Adding UTM parameters to your URLs makes tracking easier, which makes analyzing data and improving your campaigns easier as well.
Here, you’ll find:
- How to define UTM parameters
- Types of UTM parameters
- UTM parameter examples
- How UTM parameters have changed
- Steps to add UTM parameters
- How these parameters improve your digital marketing
- Best practices for leveraging UTM parameters
If you’re a regular at your local coffee shop or grocery store, the employees there may start to recognize you. (Ever had your latte ready before you even ordered it? It basically feels like you’re a celebrity.)
As a business, knowing and connecting with customers helps you understand them better. You learn what they like, what they’re looking for, and what brought them to you. Online, it’s not so easy. That’s where UTM parameters come in.
What are UTM parameters?
UTM parameters are tags you can add to the end of a URL that feature marketing or special offers, like landing pages.
Through analytics tools, UTM tags work like digital breadcrumbs. They can show you what led a person to a certain URL – such as campaign medium and campaign source – what else they interacted with on your site, and more.
Let’s dig more into how UTMs can benefit your marketing efforts, with expert insights from HawkSEM’s own analytics manager Peter Damicone.
Types of UTM parameters
The acronym UTM stands for urchin tracking module. There are five main UTM parameter types (also called UTM tracking codes). Each one offers different insights into your visitors.
As HubSpot explains, the five UTM codes are:
- Source – shows which site a visitor came from
- Campaign – shows the URL’s associated ad campaign name
- Content – shows exactly what ad or promotion element was clicked (often used for optimization)
- Medium – shows which marketing channel led the visitor to your site (like an email, social media post, or a paid search ad)
- Term – shows which paid keywords you’re manually targeting with your campaign
Adding UTM parameters to campaign URLs helps you more easily collect information. This way, you gain insight into how effective those campaigns are, overall and by element. (More on that, and the three new parameters that have recently been added, below.)
Pro tip: Trying to identify a URL’s UTM parameter? Look directly behind the first question mark symbol — it usually begins there.
UTM parameters vs. UTM tracking
You may have heard just one of these terms, or seen both used interchangeably.
Basically, UTM parameters are the five types of parameters defined above. UTM tracking is the actual unique variable being pulled in to help create the unique UTM parameter, such as “newsletter” or “social.” This information usually follows the “=” symbol in the URL.
What UTM parameter examples look like
Surely you’ve clicked on a link from an email newsletter, social media post, or a paid search ad before. If so, then you’ve probably seen what UTM parameters look like, whether or not you’ve noticed.
Here’s an example of one from a recent HawkSEM URL linked from a social media post:
This URL’s full UTM parameter is:
As you can see, this UTM parameter includes the medium (social) and source (LinkedIn). Hawk’s customer relationship management (CRM) platform auto-created this UTM parameter. That’s the platform where the post was created and scheduled.
Here’s another example:
This URL’s full UTM parameter is:
Clicking a link in our monthly email newsletter, HawkTalk, generated this link. This template UTM parameter includes the campaign term, source, medium, and campaign content.
It’s easier to gather data — such as the most clicked newsletter links — with these parameters. You can also see which channels are driving the most traffic to your content.
Pro tip: While these parameters were created automatically, you can also manually add UTM parameters to campaigns via Google Analytics.
How UTM parameters have changed
In 2022, Google rolled out three new UTM parameters for the first time in more than a decade. “This never happens,” Damicone explains, “so it’s sort of a big deal.”
The three new parameters are:
- utm_source_platform: This denotes the platform responsible for directing website traffic to a given Analytics property (such as a buying platform that sets budgets and targeting criteria or a platform that manages organic traffic data). For example: Search Ads 360 or Display & Video 360.
- utm_creative_format: Denotes the type of creative – display, native, video, or search, for example
- utm_marketing_tactic: Targeting criteria applied to a campaign, such as remarketing or prospecting
Experienced marketers know that the more info you can gather about a prospect, the better, so these additional parameters are sure to be beneficial when it comes to campaign tracking. (As a note, tactic and creative format are not currently reported in Google Analytics 4 properties.)
How to add UTM parameters
If you use a CRM tool like HubSpot, you may notice these parameters are created automatically (and are customizable) when you launch things like campaigns and landing pages. The examples above show automatically created UTM parameters.
To set up parameters manually for your campaigns, just remember to separate each parameter with a question mark when customizing the URL, according to Google. (Parameters can be in any order in the URL.)
You also need to separate each parameter with an “equals” sign, and each parameter-value pair with an ampersand. Keep in mind that Google Analytics is case-sensitive (so all parameters should be lowercase), and each Google Ads UTM parameter value you define will be as well.
Don’t want to add your UTM parameters manually? In that case, you can enter your website URL and campaign info into Google’s URL builder, called Campaign URL Builder, or another UTM builder tool.
Pro tip: When a user clicks a referral link, the parameters you add are sent to Google Analytics. The Campaigns report includes the resulting Google Analytics UTM parameters data.
Google Ads UTM parameters: What you need to know
During the campaign setup process, Google Ads lets you include UTM parameter types and tracking. While Google Analytics can give you a certain amount of insight into where your traffic is coming from, UTM parameters allow for that extra layer of helpful, customizable info.
For Google Ads in particular, the search engine suggests using UTM parameter targeting “when you want to select visitors arriving with a specific UTM campaign value in the URL for an experiment or a personalization.” This targeting allows you to better segment and target specific people from specific campaigns.
It’s also worth noting that Google has two related targeting categories: Google Ads targeting (the standard type that targets accounts, campaigns, ad groups, and keywords), and query parameter targeting, which targets “query string values other than UTM parameters,” according to Google’s Optimize Resource Hub.
Pro tip: You can view and sort your traffic by UTM parameters in Google Ads by navigating to Acquisition → All Traffic → Source/Medium. You can compare campaigns by navigating to Acquisition → Campaigns → All Campaigns.
How UTM parameters improve your digital marketing
Using UTM parameters can benefit your digital marketing efforts in many ways. The most obvious way is the tracking aspect.
Of course, the more info you can gather, the better you’ll be able to track, analyze, and optimize your campaigns.
- Keep your data organized
- Make A/B testing more efficient
- Help identify the campaign aspects that are excelling and underperforming
- Allow you to put more budget towards what’s working and less towards what isn’t
- Help you better track ROI and campaign performance
Clutch.co puts it simply:
“The optimization of traffic tracking with UTMs benefits companies in that it makes attribution more accurate to real-time performance of campaigns across multiple channels. With this information, users better understand the best channels and those that need work for maximum ROI.”
Particularly with rising concerns around data sharing, privacy, and the demise of third-party cookies, UTMs offer valuable information about customer behaviors that are hard to find elsewhere.
Pro tip: UTM parameters are a key part of HawkSEM’s exclusive ConversionIQ system. This digital marketing approach drives high-quality conversions to continuously grow your bottom line.
Best practices for leveraging UTM parameters
Ready to hit the ground running and start including UTM parameters in your future campaigns? Damicone has a few last bits of advice.
As with many manual attribution systems, inconsistency can be an issue with UTM attribution. Luckily, there are tools and add-ons that can take the manual work out of this process. No matter your marketing strategy with UTMs, consistency is key.
“Staying consistent in your UTM system allows you and your team to measure performance over a long period of time,” he says. “It also allows you to measure how effective creative is beyond metrics on a social, email, or display platform.”
He adds that you can also cross-reference how a social platform measured your post performance and see the downstream effect of that post, like whether it led to a form sign-up or a purchase.
Apply your UTM strategy to the data
Damicone says some marketing teams revamp or outline a new UTM attribution system and roll it out to the wider marketing teams without any measurement or evaluation to see if your teams followed through with the new system.
“Social and email tools have easy UTM plugins to make it easy for you,” he explains, “but it’s important to ensure your UTM system can be easy to understand and ‘hand-off-able,’ meaning new team members are trained on it as a part of an onboarding process.”
Double-check auto-generated UTM values
Some tools will auto-fill in values for UTMs and other query parameters without the marketing specialist realizing it until it’s too late.
That’s why Damicone says it’s important to do your due diligence to ensure you’re using your team’s UTM attribution system properly in every marketing and communications channel you’re actively leveraging.
Pro tip: In general, Google does recommend using hyphens (-) vs. underscores (_) in URLs to make it easier for search engines to “identify concepts.”
Because of how easy it is to use UTM parameters, it’s worth baking into your campaign-building process. It offers an extra layer of info that’s sure to prove helpful the next time you’re analyzing a campaign’s success.
Plus, knowing what campaign brought the visitor there and what link they clicked helps you better know your customers. As a result, the more you understand them, the easier it will be to create products or services that solve their problems.
This article has been updated and was originally published in March 2020.