| Feb 4, 2016 | | 5 min read



We live in a data driven world.  More than 90% of CMOs say that they are under more pressure to deliver measurable ROI (AdAge). And if your CMO is feeling the heat, you can bet your marketing team is as well—81% of marketers would increase spending on digital, mobile and social channels if they could better track ROI (compete). It's getting hot in here, eh?! Talking about ROI leads to utm.


So, obviously, being able to track ROI is a priority, but putting that into practice isn’t always easy. Luckily, the ultimate tracking machine, or utm codes, can help (I guess utm actually stands for urchin tracking module, but go ahead and see which one is stickier). These utm links are vital for tracking the success of your marketing efforts across various channels. They can also create an analytical nightmare if used incorrectly. I know this too well, as I have been heavily criticized for my nonchalant use of source, medium and content, but, alas, I have been reformed!

One of the most important aspects of your analytics is knowing where your visitors came from. Why? Because you need to know where to focus your limited marketing resources. Did people find you from Facebook? Your blog? Linkedin? Twitter? Were they on a mobile? If folks coming from social are converting better than email and paid search, maybe it’s time to start focusing your attention on posting, and your money on promoting posts. At Vendasta, we carefully allot dollars to programs that are making returns. Each program needs to prove its value to get the gold. Saying “we just need to be on x social platform” doesn’t hold water any more. We’re all about that data.

Wtf is utm?

Sure, the ole’ urchin tracking module has a catchy name, but what actually is it? It is a code attached to a URL that tracks meaningful analytics. The whole point of a utm code is knowing where your audience came from; which link they clicked. As people interact with the custom links, that information is sent to your Google Analytics account so you can quickly identify what is working and what you can cut out of your marketing efforts. We tag each link differently for each social platform, various social posts, landing pages, etc. You can even use it in traditional media—just use the custom URL in the newspaper, magazine, television or radio ad, and bam, you’ll know what’s working. You’ll be happy, but some of those salespeople might not be so thrilled 😉  

The basics

Google isn’t omnipotent (yet). It can’t always capture how someone arrived at your website. utm links help alleviate that problem by appending URLs with up to five different parameters. These parameters should tell a story:

  • source: Where is the person that clicked the link coming from? How did they receive this link? Ex: blog, prospects, facebook, twitter, product-trial
  • medium: How was the URL displayed? Ex: email, social, post, advertisement
  • campaign: Why are you trying to get the word out? What piece/type of content is being pushed? Ex: weekly-newsletter-mm-dd-yyyy, marketing-ebook, welcome-email
  • content: Which link in the specific source/medium/campaign was clicked? What’s the context of the link or the link text? Useful if there are multiple links (say, in an email) and in A/B testing. Often, you won’t need to include this one.
  • term: Used in paid search. Not building paid search links? Don’t touch.

Together, it looks something like this: __http://pub.vendasta.com/download-challenges-agencies-face?utm_campaign=blog-tactical&utm_medium=post&utm_source=blog&utm_content=CTA

Where each of the following is depicted:

Sound simple? The basics certainly are. Here’s a few quick tips to make sure you’re utm-ing the way nature intended.

This won’t fix your organization problem

Cluttered, inconsistent organization in your marketing efforts means cluttered, inconsistent reports in Google Analytics. But fear not! This is may be the perfect time to set yourself straight. It has to happen to us all, eventually. Even me, and my parents swore it was impossible, that the day would never come. Organizing your current efforts into source, medium and campaign can be an effective organizational exercise.

Ensure Google attributes traffic correctly

If you’re using a link in Facebook or Twitter, make sure the source is social. Sending an email? The source should always be email. This ensures your acquisition report is correct, as Analytics will attribute these links to their respective channels.

Avoid duplicate information

Avoid duplicate information. See? We’ll never get that time back. Setting your source as weekly-newsletter and your campaign as weekly-newsletter-2015-11-19 is redundant, and annoying when you’re drilling down into your reports. Find a better way to categorize your links. For example, source may be how they were put on the mailing list as opposed the the content of the email.

Do away with dashes and underscores

Do-you-find-this-hard-to-read? How_about_this? If so, you can make your reports easier on the eyes by substituting the dashes or underscores in your utm parameters for either +’s or %’s. They’ll appear in Google Analytics as spaces. Because words need to breathe, too.

See Source, Medium and Campaign in one view

By default, Google Analytics sorts by Campaign, allowing you to dig down for more info. Sometimes, this is less than ideal.  If you want to view all the details top-level, select Primary Dimension: Source/Medium.

Below that, set Secondary Dimension to Campaign. Now you’ve got all three at once. An analytical ménage à trois.

Note: you can apply this same method to view medium and content, or campaign and content, etc


Here is a link to Google’s utm builder. May the utm be with you.

This is a bit of a choose your own adventure spreadsheet. Devon built us this handy spreadsheet so our team can go in and get dirty, quick and easy. It’s also nice to have a spreadsheet to refer to all the old links. If you want to recreate one of your own, just make the columns as listed below (campaign, utm_campaign, utm_source, utm_medium, utm_content, utm_term, destination URL and tagged URL), then copy this formula—?utm_campaign=&utm_medium=&utm_source=&utm_content= —into the tagged URL column. It’s a good reminder to see all the sources, codes, etc the team is using.


Every Tom, Dick and Jerry will tell you there are strict rules for utm tagging, some unbreakable code dictated from the great Google in the sky. And while there is some truth to that (attributing traffic to the proper acquisition channel), the fact is, it’s all about collecting the data that’s important to you and generating reports that make sense to you and your team . If you think you need to count the email drip number in medium, go for it. If you want to quickly differentiate between social and paid social from the source, have at ‘er. What matters most is CONSISTENCY. Set your standards, engrave your utm commandments in stone, and stick to em. And if a team member still messes it up, well, you can sacrifice them to Google.

About the Author

Nykea is the Director of Brand + Experience at Vendasta, where she leads the charge on brand storytelling and data driven marketing.

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