google analytics utm parameters

UTM Parameters in Google Analytics (GA4)

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 switching from from Universal Analytics to GA4, or entirely new to Google Analytics UTM parameters 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 catalog your traffic in various ways.

In the URL below everything in the red box (beginning with the “?” mark) are the appended UTMs.

email with utm parameters

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.

urchin the predecessor to 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.

utm parameters in google analytics example

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.

email signature with utms

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).

email with utm parameters

When using UTM parameters to manually tag your traffic utm_source and utm_medium are always required. 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 Do I Use Those UTM Parameters?

Let’s look at some practical and hypothetical ways that we might use UTMs.

  • utm_source = the specific source sending the traffic. 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 (at the traffic campaign level) and for both the monthly newsletters and weekly sale emails to be rolled up 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_2022 might be the campaign name that might span across various platforms.
  • utm_content = often used to track various creative versions. For that hypothetical halloween_2022 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.

All of these parameters are available in Universal Analytics, but for most of 2022 they were not all available in GA4.

For most of 2022, only 3 of these parameters were available in GA4. The popular utm_content and the also useful utm_term were not available until later in the year. 

Where are utm_content and utm_term in GA4?

Until July 10 of 2022, only 3 of those parameters were available to use in GA4. This included:

  • utm_source
  • utm_medium
  • utm_campaign

On July 11, 2022 Google announced that two new parameters had been added. This was a long overdue addition including utm_content and also utm_term for even further depth of analysis. So if you haven’t checked since July, check again and you can see these additional parameters available. Good news!

While less commonly used, utm_source_platform, utm_creative_format, and utm_marketing_tactic are also available parameters in GA4. You can see the full list of 8 parameters here from Google.

All of these parameters have dimensions with things called “scopes”. A session scoped dimension describes the specific session that is being analyzed. The “user-scoped” dimension describes the person who is performing the action. So, the “First user source” dimension referenced by the utm_source parameter will always reflect the same source regardless of whether that user comes back to the site for a future session from a different source. This is no doubt a little confusing and you can read further if you’re interested in more about GA4 event parameters.

utm parameter scopes

How Can You See UTM Parameters in GA4?

From within your GA4 property click into Reports (the icon in the red box below) and then select Traffic acquisition as you can see marked with the blue arrow.

traffic acquisition report in ga4

You’ll see something like the report below with your website traffic grouped by traffic channel. If you hit 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 sign indicated at the arrow you will be able to 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.

add secondary dimensions

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.

view utm parameters in ga4

The parameters have something called a session-scoped dimension (what is shown above) and a user-scoped dimension. The 

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.

ga4 all campaigns report

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 quickly build in GA4.

  • Build a Source / Medium traffic acquisition report: https://youtu.be/NnfQF5sRZro
  • Build a Landing Page report: https://youtu.be/meRgi3bzS_I

 

Wrapping Up

I hope this helps you gain a practical knowledge of UTM parameters. They can certainly be confusing when you first start using them.

Don’t forget that Universal Analytics data will no longer be processed in that platform beginning July 1, 2023. In other words, it’s time we get more comfortable with GA4 if we’re going to keep using Google Analytics after June of 2023.

If you’re still someone learning about GA4 you might want to read this explainer of GA4 vs. Universal Analytics and also this overview of GA4 events. You can also subscribe to the Root and Branch YouTube channel for an updated video every week or so. I’ll see you there! There are explainers and tutorials for tracking like this.

About Root & Branch

Root & Branch is a certified Google Partner agency and focuses on paid search (PPC), SEO, Local SEO, and Google Analytics. You can read more about Root and Branch or hit the button below to check out YouTube for more digital marketing tips and training resources.

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6 replies
  1. Nick
    Nick says:

    Hey Zack,

    Great post! I found the section where you showed how you implemented it on your email link very helpful. Is there a list or general rule of thumb to know what Google Analytics can source traffic from automatically and when we need to manually add utm params to the link? Or should you just always add them as a rule of thumb?

    Thanks,
    Nick

    Reply
    • Zack_Duncan
      Zack_Duncan says:

      Great question, Nick.

      Here’s my general rule of thumb:

      In most cases, I assume Google Analytics is going to categorize traffic properly. This includes stuff like organic social media (GA will put this in the proper buckets of Facebook or Twitter or LinkedIn, etc), organic search engine traffic, organic video traffic (traffic from YouTube is grouped here in GA4 and not in Social Media), and other websites that have links to your site (this is grouped in “Referral” traffic).

      The two most common exceptions where Google Analytics won’t categorize traffic with the detail I need are:

      (a) Email traffic. All Email traffic will be grouped as (Direct) without UTM parameters that specify a Medium of “Email” to tell GA where this is truly from
      (b) Paid traffic that is not from a Google advertising platform. Google Ads traffic will have auto-tagging enabled and will be fine on its own. But if you are doing a paid campaign with Facebook, for example, you’ll want to use your UTM parameters so it’s properly categorized as paid traffic and identifies the specific campaign it’s associated with.

      This question makes me think it would be a good idea to do another post or video about how GA categorizes traffic and the specific use cases where UTMs are needed. Thanks for the idea!

      Reply
  2. John
    John says:

    Hi, thanks for the video.

    I built the report as per your video, however, I cannot figure out something really basic, how do i filter out a specific campaign in this report. I do not see this option and I only want to look at a campaign called “Summer2023” as an example 🙂

    Reply
    • Zack_Duncan
      Zack_Duncan says:

      Hi John,

      Glad it was helpful. You should be able to customize the report (pencil icon on top right) and then add a report filter based on the Session campaign dimension. This will present a list in alphabetical order and your can scroll to Summer2023 and isolate that. Hope that does the trick for you.

      Zack

      Reply

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