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Dissecting the UTM: What They Are and How to Use Them

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In marketing, results are everything. We’re always looking for ways to measure the impact of our efforts and to prove success. It’s also no secret that measuring your effectiveness is no simple act. More often than not, we don’t have a pulse on every single one of our efforts. If you’re looking for a surefire way to prove your effectiveness, look no further than the UTM.

UTM (or Urchin Tracking Module) codes are customizable strings of text added to a URL that allows marketers to see where traffic is coming from. The result is a standard URL with tracking data added to the end of it to create a long, trackable URL.

Here’s the short of it: UTM codes can help you see the origin sources of your website traffic.

More than that, though, you can use UTM codes to track specific posts, creative, and search terms within those traffic sources. For example, say you’re a nonprofit launching a new fundraising campaign. You may have one URL for your donation page, but with UTMs, you can have specific links to that donation page for your paid ads, organic social media, email sends, and any other channel you use.

With Google Analytics, you’ll have a clear view of your top traffic sources to that page down to the channel, post, and, in some cases, even which version of that post (if you’re A/B testing your messaging in ads or emails). Knowing the source of your traffic in Google Analytics through UTMs will also allow you to determine which marketing efforts are leading to conversions, events, and goals.

Here’s the short of it: UTM codes can help you see the origin sources of your website traffic.

Download Our UTM Tracking Spreadsheet Template

Below, we’ll walk through the components of building a UTM code using our UTM Tracking Spreadsheet Template. This template will help you keep track of all the UTMs you create over time. Use this spreadsheet as a reference when measuring results in your analytics. If you haven’t already, you can download the template here:

How To Build a UTM Code

Every UTM code has a handful of useful parameters along with a few more that give you more options for customization. These parameters are:

  • Full website URL: This is your original website URL. Make sure it includes https://.

  • Source (utm_source): Which channel is the user being referred from? This could be Google, a specific email (like a newsletter), LinkedIn, etc.

  • Medium (utm_medium): Which medium is driving the user to you? This could be a paid ad, organic post/link, social post, referral, email, etc. This is broader than the source and in many cases, the same source can create different mediums. For example, if Google is a source, you may use multiple mediums: organic, cost-per-click (cpc), display, etc.

  • Campaign (utm_campaign): A high-level name to remember. Your campaign name can have multiple associated UTMs. You can shorten this if necessary. This value can even include information on a specific audience you are targeting in the campaign.

  • Content (utm_content): A quick identifier of the message and/or creative used in the marketing effort. This parameter is not necessary but can be very helpful when testing multiple messages.

  • Term (utm_term): This parameter is very often left out, but can be used for any search engine marketing (like Google Search ads) to help identify the search term a user submitted before clicking on an ad and landing on your website.

The parameters defined above are combined in one long string of text after your full website URL. The beginning of a UTM string always begins with a “?” character and is followed by the UTM parameters, and their values and each parameter is separated by a “&” character. For example, a final URL may look like this:

http://www.yoursite.com/gps?utm_source=google&utm_medium=cpc&utm_campaign=search-competitors&utm_content=save-20&utm_term=major-competitor


This long string is its own language, and we realize it can be difficult to create these every time! That is why we recommend using Google’s Campaign URL Builder to create your UTMs. Many email and marketing automation platforms have URL builders as well.

UTM Best Practices

  • Use dashes to separate strings of words within each field (e.g. digital-ad or conference-registration). Do not use spaces, as this is not allowed in Google Analytics.

  • Stick with lowercase values, as Google Analytics is case-sensitive. Using uppercase values in UTMs can throw off data.

  • Stay consistent in your naming conventions so that reading source data in Google Analytics is a breeze.

  • Follow standards when creating UTM values for utm_source and utm_medium. Google Analytics relies on specific values for utm_medium to categorize traffic in its Default Channel Grouping. Example values for utm_medium are: organic, cpc, cpm, display, social, referral, affiliate, email. Values for utm_source are more inclusive, but it is best practice to use consistent values that Google Analytics already captures data for. For example: “google” instead of “google-ads” or “facebook” instead of “facebook.com”.

  • Try not to repeat yourself in the UTM values to avoid confusion in reports. For example, instead of using “google” for utm_source and “google-ads” for utm_medium, try “cpc” for the utm_medium value.

  • Use the UTM Tracking Spreadsheet Template to update UTM codes that you create and publish. This will help enforce the best practices above and will serve as a reference when you are viewing your traffic data for which set of UTMs correspond to a specific marketing effort.

An Example UTM Creation

Using the example from our UTM Tracking Spreadsheet Template, say you’re gearing up for the 2022 National Association of Dog Walkers Annual Conference. You’ve created a registration page for the event, and now you want to run a paid ad on LinkedIn to drive traffic to your page from new members specifically.

In our template, you’ll find columns for the general campaign name, date, and description of the UTM code. Use the date column to note when the UTM will be published. The description is there to tell you what the UTM code is for and the intended audience. For this campaign, these columns may look something like this:

There is also space in the spreadsheet for each UTM code’s source, medium, and campaign name, as outlined above:

For this LinkedIn ad, our source is linkedIn, our medium is cpc, and the campaign name is nadw_conference_2022. Again, your source could be any specific piece of content that this UTM code is attached to, like Instagram or your monthly newsletter. Your medium will tend to be more standard, covering your channels (e.g. cpc, email, organic, referral, etc.). Focus on continuity when using our template. Using the same nomenclature with little to no variation helps keep everything consolidated in your analytics.

You’ll also find columns at the end for content and term. Use the content column to differentiate between types of content under the same campaign name and medium. For example, a digital ad could use two different sets of creative for two different audiences. In our example, our content is for new members. You could have another ad for the same campaign to drive registrations that’s tailored for a different audience. This is where you document that.

The term column, again, can be used for any search engine marketing (like Google Search ads) to help identify the search term a user submitted before clicking on an ad and landing on your website. Because we’re using a LinkedIn ad in our example, this isn’t applicable.

Finally, you have space to include your final UTM, original website URL, and a UTM short link. UTM codes can get long and ugly, and you don’t necessarily want your audiences to see behind the curtain of your digital marketing efforts. We recommend using Bitly to shorten your URLs. Your email or marketing automation platform may also provide automatic URL shorteners.

You’ll plug that final UTM in as the URL where appropriate, whether that’s for a digital ad, a button in an email, or in any of your other efforts.

Viewing Your Results with Google Analytics

When looking under Reports in your Google Analytics 4 property, visit Traffic Acquisition under the Acquisition menu. By default, Google Analytics will display data by default channel grouping (which is why using standard utm_medium values is so important). To look at data by the UTM values you have created, change the “Session default channel grouping” drop-down above the table to either “Session medium,” “Session source,” or “Session campaign.”

This example under the Explore section in Google Analytics 4 is fully customizable. In the editor, you can choose your own dimensions and metrics and create a personalized data report. In the example screenshot, we have pulled in utm_source (Source), utm_medium (Medium), and utm_campaign (Campaign) as rows and Sessions, Event count, and Conversions as values.

Mighty Citizen Can Help

Creating and tracking UTMs is just one integral part of a comprehensive and strategic digital marketing plan. Do you need assistance building out your organization’s digital marketing efforts? Drop us a line—we’d love to chat.

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