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UTMs and Google Analytics

Getting Granular with UTM Codes and Google Analytics

When it comes to tracking campaign performance, having the right details can make all the difference. Detailed data will help you figure out where your programmatic ad traffic is coming from, why it is coming to you, and how it is reaching you. With granular data provided by UTM codes and Google Analytics, you can make informed decisions to optimize your campaigns for better performance!

Google Analytics is one well-known and free tool that provides lots of important data for analyzing website traffic and advertising ROI. But with the basic Google Analytics, you don’t have access to the granular data you need to optimize your content and campaigns for the best results. Don’t worry, there’s a solution: Urchin Tracking Modules, also known as UTMs. In this guide, we’ll teach you the basics of creating UTMs and tracking the data they provide in Google Analytics. 

What are UTM Codes

UTMs are codes made up of letters and characters that are added to the end of regular URLs. They are designed to tell Google Analytics (as well as other analytics tools) more information about the link, and which marketing campaign the link relates to.

UTM codes are made up of what we call “parameters.” These are the tags that you add to a URL which together communicate to Google Analytics detailed information about the URL. When a user clicks a tagged URL, the tags are automatically sent back to your website’s Google Analytics profile. 

Why You Should Use UTM Codes and Google Analytics

UTM codes provide more granular data than the default information that Google Analytics provides. Without UTM codes you are still able to see where traffic is coming from—whether it’s paid, email, or social, for example. But you’ll also notice a lot of traffic is marked at “direct.” Without UTMs, there is no way to know how those visitors are reaching you.

The parameters of UTM tags allow you to track user behaviour, campaign performance, and traffic referrals in detail. This information will help you understand 3 key insights: How traffic is reaching your website or page, where it’s coming from, and why it’s coming. The goal in using UTM parameters is to track your data in detail, and sort it into an easily digestible report that provides answers to those key questions. 

Aside from providing more detailed analytics in general, UTMs are particularly useful for tracking and analyzing cross-channel campaigns. A UTM tag will identify engagement with a campaign across multiple devices and various digital marketing channels. The tags will indicate the source of traffic and medium for each individual campaign. This granular reporting allows you to make informed, data-driven decisions to improve the performance of your campaigns. It removes the guesswork, and gets you closer to your campaign goals.

Types of UTM Parameters

There are 5 main parameters that make up a UTM code: source, medium, campaign, content, term. Let’s dig into each one!

  • utm_source: This tag tells Google Analytics the source of the traffic. That could be Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, a newsletter, a search engine, or even your demand-side platform (DSP). 
  • utm_medium: This tag specifies the medium. The medium could be, for example, display, native, CPC, or email marketing.
  • utm_campaign: If a URL is being promoted for a specific campaign, it can be indicated using this tag. For example, in e-commerce this tag might be used to indicate a spring sale.
  • utm_content: This tag is used to differentiate similar content, or links within the same ad. For example, if you have two call-to-actions within one email you can use this tag to set different values for each CTA. This is a great tool for testing CTAs, because it will tell you which CTA is more effective.
  • utm_term: This tag helps you identify the keywords that drive clicks via a paid search campaign. The term you set is the keyword that this parameter will track. 

When looking at a URL that has UTM tags, you’ll see combinations of the above parameters following the URL. There are 5 parameters you can use. But, you’ll notice that many marketers don’t use all of them for every URL that they’d like to track. The only required tag in creating a UTM is “utm_source,” all the others are optional. 

How to Create UTM Codes in Google Analytics 

You can build UTMs for Google Analytics manually or by using a campaign URL builder. But before building them yourself, it’s important to understand how they are structured.

The UTM code has two components:

  • The parameter: The UTM parameter starts with utm_  followed by one of the specific parameters that we described above. If you use more than one parameter within a UTM, they should be separated by an ampersand (&). 
  • The tracking variable: This is a unique variable that identifies the dimension being tracked. For example, the name of the traffic source. The variable follows the parameter, and to indicate it you’ll put before it an equals sign (=). It’s important to note that you can have only numbers, letters, hyphens, plus signs (+) and periods within the variable.

How to Structure a URL with a UTM Code

Here’s an example of how you would structure a URL with a UTM code added: 

First, decide what parameters should be tracked. Let’s say example.com is having a spring sale. They want to use a UTM to learn how much traffic to the sale came from a display ad that they are running on their DSP. In this case, you’d use 3 parameters: 

  • Source: the DSP that the ad is run on, let’s say “stackadapt” 
  • Medium: the channel that the traffic is coming from, which is a “display ad”
  • Campaign: the name of the campaign, “spring sale 2021” 

Start with the landing page for that sale, http://www.example.com/springsale2021. Add the parameters and be sure to add an ampersand between each one. Here’s what the finished URL with UTM code will look like:

http://www.example.com/springsale2021?utm_source=stackadapt&utm_medium=display&utm_campaign=springsale2021

This URL can then be linked out to from the display ad. This way, Google Analytics will attribute spring sale traffic to that ad.

Two important things to note? UTMs shouldn’t ever contain spaces (that will break them!), and they should always be lowercase. 

There are two ways that you can build UTMs for Google Analytics: Manually or using a campaign URL builder. While there’s nothing wrong with creating them manually (like the one above), using a UTM builder is quicker. And they are simple to use! There are a number of UTM builders out there to choose from, like this builder by Google. 

3 UTM Tagging Best Practices

UTM tagging is pretty straightforward, especially if you use a campaign builder tool! But despite that simplicity, there are a few things that are important to keep in mind. These best practices will help you make sure your UTMs work to the best of their ability, and that the data they provide is easy to interpret and understand. 

1. Be descriptive and consistent.

Did you notice how in the example above we named the variable for the campaign parameter “springsale2021”? We gave that variable a descriptive name so that it will make sense to anyone who reads it. When writing your tracking variables, make sure that they are always descriptive, and aim for consistency in your naming conventions. This will make the resulting data easier to read, and it will make sense not just to you, but to other marketers who may look at it. 

2. Remember your UTMs are publicly visible.

Your UTM parameters and variables will be visible to everyone who clicks or shares one of your UTM links. This is important to keep in mind because you never know who may see those variables. For example, don’t use a variable like “clients_we_hate” because your clients may notice it.

It is possible to hide the UTM code of a link using a branded link generator, or a short link generator. That is generally considered good practice if you plan to share the URL on social media platforms where users might find long URLs unsightly. But, keep in mind that if they click the link they will still see the fully tagged URL in their address bar.

3. Create a system for managing your tags.

Even if you’re writing descriptive variables for your UTM codes, you may find that it can become overwhelming to keep track of them all. To keep your tags organized, it’s recommended to create a system for managing them. For example, consider making a spreadsheet that contains a separate tab dedicated to each of your campaigns. 

It’s also important to note that there’s no need to use all of the parameters available for every URL that you tag. The only required tag is “utm_source,” all the others are optional. While using several parameters per URL might seem like a good idea because it provides more data, it can also lead to overcomplication. When creating UTMs, take the time to think about what information is most beneficial to learn through tagging, and use as few parameters as is possible to gather that information. 

Get to the Granular of Your Campaigns with UTM Codes and Google Analytics 

UTMs are a free and efficient tool for providing the detailed information that every marketer craves. By tagging your URLs, you’ll gather valuable traffic data that will shape the insights you need to optimize your campaigns for performance.

If you’re creating campaigns using StackAdapt, be sure to try our integration with Google Analytics. The integration will allow analytics data to move one-way into StackAdapt without affecting measurement. And, it will align your site’s analytics data with your StackAdapt campaigns and creatives.

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