Updated: 11/11/23 UTM parameters are simply little bits of tracking information appended to the end of a URL in a link. They communicate with Google Analytics and can provide a great deal of helpful information for digital marketers that use them properly. Whether you’re entirely new to Google Analytics UTM parameters or used UTMs with the prior version of Google Analytics, this guide has you covered.
Let’s start at the top.
What are UTM Parameters?
UTM parameters are additional pieces of tracking information appended to the end of a URL that can give Google Analytics detailed information about the specific way that the visitor arrived on the site. UTM parameters are used to track different marketing “campaigns,” like a specific email newsletter or a particular seasonal marketing effort, or even an A / B test on a paid ad.
A click on a link with UTM parameters that then lands on a website, will be cataloged as “campaign” traffic in that website’s Google Analytics property. From here, digital marketers can analyze all of their campaign tagged traffic in one place. There are different utm parameters available in Google Analytics and each can be used to organize your traffic in various ways.
In the URL below everything in the red box (beginning with the “?” mark) are the appended UTMs.
What Does UTM Stand For?
UTM stands for “urchin tracking module.” The predecessor to Google Analytics was a company called Urchin Analytics. Google bought it and then re-released it as Google Analytics. The Urchin platform tracked campaign traffic using these “urchin tracking modules” or “UTMs”. The name stuck even after Urchin Analytics became Google Analytics.
What Are UTM Parameters Used For?
UTM parameters can be used to get a deeper level of insight into traffic coming to your site. They are particularly useful in measuring organic (unpaid) traffic sources that Google Analytics wouldn’t otherwise know about and for getting more granular detail about paid advertising campaigns.
We’ll take a look at how we can use UTM parameters to properly identity website traffic originating from email. but first let’s look at how Google Analytics identifies most traffic sources automatically.
How Does Google Analytics Know Where Website Traffic Comes From?
Google Analytics categorizes most traffic automatically. For example, all organic traffic from search engines is automatically categorized based on a traffic “source” and a traffic “medium.” The source is the specific place that the traffic is coming from. The medium is the type of traffic. In the example below about organic search traffic, “google” and “bing” are examples of traffic sources while “organic” is the medium. Google Analytics can categorize most traffic like this automatically.
However, it cannot measure all traffic on its own. In those situations Google Analytics needs us to give it some help. One type of traffic that Google Analytics can’t automatically identify is email traffic. Let’s look at an example of some email traffic that we might want to track and where we can find that data in our GA4 property.
How to Use UTM Parameters to Track Traffic from Email Signature
I added a link to the signature in emails that I send from Gmail. The signature is saved as an image and any clicks on it will go to the homepage here at Root and Branch. You can see this in the red box below.
If you got an email like this from me and decided to click the link, you’d see this full URL resolve once you made it to rootandbranchgroup.com. See all that stuff in the red box below? Those are the UTM parameters that I’ve added to the end of the link in my email signature. These parameters tell Google Analytics that this traffic originated from Gmail (utm_source=gmail), and is email “type” traffic (utm_medium=email), and comes specifically from my email signature (utm_campaign=signature).
When using UTM parameters to manually tag your traffic, you should always use at least utm_source and utm_medium. If you do this, your traffic will be properly categorized at the session source / medium level. The other parameters are optional. However, utm_campaign is almost always used as well (at least that one) to further catalog the traffic.
Personally, I always use these 3 parameters and sometimes also use utm_content, depending on the situation.
How To Track UTM Parameters in Google Analytics 4
Using UTM parameters in Google Analytics 4 is similar to using UTM parameters in Universal Analytics. You append the UTMs as URL parameters after the “?” in your URL. You should always use utm_source, utm_medium, and (most likely) utm_campaign when you are setting up your URLs.
Below are 7 UTM parameters available for use in GA4. The first three are what I’d recommend you always use. For each parameter, you can see how it aligns with the corresponding dimension name in GA4.
If you decide to use other UTM parameters for your GA4 tracking, make sure you are using them properly.
GA4 UTM Parameter Examples
If UTMs are new to you, it’s worth spending a little more time here.
- utm_source = the specific source sending the traffic like google or bing. For a company that sends a monthly email newsletter and also a weekly sale email, they might use utm_source=monthly_newsletter in the first of those and utm_source=weekly_promo in the latter.
- utm_medium = the type of traffic. For the company above, utm_medium=email would be used for both links in the monthly newsletter and the weekly sale email. This allows all email traffic to be rolled up and measured together (medium level) and for the monthly newsletters and weekly sale emails to measured separately (at the traffic source level).
- utm_campaign = often used to track the name of the specific campaign. For a hypothetical paid advertising campaign halloween_2023 might be the campaign name that might span across various platforms.
- utm_content = often used to track various creative versions. For that hypothetical halloween_2023 campaign, let’s assume that there was a pumpkin focused creative being tested against a ghost themed creative version. The pumpkin themed ad would use utm_content=pumpkin in the UTM appended URL of the pumpkin ad and utm_content=ghost in the other version.
- utm_term = if you’re running a paid search campaign, utm_term will provide information on the specific paid keyword.
- utm_id = this is not the same as utm_campaign. It’s rarely used but required for data import.
- utm_source_platform = only use this if you want to differntiate your media buying platform (for example Search Ads 360).
How to Build URLs with UTMs
If you need help creating your UTM tagged URLs, the Google campaign URL builder can help.
Whether you use this tool or something else, you should keep accurate notes of of your UTM naming conventions. UTM codes can proliferate quickly, so you want to have a standard naming convention that makes sense for your organization. That’s the first item on this short list of best practices.
Best Practices for UTMs
Stick to these guidelines for UTM success.
- Use a standard naming convention and keep good records.
- Always use lowercase letters. When it comes to UTMs, capitalization matters. In other words, LinkedIn, Linkedin, and linkedin are 3 different traffic sources! Stick with lowercase to make your life simpler. When you need spaces, use a dash or an underscore to serve as your space.
- Be descriptive enough to be useful. For example, don’t use “big-sale” for your utm_campaign parameter. Something like “sale_christmas_2023” or “sale_fall_2024” will help a lot more.
- But don’t be too wordy. Simpler is better, as long as you can identify what you want to identity.
- Never use UTMs for internal links. You should only be using UTM tagged URLs on links outside of your website that point to your website.
How Can You See UTM Parameters in GA4?
You can see UTM tagged traffic in your standard Acquisition reports in GA4 and you can also see UTM data in Explorations. The simplest place to look is your “Traffic acquisition” report.
Let’s see how to do that.
From within your GA4 property click into Reports (the icon in the red box below) and then select “Traffic acquisition” within your Acquisition reports.
You’ll see something like the report below with your website traffic grouped by traffic channel.
Click the small drop down arrow to the left of the blue plus sign you’ll be able to change how your traffic is grouped. If you hit the small blue plus (at the arrow arrow) you can add a secondary dimension. In Google Analytics a “dimension” is a descriptive attribute or characteristic of data. So adding a secondary dimension is just adding a second attribute to help analyze your traffic data.
Now you’ll be able to add a secondary dimension to view your data aggregated by the various UTM parameters. You can see Session manual ad content (utm_content), Session manual term (utm_term), Session medium (utm_medium) and Session source (utm_source) below with Traffic source dimensions. You can add any of these dimensions as secondary dimensions. Or you can change your primary dimensions to one of your UTM parameters and then add a secondary dimension to further analyze your campaign tagged traffic.
Can You Build Your Own Campaign Report in GA4?
You sure can. You can customize the Traffic acquisition report to make an All Campaigns report to quickly see your UTM tagged traffic.
Here’s how you can do that in less than 7 minutes.
Also, here are links to two other video tutorials for other helpful custom reports you can build in GA4.
I hope this helps you gain a practical knowledge of UTM parameters. They can certainly be confusing when you first start using them.
Speaking of confusing, we’re now in the world of Google Analytics 4 and there is a lot to learn.
If you’re still someone learning about GA4 you might consider signing up for the R&B monthly newsletter and subscribing to the Root and Branch YouTube channel for an updated video every week. I’ll see you there! There are explainers and tutorials for tracking like this.
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- Comprehensive GA4 Beginner’s Tutorial
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