Tracking marketing efforts and understanding audience behavior are crucial in digital marketing. One tool in the marketer’s arsenal for achieving this is Urchin Tracking Module (UTM) parameters. They help you track the effectiveness of your marketing campaigns. In this guide, we’ll take a deep dive into UTMs, their evolution with Google Analytics 4 (GA4), and how to set them up and implement them for campaign tracking for each of your specific campaigns.
What is a UTM?
UTM (Urchin Tracking Module) codes are small snippets of text added to the end of a URL to track the performance of campaigns and content. These tags allow Google Analytics to tell you where the searchers came from and what campaign directed them to you.
After generating a UTM, your URL parameters may look like this: https://www.yoursite.com/shop/product?utm_source=instagram&utm_medium=social-ad&utm_campaign=igproductlaunch0323
Here, everything after the “?” is the UTM code. The corresponding data is stored in Google Analytics, where you can review it by campaign.
Importance of UTM Tracking Codes
UTM codes, or custom URLs, give marketers detailed information and attribution about a campaign’s performance. They can help:
- Determine the effectiveness of a specific investment, such as social media, PPC, paid social, SEO / content, email campaigns, and more.
- Identify which channels drive more traffic (e.g., Bing vs. Google).
- Evaluate which Google Ads keywords perform better.
- Provide detailed conversions & metrics for specific referrals.
Two basic UTM parameters must be included in GA4 UTMs:
- utm_source: The platform where the traffic is coming from.
- utm_medium: The type of campaign.
Additional UTM parameters that can be tracked in GA4:
- utm_id: The ad campaign id
- utm_term: Used in paid search campaigns to specify the target keyword.
- utm_campaign: The campaign name.
- utm_content: The specific content the user clicked.
- utm_source_platform: The platform responsible for driving traffic to a given Analytics property
Please note that neither of these is available in the current GA4 UTM builder, and neither is currently reporting in GA4 properties
- utm_creative_format: Creative, for example, display, native, video, search
- utm_marketing_tactic: Targeting criteria applied to a campaign, for example, remarketing, prospecting
The Transition to UTM Tracking in GA4
With the introduction of GA4, Google has given a fresh approach to analytics, focusing on user behavior across platforms and devices. However, the fundamentals of UTM tracking remain the same in GA4.
While you can skip ‘term’ and ‘content’ if they are irrelevant, it’s important always to include ‘source,’ ‘medium,’ and ‘campaign.’ These three provide critical information for your tracking and analytics.
Setting Up UTM Codes for GA4
There are several ways to create UTM codes for GA4. You can use Google’s free URL builder, build them manually, or use a Google Sheet to automate and standardize the process.
Using Google’s URL Builder for GA4
- Navigate to Google’s Campaign URL Builder.
- Switch the “Demos & Tools” option from UA (Universal Analytics) to GA4.
- Fill in the form with your campaign information.
- After filling in the form, the tool will generate a URL with the appended UTM codes.
- Copy and paste this URL into the relevant item in your campaign.
Manually Building UTM Codes for GA4
- Start with your base URL.
- Add a question mark “?” to the end of the URL to indicate the start of the UTM parameters.
- Append your UTM parameters and their values.
- Separate each parameter and value pair with an ampersand “&.”
- An example of the final URL would look like this: https://www.yourwebsite.com/?utm_source=google&utm_medium=cpc&utm_campaign=spring_sale
Using Google Sheets to Automate UTM Code Creation
A Google Sheet can be a powerful tool to standardize your organization’s UTM code creation process.
- Open Google Sheets and create a new blank sheet.
- Set up columns for the various UTM parameters and the base URL.
- Input the details for each campaign under the relevant column.
- Create a formula to concatenate the base URL and UTM parameters.
- Copy this formula down for all campaigns.
- Share and protect the sheet with your team.
Common Mistakes to Avoid with UTM Parameters in GA4
While UTMs are highly useful, there are a few pitfalls that you should avoid:
- Inconsistency in naming: UTM parameter values are case-sensitive. For instance, utm_source=Facebook is different from utm_source=facebook.
- Using spaces in UTM codes: Spaces can break your URL. Always use hyphens or underscores instead of spaces.
- Overusing UTM parameters: Stick to the parameters you need. Not every link needs every parameter.
- Overly Complex Naming: While being descriptive in your UTM parameters, avoid over-complicating them. Keep your naming conventions simple and straightforward to ensure easy data interpretation.
- Failing to Document: UTM parameters are case-sensitive and easy to forget or misremember. It’s essential to document your UTM naming conventions and stick to them. This will help maintain consistency and prevent errors in your reporting.
- Using UTM Parameters for Internal Links: UTM codes are designed for tracking external traffic sources starting at landing pages on your website. Using them for internal links can disrupt your analytics by overwriting session data and leading to inaccurate reporting.
- Forgetting to Test UTM Links: Before launching a campaign, it’s essential to test your UTM-tagged URLs to ensure they are working correctly. A broken or incorrect UTM link could ruin the tracking for an entire campaign.
- Capitalization: UTMs are case-sensitive, so the best rule is to keep everything lowercase.
Understanding Auto Tagging in GA4
Auto-tagging is a feature in Google Analytics that automatically generates and adds UTM parameters to your URLs. This feature proves to be a significant advantage when running ad campaigns, specifically when managing many URLs, and manually tagging each one could be a cumbersome task.
When you enable auto-tagging for your campaigns, Google Analytics automatically appends unique tags to your URLs. This automated process allows for capturing more detailed information about the source and behavior of your traffic, including the ad campaign that led users to your website and the specifics of user interactions on your site.
This feature in GA4, when combined with your UTM parameters, facilitates a much more in-depth and real-time understanding of your campaign performance. Auto-tagging provides precise and rich information about your campaign’s metrics, conversions, and attribution, reducing the room for human error and saving considerable time and effort.
However, it’s essential to remember that auto-tagging works best with Google Ads. If you’re using other advertising platforms like Facebook Ads or LinkedIn, you may still need to add UTM parameters to track your campaigns effectively.
Viewing Tracked Data in Google Analytics Traffic Acquisition Reports
With Google Analytics set up for your site, you can easily track your campaigns inside your acquisition reports. You can find your campaign data under “Acquisition”> “Campaigns”> “All Campaigns” in Universal Analytics. In GA4, you can view your data under “Reports”> “Acquisition”> “Traffic acquisition.”
Leveraging UTM parameters can significantly enhance your ability to track the success of your marketing campaigns. By understanding their utility, adapting to changes with GA4, and implementing them properly, you’ll be well-equipped to gauge your marketing efforts and make informed decisions for your organization.
In the ever-evolving digital marketing landscape, ensuring the accurate tracking of your marketing efforts is crucial for success. Volume Nine is here to help you seamlessly transition to Google Analytics 4, the latest version of Google’s powerful web analytics service. Our team of experts can assist you in setting up your data analytics and UTM parameters accurately, ensuring you have the insights you need to measure the effectiveness of your campaigns. We strive to provide you with the tools and knowledge to navigate GA4, enabling you to understand your audience better, optimize your marketing strategies, and ultimately drive business growth. With Volume Nine, you can be confident that your digital marketing efforts are set up for success.