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Traffic Attribution: How to Use UTM Parameters to Track Your Advertising Success For Better Conversions

A copy-and-paste string of “valuable code” that helps you track the effectiveness of different marketing campaigns and which channels are driving the most traffic, conversions, and revenue. 

Your customer journey is much more complex than “customer sees an ad, clicks, and goes to purchase.

In reality, a customer may have clicked your ad but didn’t buy. Then through a mix of search, social, and other paid efforts over a certain time period — ended up buying.

Before you can credit ‘a conversion’ to the proper traffic source — you need to know where that customer came from. Obviously.

To track your campaigns effectively, you need to use UTM parameters. And once mastered, they can provide invaluable insight into your advertising campaign’s performance.

UTM parameters allow you to identify from which source a ‘click’ originated and understand how they’ve interacted with your website.

Tracking the performance of your campaigns allows you to measure the ROI of your campaigns and make data-driven decisions to optimize your campaigns, increase your conversion rates, and about where to allocate your marketing budget.

By adding UTM parameters to your URLs in social media ads, search ads, email campaigns, and other marketing campaigns, you can accurately track the source of your website traffic and make informed decisions about how to improve those campaigns.

So, let’s say you’re running a Facebook ad campaign for a new shoe brand in your ecommerce store. You can create a unique UTM parameter for that ad campaign that will track clicks and conversions from that campaign and its specific ads.

Allowing you to measure the effectiveness of that ad campaign in Google Analytics.

By measuring which campaigns are generating the most traffic, leads, and sales you’re able to a/b test and optimize ad campaigns to maximize your revenue and ROAS — and kill campaigns that didn’t do well.

In this article, you’re going to learn what UTM parameters are, why they’re important, and how to use them to improve your ad tracking.

 

What are UTM Parameters?

“Urchin Tracking Module parameters are five variants of URL parameters used by marketers to track the effectiveness of online marketing campaigns across traffic sources and publishing media” – Wikipedia

UTM parameters are specific tags that you can add to the URLs of your website and landing pages to track the source of your website traffic and the effectiveness of your marketing campaigns.

UTM parameters allow you to identify the specific source, medium, and campaign that are driving traffic to your website. That data can be tracked in your analytics platform, such as Google Analytics.

Google Analytics is a popular (must-have) tool that enables you to track your website’s traffic and understand how users interact with your content.

UTM stands for Urchin Tracking Module, they were originally created by ‘Urchin web analytics’ which Google bought in 2005 and turned into Google Analytics.

UTM parameters consist of five components: source, medium, campaign, term, and content. Here’s what each of these components means: 

  1. Source (utm_source): This identifies the source your traffic is coming from, such as a specific website, search engines like Google or Bing, or social media platforms like Facebook or Instagram.
  2. Medium (utm_medium): This identifies the communication channel and type of traffic, such as organic traffic, paid traffic, social, or email traffic.
  3. Campaign (utm_campaign): This is the name of your campaign. It identifies the specific campaign you’re running, such as a Black Friday sale or a new product launch.
  4. Term (utm_term): This identifies the specific keyword that was typed in to trigger your ad used in paid search campaigns.
  5. Content(utm_content): This is used to differentiate between different ads that lead to the same landing page URL, and identifies the specific content that the user clicked on, such as a banner ad, Facebook ad, or a call-to-action button.

By using UTM parameters, you can track the performance of each component and see which channels, campaigns, and ads are driving the best results.

 

How do UTM Parameters Work?

UTM parameters work by adding these tags to the end of a URL that provides additional information about the link.

If you’ve added UTM parameters to the URLs of your website links, and when a user clicks on one of these links, the tags are sent to your Google Analytics account (or third-party tracking software), which allows you to track the source of the traffic and the effectiveness of your marketing campaigns.

A link that is properly tagged with UTM parameters helps you answer the following questions:

  • Where is my website traffic coming from? The utm_source value tells Google Analytics the name of the source.
  • How are they arriving at my website? The utm_medium value identifies the communication channel used to create the source.
  • For what reason are they coming to my website? The utm_campaign value identifies the advertising or marketing campaign that’s responsible for the click.
  • What keyword exactly? The utm_term value is used to identify the paid search term on Google Ads for example.
  • What else do I know about that link? The utm_content value shows more information about the link variation that was clicked. The link variation can refer to different things, such as the format of the link (such as an image, text, or button), or the version used in an A/B test.

Now that you know what UTM parameters are, let’s find out how they work.

 

How to Use UTM Parameters

The basics of using UTM parameters are pretty easy. All you need to do is add the parameters to the end of your URLs. Voilá.

A regular URL looks like this:

https://examplesite.com/

But let’s say you want to send people on your newsletter to your website.
Iif you add UTM tags to an black Friday email blast from your email newsletter, your URL might look like this:

https://examplesite.com/?utm_source=Klaviyo&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=blk-friday

The UTM parameters for this specific campaign are:

  • Source: Company newsletter (Klaviyo)
  • Medium: Email
  • Campaign: Black Friday sale email blast

Here’s another example:

https://gladonmedia.com/free-google-ads-guide?utm_source=google&utm_medium=search-ppc&utm_campaign=google-ads-guide&utm_term=how-to-run-google-ads&utm_content=search-ad

In this example, the UTM parameters are:

  • Source: Google
  • Medium: PPC (pay-per-click)
  • Campaign: Google Ads Guide (lead magnet)
  • Term: “how to run Google ads”
  • Content: Search Ad  

When a user clicks on this URL, Google Analytics will track the traffic and attribute it to the Google search PPC campaign for my free Google ads downloadable guide.

I can then view the performance of this campaign in my Google Analytics dashboard.

How UTM Parameters benefit your traffic and conversion attribution:

  • It helps you identify from which source a click originated.
  • Organize incoming traffic into meaningful buckets.
  • Attribute your campaign results (conversions) to the correct traffic sources.

Here’s how you can do it yourself:

  1. Choose a URL you want to track: This could be a landing page, a product page, or any other page on your site that you want to track.
  2. Add UTM parameters to the URL: Use Google’s URL Builder tool to add UTM parameters to your URL. 
  3. Use the new URL in your advertising campaigns: If you’re running a Facebook ad, use the new URL in the ad’s destination URL field in Meta’s Ad manager.
  4. Track your campaigns: Once you have created your UTM parameters, you can start tracking them in your analytics platform. Use Google Analytics to see how they’re performing. Go to the section ‘Acquisition’ inside of your Google Analytics 4 dashboard and click on Overview. 

To track your UTM parameters in Google Analytics, you can also create a custom report.

To create a custom report, follow these steps:

  1. Log in to your Google Analytics account.
  2. Click on “Customization” in the top navigation bar.
  3. Click on “Custom Reports” in the left-hand menu.
  4. Click on “New Custom Report” in the top-right corner.
  5. Name your report and select the metrics you want to track.
  6. Select the dimensions you want to track (e.g., source, medium, campaign).
  7. Click on “Save” to save your report.

Once you have created your custom report, you can view your UTM parameters data in your Google Analytics 4 account.

 

Best Practices for Using UTM Parameters

When I started using UTM parameters a long time ago, I had no clue what I was doing. I randomly put tags in my URLs and later found out that the data was close to unmeasurable lol.

Over time I’ve found several best practices to follow when using UTM parameters to ensure that you get the most accurate and useful data from your campaigns. 

Here are some of the most important ones:

  • Be consistent: It is important to use consistent naming conventions for your UTM parameters across all your campaigns. This will help you avoid confusion when analyzing your data, and ensure that you can compare campaigns accurately.
  • Use lowercase letters: To avoid issues with case sensitivity, use lowercase letters for your UTM parameters.
  • Use dashes NOT underscores. If you use underscores, Google will return the data “google_ads_guide” as one word.
  • Be specific: Use as much detail as possible in your UTM parameters to help you identify the source of your traffic. For example, instead of using “Facebook” as the source, use “Facebook_ad_name” to indicate that the traffic came from the first Facebook ad in your campaign.
  • Be descriptive: Use short, descriptive names for your UTM parameters that clearly describe what they are tracking to make it easy to identify them in your analytics platform.
  • Keep it simple: It’s important to keep your UTM parameters simple and easy to read. Avoid using long strings of text, spaces, or special characters that can be confusing.
  • Use URL builders: Use a URL builder tool, such as Google’s Campaign URL Builder, to create your UTM parameters. This will ensure that your parameters are formatted correctly and that you are not missing any important information.
  • Avoid over-tagging: It’s important to only use UTM parameters when you need them. Over-tagging your URLs can create cluttered and confusing data, and may even cause your website to load slower.
  • Use UTM parameters for all of your campaigns: To get a complete picture of your marketing efforts, use UTM parameters for all of your campaigns, including email, social media, and advertising.
  • Track your UTM links in a Spreadsheet like Excel or Google sheets: Keeping track of the UTM values used keeps everything nice and tidy.
  • Connect to conversion attribution: Traffic and clicks are worthless if we can’t attribute them to conversions, sales, and revenue.
  • Connect to your CRM, like Hubspot, Keap, or ActiveCampaign to track your data.

Pro Tip: 👊 Learn from my mistake. The UTM codes that you use are visible to users in their address bar. Don’t use language as values that you don’t want others to see — unless it’s your brand style of course.

After you have spent enough time crafting data-rich URLs, I suggest shortening them with tools such as bit.ly, Rebrandly, or Firebase Dynamic Links. Lengthy URLs can lead to a poor user experience and may even appear spammy.

 

Conclusion

UTM parameters play a crucial role in gaining valuable insights into your website traffic and correctly attributing website traffic and conversions to your advertising campaigns.

You now know more about UTM than 99% of marketers and advertisers.

However, the seemingly straightforward task of adding UTM parameters can easily become confusing.

To avoid this, it’s important to develop a UTM parameter best practices strategy that emphasizes consistent and clear tagging by using the same parameters to not dilute your attribution data.

and keep clarity on your customer journey and traffic attribution


If you’re not yet tracking your advertising data with UTM parameters, I’d advise you to start immediately as it helps you reduce wasted ad spend or allow you to scale with a maximized ad spend.

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