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An Introduction to UTM Parameters [Basics + Best Practices]

5 minute read

UTM parameters may sound complicated, but they are actually a very simple tagging system you can implement to learn about your website traffic, monitor user behavior, and measure marketing effectiveness.

This post will explain what UTM parameters are, how to create them, and how you can use them to gain marketing insights and improve the performance of your campaigns.

What are UTM Parameters?

A UTM parameter is a unique tag added to the end of a URL that helps marketers track the effectiveness of various types of campaigns.

What does UTM stand for?

UTM stands for Urchin Tracking Module. UTMs were originally introduced by Urchin Software Corporation and are now supported by Google Analytics.

When a link with a UTM parameter is clicked on, it sends information to Google Analytics about how users engage with the unique link. The tag differentiates links that lead to the same webpage so that you can track unique data about different uses of the link.

utm parameters format

For example, a personal training website could use custom UTM parameters to differentiate and track separate web analytics for a link shared on Facebook and a link shared on Twitter, even though they point to the same landing page.

When (and Why) to Use UTM Parameters

UTM parameters provide insight into the specific use of a URL and the marketing campaign that refers traffic to a website.

Rather than collect data just on the page level, they allow you to collect data on an individual URL level. This helps measure results from social media, pay-per-click, and content marketing campaigns.

UTM parameters help you:

  • See where your traffic is coming from
  • Identify the backlinks driving the most traffic and conversions
  • Identify top-performing channels
  • Measure marketing effectiveness
  • Design future campaigns to focus more on high-performing links and channels and less on low-performing links and channels
UTM parameters help you measure page-level results from social media, pay-per-click, and content marketing campaigns. Click To Tweet

For example, the personal training website may find that the link shared on Facebook leads to over 1,000 page views and 10 conversions, while the link shared on Twitter only leads to 30 page views and zero conversions. As a result, the brand may find that Facebook is a more effective channel to invest in.

To get these valuable insights, add UTM tracking to any inbound links pointing to your website. Use UTM parameters on:

  • Links to your landing pages. Find out which channels send traffic with the highest conversion rates by using unique UTM parameters on all inbound links to your landing pages.
  • Links to your blog posts. When you start blog promotion, add UTM parameters to your links so that you can see which posts send the most traffic back to your site.
  • Links to your content that you share on social media. See what channels and content in your social media marketing strategy drive the most traffic to your site by tracking shared URLs.
  • Links in your email newsletters. Discover what content attracts the most clicks in your emails by tracking each link with its own UTM parameter.
  • Links for display ads. If you run pay-per-click marketing campaigns, set parameters that identify banner size and type to see which display ad performs best.
  • Links in guest posts. When you publish posts on guest blogging sites with links to your site, add unique UTM parameters to track the traffic coming from each unique guest post.

These are a few examples of how you can use UTM parameters. But for the most part, it is beneficial to include UTM tracking on any external link pointing back to your site. If you control an external inbound link, add a UTM parameter.

If you control an external inbound link, add a UTM parameter. Click To Tweet

5 Types of UTM Parameters

There are a variety of parameters you can use in UTM tracking. Some parameters are required, while others are flexible and offer you a chance to track information that is unique to your campaign setup and goals.

This UTM parameters list includes the five types of parameters you can add to your URLs.

1. Source

  • Use: Required
  • Code: utm_source
  • Description: The source that is sending the traffic
  • Example: utm_source=facebook

2. Medium

  • Use: Required
  • Code: utm_medium
  • Description: The marketing medium where the link was shared
  • Example: utm_source=social

3. Campaign

  • Use: Required
  • Code: utm_campaign
  • Description: The name of your unique campaign
  • Example: utm_campaign=wellness-blog-outreach

4. Term

  • Use: Optional
  • Code: utm_term
  • Description: The keywords tied to your campaign (or you can connect Google AdWords and Google Analytics to track this automatically)
  • Example: utm_term=get-healthy, utm_term=lost-weight, utm_term=beach-body

5. Content

  • Use: Optional
  • Code: utm_content
  • Descriptions: Phrases that differentiate similar content on the same page, such as unique call to actions or buttons
  • Example: utm_content=green-button, utm_content=sidebar-cta, utm_content=footer

How to Write UTM Parameters

Now that you understand the types of UTM parameters and when to use them, let’s look at how to create custom UTM parameters for your content.

UTM parameters use the following format:

  • The UTM parameter code begins with a question mark (?).
  • Individual parameters are written as the UTM code, an equal sign, and then your identifying text (utm_code=your-identifier).
  • Individual parameters are separated by an ampersand (&).
  • UTM parameters never use spaces.
  • UTM parameters are case sensitive.

Let’s look at an example URL with UTM parameters and walk through the process of creating it.

Start with your URL. Start with the clean SEO friendly URL of a blog post or landing page.

utm parameters starting url

Add a question mark. The question mark indicates the beginning of the parameter.

utm parameters start with question mark

Add the source parameter. Start with the source parameter. Add the parameter with a unique identifier after the equal sign.

utm parameter source

Add an ampersand. After the first parameter, use the ampersand to start the next parameter.

utm parameters with ampersand sign

Add additional parameters following the same pattern. Add the medium and campaign parameters using ampersands to separate each. Continue to add a term and content parameter if applicable to your campaign.

utm parameters medium

utm parameters example

utm parameters campaign

Tools for Building UTM Parameters

If you don’t want to add UTM parameters to your links manually, there are tools that can generate links based on your input. For example:

Google URL Builder

google utm parameter tool

EffinAmazing UTM Code Builder

custom utm parameters builder

UTM Parameter Best Practices

To get the most out of your UTM parameters, keep the following best practices in mind.

Create a consistent naming convention. It’s easy to become inconsistent with UTM parameters, so find one naming convention and stick with it. This makes it easier to remember your own rules, such as only using lowercase characters and only using dashes (instead of underscores, percentages symbols, or plus signs).

Track your UTMs in a spreadsheet. To keep your UTMs organized and consistent, it’s helpful to document the naming conventions you choose. While Google Analytics tracks the data related to your links, a separate document is useful for managing all your links and UTMs. Create a spreadsheet that lists your unique URLs as well as metrics on their performance.

Remember that your readers can see it. When you add input phrases to your conventions, be aware that readers can see these notes. Don’t use anything you wouldn’t want your readers or competitors to see.

Shorten the link for better user experience or to hide your parameters. To learn how to hide UTM parameters, you can use a link-shortening tool like Bitly.com. Short, simple links look neat and may provide a better user experience.

Review UTM parameter data in Google Analytics. Set up your site on Google Analytics so that you can view the data collected by each UTM parameter. Google Analytics campaign tracking measures the referral traffic and user behavior associated with each unique link.

Tie your UTMs to marketing metrics. Put your data to use. Tie the data from your UTMs to marketing metrics that help you measure your results and marketing ROI. Track and monitor data like conversion rates, traffic, and sales driven by each of your unique links.

Understand that UTM data aren’t always perfect. UTMs give you an opportunity to collect granular data that you can’t find without tags on individual links. But the data aren’t always perfect. Users can copy links and share them on other platforms, which can alter the data and provide incorrect metrics. As you assess and review your final campaign metrics, allow some room for error.

UTMs give you an opportunity to collect granular data that you can’t find without tags on individual links. Click To Tweet

Create More Informed Marketing Campaigns

Collecting, monitoring, and reviewing marketing data helps you see what’s working, what’s not, and what you can do to improve future campaigns. UTM parameters are one way to assemble and analyze that valuable marketing data.

For more ways to evaluate marketing effectiveness and identify growth opportunities, sign up for a free trial of Alexa’s Advanced Plan. The suite includes dozens of tools and reports that can help you achieve SEO and content marketing success, and gather insights to design more successful digital marketing campaigns.

An Introduction to UTM Parameters [Basics + Best Practices]