UTM Essentials: The 80/20 Guide

Ryan Johnson
Marketer @ SegMetrics

What are UTMs? UTM parameters — or UTM tags — are a free, simple, and easy way to track where your website traffic, conversions, and revenue are coming from. (UTM is short for “Urchin Traffic Module,” Urchin being the name of a company Google acquired.)

Knowing where your website traffic is coming from is crucial for marketing insights. UTMs help marketers (like you) answer questions like these:

  • Where do you get your highest quality customers from?
  • Does your traffic come from your social media channels? Or from your YouTube?
  • Which paid acquisition channels — like Facebook or Google Search — bring you more paying customers?

UTMs are a great free way to upgrade your tracking tenfold. Seriously! If you start using UTM parameters on your important marketing links, you’ll have more data-driven insights into what’s working (and what isn’t).

UTMs are currently the industry standard for tracking marketing campaigns across tools and analytics platforms like Google Analytics, MixPanel, and SegMetrics. These days, most analytics tools, marketing apps, marketing automation tools, and CRMs look for these parameters automatically.

You can easily add UTM text code or parameters to the end of a URL in your marketing and immediately upgrade your tracking and reporting.

The Five Standard UTM Parameters

Five standard UTM parameters matter the most — three are common, and two are less common. These parameters can be combined in all sorts of ways for your tracking.

Here’s a pro tip from Brian on our Customer Success team: You don’t need to use ALL of these parameters to follow best (or better) practices. We recommend using the three common parameters on your important marketing links, but using some (or one) UTM parameters is always better than using none.

The Three Common UTM Parameters

Why are these three more common? Using these three in combination, you can capture the necessary information about where your traffic comes from for 99% of the cases, like “this visitor came to my website from Facebook as part of my Organic Social campaign, and they came as part of the AI Feature Launch content.

  • Source: Source parameters can tell you which search engine, social network, or platform brings you traffic, helping you track all traffic from a particular site (e.g., Facebook, Google, YouTube, TikTok, Threads). Example: utm_source=facebook
  • Medium: Medium parameters tell you the medium (type of channel) featuring your content (e.g., paid search, paid social, video, email). Example: utm_medium=social
  • Campaign Name: Campaign parameters group all the content from one of your marketing campaigns in your analytics. Names that allow you to quickly identify product launches, promotional campaigns, individual emails, posts, influencers, or sales are great. Example: utm_campaign=AI-feature-launch

The Two Less Common Parameters

For most marketers, this data is more detailed than they need.

  • Content: Content parameters track specific types of content that point to the same destination from a common source and medium. It’s often used in pay-per-click (PPC) campaigns, places with identical links on the same page, or to track individual emails within a multi-email campaign. For example: utm_content=sidebarlink or utm_content=email1.
  • Term: Term parameters often identify the keyword you’ve bid on in a PPC ad. Example: utm_term=marketing+software.

UTM Parameters on Easy Mode: Dynamic UTM Parameters

Another marketing pro tip for you, this time from Ian on our Customer Success team: Dynamic UTM parameters are a feature from ad platforms like Facebook and Google that save you time and help you reduce the potential for errors, especially for large-scale or complex campaigns.

Dynamic UTM parameters auto-update ad links with your UTM tracking info. AdWords and Facebook generate these based on your campaign details, like source, medium, and campaign name, so it’s easier to ensure your ads are correctly tracked.

When your ads run, you add a parameter like {campaignid} to your ad, and they get replaced with your actual values (like utm_campaign=AI-feature-launch).

Something like{campaignid} becomes when the ad runs.

Example URLs with UTM Parameters and Dynamic UTM Parameters

Here’s an example of a URL with its own UTM code highlighted at the end of the URL below. In this case, we’re using the common parameters of Campaign, Medium, and Source.

  • utm_campaign=AI-feature-launch
  • utm_medium=paid
  • utm_source=google

And here is one with dynamic UTM parameters with placeholders within the URL that an ad platform would replace with actual campaign-related values when the ad is served

  • utm_campaign={campaignid}
  • utm_medium=paid
  • utm_source=google
  • utm_content={adgroupid}
  • utm_term={keyword}

The dynamic UTM parameter values — {campaignid}, {adgroupid}, and {keyword} — would be filled in when the ads run.

When should you use UTMs?

You should add UTMs to any link from outside your website (like Facebook, social posts, ads, emails, etc) into your website that you have control or influence over.

One common scenario that benefits from UTMs is if you’re posting content online or running paid ads bringing traffic to your website. You’ll want to include UTMs in your URLs so you understand where your traffic is coming from.

UTMs are particularly valuable for multi-channel marketing campaigns, where tracking traffic sources becomes complex. For example, the visitor first comes through clicking on a Google Search Ad, then visits from an Organic Social post, and then visits by clicking a link in an email before purchasing. Properly used, UTMs help you track those steps in the customer journey in your analytics tools.

When classifying channels specifically — like paid, affiliate, or email — you can use SegMetrics’ built-in parameters to set a desired channel automatically.

What to do instead of manually adding UTM tags to your URLs

Manually adding UTM tags can introduce errors — like if you call the source Facebook one time and FACEBOOK another time. Some tools are case-sensitive and record those as separate, unique sources, introducing confusion into your marketing analysis. (For more on this, see our upcoming guide, “Better UTM Best Practices.”)

Aside from occasional exceptions, we don’t recommend manually adding your UTM tags to your URLs. Instead, we recommend you use a UTM Parameter Builder. These handy tools help you add your UTMs to links to create. You can find ours here or use the Tracking Links feature in SegMetrics to attach parameters to your URLs.

Better Practice: Avoid UTMs on internal links

Refrain from using UTM parameters on internal links that navigate from one page on your website to another, like your homepage to a sales page.

Why is this critical? Because implementing UTMs on internal links can disrupt your analytic tracking. In Google Analytics, for instance, UTMs on a link trigger a new session, which could lead to messy data.

As a better practice, you should reserve UTMs for external links pointing to your website from another website. That step will ensure the integrity of your tracking data.

In Conclusion: Meet UTMs, your new marketing best friend 🤝

UTMs are essential to your tracking and reporting — and will help you get the most mileage out of your online advertising, email marketing, influencer collaborations, and other marketing campaigns.“

David Ogilvy, the head of the famous Ogilvy & Mather advertising agency, wrote in his 1963 book Confessions of an Advertising Man: “As Lord Leverhulme (and John Wanamaker after him) complained, ‘Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted, and the trouble is I don’t know which half.’”

When you use UTMs as part of your marketing — and leverage a marketing analytics tool like SegMetrics — you’ll have a stronger, more confident understanding of where to uncover hidden profits in your business.

And if you take nothing else away from this article, remember this: when you post links online pointing to your website, include UTM parameters (ideally from a UTM tracking code builder) so you know which links to your site are getting clicked on. Using some (or one) UTM parameters is always better than using none.

Ryan Johnson

Marketer @ SegMetrics

Ryan Johnson is a content strategist and product marketing manager with over 15 years experience bringing brands and products to life with integrated editorial and sales collateral, value-based messaging, and GTM strategies.

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