analytics and see the questions and topics that bring the most traffic to us. We proceed to improve our content to meet what people are searching for and increase traffic.”
By using UTMs to track social performance by channel, RingBlaze‘s Dennis Vu says: “We figured out that Facebook has become practically useless for us since we get the most clicks and conversions from LinkedIn. It’s a great way to find out where your traffic comes from and which platform gives you the best conversions.”
Plus, Daniel Lynch of Empathy First Media says: “For all Facebook Ads and PPC campaigns, I track various UTM parameters to assign conversions and track ROI of marketing efforts.”
“I rely on Google Analytics and a custom marketing dashboard I have created with Databox to look at straight numbers to calculate the lead acquisition cost and overall the sales lifecycle determine where the most qualified leads originated from.”
Related post: 16 Ways To Track Social Media Engagement Using Google Analytics
We know which platform (and post) our social traffic comes from.
You can also use your UTM parameters to track what each group of people is doing on your site.
Casey DiNicola of Presh Marketing Solutions explains: “While working on a LinkedIn ad campaign to promote a microsite by Hewlett Packard Enterprise, we leveraged UTM tracking to determine where on the site users from LinkedIn were navigating to after clicking our ads.”
“This helped us determine whether or not it would be strategic to gate those elements of the site which users were most interested in accessing.”
“One way we use UTMs is to distinguish conversions due to specific holidays, giveaways or promotions,” writes ProLightingRental‘s William Chin.
“We’ll usually add a custom utm_source value to all of our promotions on social media as well as any other type of medium that we are utilizing at that time. It’s important to do this since you need to know the payoff of a specific execution.”
“Whether it’s just a coincidence or your campaign actually made a difference, UTMs enable us to do this quite easily!”
“We use UTM codes in many ways, but one that may be more unique is that we use them to track our client’s sales teams’ engagement with their website,” Weidert Group‘s Jonathan Stanis explains.
“We created a series of UTM codes, combined with a URL shortener, for key pages on our client’s website. We then sent this list of URLs to the client’s sales team with instructions to share them with their leads and customers.”
Stanis adds: “With this setup, we are able to see how much traffic the sales team is sending to their own website.”
Remember how we mentioned that the “term” part of your UTM code helps you track which keywords you’re targeting with PPC campaigns?
“UTM tracking parameters help us to understand the effectiveness of our PPC campaigns. We use it with Google Analytics and CRM tools (like HubSpot and Salesforce) to give us more advanced information about our leads,” says LoudGrowth‘s Harpreet Munjal.
“It helps us to understand and track the quality of leads, contract size, lead status, and other attributes. For example, 10 leads out of 100 leads generated with Google Search ads (SEM) has closed at $16,000 contract size. Or Google display ads have a higher conversion rate than other channels.”
Munjal explains: “It helps us to focus on the right marketing channels and to improve our ROI.”
“[Postali] recently launched a marketing campaign to help our clients and other law firms cope with challenges they are experiencing as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic,” says Jenna Saponaro.
“In order to properly track and measure these efforts, I use the campaign parameter utm_campaign=covid when creating tracking links.”
“Using a consistent UTM parameter allows us to track anything related to the COVID campaign across various marketing channels (using these parameters) in Google Analytics.”
Saponaro continues: “We can then evaluate and optimize this campaign by answering questions such as which channels drive the most traffic, what type of content influences conversions, and even which call to actions (which can be captured in the ad content or keyword UTM parameters) are driving more clicks.”
“Our CRM allows us to see the sources of each specific lead,” Jacob Cullum of Epic Marketing says. “We use that information to score the different leads and get actionable insights into which campaigns give us the best leads for our ad spend.”
Rent Round‘s Raj Dosanjh adds: “We use conversion tracking in our whole conversion life cycle, not just the end. This shows us not just the amount of conversions we get, but at what stage other potential conversions quit at.”
“We previously had 6 steps a lead had to fill in their details for, to classify as a conversion/sale. Our conversion tracking showed us where a majority of our leads were dropping out of the sales process. This enabled us to pinpoint what steps need improvement.”
“We removed 2 stages of our conversion process and reduce the number of fields a lead needs to complete by 34%. This, in return, led to conversions increasing by 22%,” Dosanjh continues.
“By just tracking the end conversion goal, you miss out on key improvement areas that will provide amazing returns if fixed.”
Related: 11 Ways to Improve Lead Quality According to 40 Marketing & Sales Experts
“One way CC Market Media is using UTM tracking in Google Analytics is by measuring where our main audience is located,” says Marissa Owens.
“We created campaigns with several different mediums and sources and tag each link using the name of the city we are focusing on. By tagging the location, we’ve seen remarkable data to get a picture of where our audience is based.”
“It gives us a better direction of what kind of content to create but also gives us awareness of what our audience needs. The results were surprising to say the least!”
Similarly, Portent‘s Michael Weigand says: “For our client who is a retailer in the automotive industry, we use utm_campaign parameters in our paid media campaigns to organize performance in over 400 brick and mortar locations by sales regions using naming conventions with common prefixes.”
With UTM codes, you can easily pinpoint where your traffic comes from, and what each group does on your website. You can see which pages they view, how they move along the buyer’s journey, and which tends to get the most conversions.
Imagine how valuable that’d be to your team when creating month-end marketing reports with Google Analytics reporting tool.
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