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Alphabet Soup: UTM

For this helping of Alphabet Soup we look at three letters which have been around a long time and which you've probably shared with your friends a thousand times: UTM.

What is UTM? Glad you asked. UTM stands for Urchin Tracking Module which is in fact fairly meaningless unless you happen to know about the history of Google Analytics. Google created Analytics, but not from the ground up. In 2005 they had purchased Urchin Software Corporation and the Analytics program we all know and love was a child of the software solution they had purchased. While the Urchin product no longer exists, it's DNA remains a part of online marketing across multiple platforms and software tools. 

In a nutshell UTM consists of five different parameters that marketers (you!) can use to help track the effectiveness of online campaigns. These parameters get added to URLs as querystring parameters. 

The five different parameters and their uses are as follows:

utm_source (required)

Use this parameter to identify which website sent traffic to yours. If you use UTM, this one is required. As an example, if you created a link on Facebook you might set the parameter as utm_source=facebook

utm_medium (required)

The medium paramter is used to idenitfy what type of link was used.  Common values for this include cpc, social, email, and display  e.g. utm_medium=social

utm_campaign (required)

The campaign parameter is the name used to identify a specific promotion or strategic campaign. An example for a clothing store might includes utm_campaign=springsale when the link being used leads to a page with items on sale for a Spring special.

utm_term (optional)

The term parameter is used to identify specific keywords that may have been used to trigger the link showing in the first place. Search marketers use this in order to help identify what words caused the link to be clicked in the first place. For example, if the user searched for "Spring Fashions" we may have added utm_term=spring+fashions to our link so we know that traffic at our website arrived because of those terms.

utm_content (optional)

The final parameter is content and is used to identify what exactly was clicked. If we run banner ads as well as interstitial ads and text ads we may use utm_content=banner to indicate that the link click came from a banner ad.

So if we were sharing links on Facebook for our Spring Sale we might use a link like this:

https://example.com/page?utm_source=facebook&utm_medium=social&utm_campaign=springsale

Analytics and other web traffic analyzers respect and expect UTM parameters and will use them in generating reports, making it easier for web marketers to understand the effectiveness of the campaigns they run.

There are problems with this, however, especially if what we have shared proves popular. Suppose I send an email to my subscribers with an utm_source=email parameter in the URL and one of our subscribers then copies and shares that link on Facebook. Now suppose that lin kon Facebook goes somewhat viral. From the perspective of web traffic analysis software we might attribute the traffic reaching our website (example.com) to an email blast we sent out, but in reality the traffic came from Facebook. It can be difficult to discern the truth. The actual referrer will be correctly recorded in Analytics, but the reporting for the campaign would indicate more traffic from email than actually exists. It's important to know this dichotomy exists.

Another thing to note about UTM links is that analytics platforms may attribute parameters to the browser's current and subsequent sessions until the campaign window has expired. In Google Analytics the default window is six months long, so one click can cloud subsequent efforts and incorrectly attribute success to the wrong effort. 

The three most useful reports in Google Analytics for making use of UTM parameters include:

  1. Customization > Custom Reports > add Medium, Campaign or Source as a dimension
  2. Acquisition > Overview > All Traffic > Source or Medium
  3. Acquisition > Campaigns > All Campaigns

 

see more:

Google Analytics UTM link builder: https://ga-dev-tools.appspot.com/campaign-url-builder/