What is a UTM, A.K.A. a Campaign URL?
UTM parameters are tracking markers that you can add to a URL pointed at your website to track where visitors come from in granular detail in Google Analytics. UTM stands for Urchin Tracking Module. Urchin was the original name of the analytics software acquired by Google that was ultimately integrated into Google Analytics. UTMs are particularly helpful for tracking visitors from social media posts, emails, PDFs, etc. For more information on what UTMs are and how they’re used in social media check out Buffer’s excellent UTM Guide. For more information and examples for each UTM parameter check out Google’s Campaign URL Builder.
As long as the website you are linking to with UTM parameters has Google Analytics tracking code installed on it, it will record the UTM parameters when a visitor visits the website using the URL with UTM parameters included in the link they use to access the website. The only required parameter is the campaign source (utm_source), the rest of the UTM parameters are optional, although in almost all cases I would recommend using all of them except the campaign term (utm_term) parameter.
Common UTM Mistakes To Avoid
If you’re running into problems tracking UTMs, hopefully this list of common UTM mistakes will help you find a solution. If your problem isn’t addressed by any of these common UTM mistakes, feel free to share what you’re struggling with in the comments and I’ll do my best to try and help you out.
Multiple entries for the same link due to UTM inconsistencies
To avoid this mistake use the KUSS principle “Keep UTMs simple, stupid”. I keep my UTMs simple by sticking exclusively to lowercase characters, numbers, hyphens for spaces and not using any other special characters.When you don’t use the KUSS principle you end up with duplicates of the same UTM source, which results in this:
UTMs getting stripped from URL by redirects before hitting your site
If you link to a URL that isn’t on the website you want to track, that then redirects to the site you do want to track without the UTMs they will not be recorded in Google Analytics, since the redirect has stripped the UTMs. In this scenario Google Analytics on the target site never loads a URL containing the parameters so nothing is recorded. Instead it would record the visit as a referral from the website containing the redirect with no additional tracking information.
Alternatively, if you link to a shortened URL that then redirects to the target website with the UTM parameters added to the end of the target website URL – as is the standard practice – then Google Analytics will see the URL containing the UTM parameters and record the additional tracking information as intended.
It is possible to track UTMs through one website and track the associated activity on another, but this requires a more complex setup with cross-domain tracking. If you’re interested in doing so and have access to both websites you can make this work following Simo’s guide to Troubleshooting Cross-Domain Tracking In Google Analytics utilizing Google Tag Manager, which makes it relatively easy if you know what you’re doing.
Adding UTMs incorrectly to URLs with existing query strings
If you’re at all unsure about the formatting of your UTM-enabled URL, just use Google’s Campaign URL Builder to make sure there’s nothing wrong with your URL’s formatting – it only takes a minute and will give you peace of mind.
For example if you were linking to this URL with an existing query string:1https://penguiin.com/?s=query
If you tried to add a UTM like this it wouldn’t work properly:1https://penguiin.com/?s=query?utm_source=newsletter&utm_campaign=spring-sale&utm_medium=email&utm_content=early-bird-discount
To get the UTM to work properly you would need to adjust the UTM to start with an ampersand instead of a question mark as follows:1https://penguiin.com/?s=query&utm_source=newsletter&utm_campaign=spring-sale&utm_medium=email&utm_content=early-bird-discount
If you created the UTM using Google’s Campaign URL Builder it would automatically fix the URL for you to the correctly functioning version above.
Not using a URL shortener
Not shortening your URLs to mask UTMs is bush league. At the very least use Google’s URL shortener built into their Campaign URL Builder. If you want to go pro purchase a branded URL shortener domain and setup bitly to work with it. I’ve found Domainr to be a very helpful tool for identifying great branded URL shortener domains.
Rather than sloppily expose your full UTM URL like this:1https://penguiin.com/?utm_source=newsletter&utm_campaign=spring-sale&utm_medium=email&utm_content=early-bird-discount
Why not have something more elegant like this instead:1http://pngn.link/early-penguin
Using UTMs to track internal links
UTMs should never be used to track internal links on your site. Doing so can ruin your raw Google Analytics data as Neil Patel explains in his blog post on the 8 Common SEO Issues (and How to Troubleshoot Them).
Filling in the term UTM with non-keywords
The term UTM should only be used for paid search to note the keyword being targeted. When using Google AdWords you simply need to link your AdWords and Analytics accounts and use the auto-tagging feature. So in the vast majority of cases the term UTM should not ever be used and you should leave it blank when using Google’s Campaign URL Builder, because you don’t want non-keywords showing up as “keywords” misleading you in your keyword reports.
Expecting exact capitalization to matter in advanced segments using exactly matching conditions
When you create an advanced segment with the condition Source that exactly matches a source in all lowercase as follows:
The advanced segment ignores capitalization and includes campaign sources with and without capital letters as follows:
Other Common UTM Mistakes To Avoid?
If you have additional common UTM mistakes to avoid, please share them in the comments!