UTM Codes: how to effectively measure marketing campaigns

Zest Admin
Zest Admin

How to use UTM codes to measure the effectiveness of your marketing campaigns

Why does digital marketing continue to be the number one channel for marketer’s budgets? Part of digitals appeal is the data available to a marketer. Making it easy to trace every pound spent, against your goals and objectives, right?

Well, not always! Whilst some activities are fairly easy to track, like paid search, display and shopping campaigns. Other channels and activities can prove harder such as paid social media or email.

We often hear people tell us they’ve tried social in the past and have struggled to measure success and ROI. They’re not alone, a study by Adweek found 60% of marketing professionals found measuring the ROI of social was their biggest challenge.

I’m not about to tell you how to create a social strategy or how to make a dashboard which records social interactions. We’ll leave that for another post. What I will tell you about is a simple way of attributing which social posts contributed to your leads, sales or revenue, and how you can use what I’m about to tell you to measure other marketing. Such as offline, affiliate or partner programmes.

And this magic secret is called a UTM code.

What is a UTM Code?

UTM code stands for ‘urchin tracking module’ (catchy, right) They form custom URL (website address) parameters, which can be used by marketers to track the effectiveness of campaigns across different channels, and traffic sources by appending the parameter to a regular URL.

The parameters you add are then parsed (broken down) by Google Analytics. These can then be found under the ‘Campaigns Report’ of Analytics to populate better reports and track that all-important ROI.

Interesting Fact: They’re named urchin tracking modules as they were originally developed by Urchin Software. The web analytics software acquired by Google in 2005 which later became Google Analytics.

If all that sounds like gobbledygook, let’s look at an example:


The parts in red are the UTM parameters I’ve added to this blogs URL. They help isolate the performance of this specific blog post when shared on Facebook, separately from all other ways that traffic may have arrived here.

Why Do You Need UTM Codes & How Do You Use Them?

Imagine the example above.

Say I wanted to share this post with all of our blog subscribers via email and share it with people who may be interested, by posting it on Facebook. At the same time, suppose I’m sending out other emails or posting organic content several times a day on Facebook.

It soon gets hard to find how, if at all, that specific blog post might be contributing to web traffic or goals. This is because Google Analytics groups all traffic into ‘Default Channels’ as follows: Direct; Paid Search; Organic Search; Display; Referral; Social; Email

Channels are then grouped by Source/Medium. Mediums are similar to default channels and are like buckets in which sits the source. For example, ‘organic’ is a medium and Google and Bing are both sources of organic.

If I didn’t apply a UTM code I might see a spike in social traffic in Analytics. But it would be very difficult to know if that was because of my post, which has been shared using paid social advertising, or because it was shared by a colleague. Or if the growth had come from a totally different organic post.

By applying a UTM code you can track precisely how many clicks that post has received. What that traffic has gone on to do during that session, and subsequent sessions until the campaign window expires (by default, six months).

screenshot of google analytics all traffic channel report
Fig.1: At the ‘all traffic’ channels level of analytics we don’t get very granular information, just an overview of which channels are delivering the traffic and enquiries.
screenshot of google analytics all channels social data
Fig.2: We can hone in on the ‘social’ element of the all channels report, but this won’t give us anything more than the contribution that each channel has made.
screenshot of UTM codes campaign data within Google Analytics
Fig.3: With UTM tracking in place we can head to the ‘Campaigns’ report under ‘Acquisition’ in Google Analytics and filter this to see the performance of each ad we’re running on Facebook.

Now with this information, UTM codes can help you with the following things:

  1. Proving the value of hard to measure channels or activity, to help secure budget and buy-in from senior managers.
  2. Help you to hone in on what is and isn’t working. Without having to create dozens of reports within each systems reporting dashboard.
  3. Improve the analysis of A/B split tests.
  4. Speed up reporting and implementation of campaigns from testing to full roll-out.

How To Use UTM Parameters

There are five variables to UTM parameters, they are:

Campaign Source
The referrer – think of this as the last place which the click came from e.g. facebook, google, blog, newsletter
Campaign Medium
The marketing medium – think of this as the channel or bucket e.g. cpc, social, display, banner, organic, email
Campaign Name
The name of the campaign as you know it e.g. spring_sale, summer_promo, 10%_code
Campaign Term
Only used to identify paid keywords – don’t use this if you’re not tracking CPC traffic
Campaign Content
Can be anything used to differentiate the ads e.g. image, video, creative_a, creative_b

Case Sensitive

When using UTM parameters it is important to understand that they are case sensitive. If you name a campaign ‘Example’, then create another UTM code to track the same campaign but call it ‘example’ you’ll end up with two sets of parameters being tracked.

Be Consistent

This consistency is key to accurate tracking, so choosing the right and consistent naming conventions is also key. If you wanted to track the success of display ads and wanted to know which size of display ads performs best across each campaign, decide upfront if your medium is display or banner and stick to the same convention.

Use Underscores instead of spaces

Another good tip is to use underscores instead of spaces, this is because if you use spaces the URL will be updated with a % symbol. This can get very confusing if you genuinely wanted to use a % in your tracking code!

Size matters

Links with UTM parameters can look pretty long and ugly. Once you’ve created them use a link shortener like bit.ly or goo.gl to tidy them up.

Use a spreadsheet to track UTM links


Our best piece of advice is to track all of your links in a spreadsheet. It’s what we do here at Zest and it enables us to share information across the team and with our clients’ internal teams. Anybody working on an account can add their campaigns and follow the same naming conventions and rules. You can also add notes to remind yourself of any small details when you come back to look at the results weeks or months later.

And seeing as we’re such a nice bunch here at Zest, we’ve decided to share ours with you. Just jump over to this link to get your free UTM code tracker. It’s view only, so just make a copy and save it for your eternal benefit!

If you only have one or two links to track then Google actually provides a very handy tool for creating UTM Parameters with a link shortener. Head over to their campaign URL builder to give it a try.

7 Things You Could Track With UTM Codes

  1. Organic and paid social posts – use the campaign and content parameters to measure the performance of different types of content, authors, ad objectives or settings.
  2. Display banners – measure the effectiveness of creative, banner size, placement or campaign type more easily.
  3. Partner promotions – are you providing links to different bloggers or vloggers and want to know who is most successful, or which of their channels gets you more clicks? Provide them with tagged, shortened links.
  4. Email signatures – those ‘click here to email us’ links in the corporate signature on your email can be tracked too.
  5. PDF documents – got links within PDF docs that may get shared far and wide, such as your latest whitepaper? Put UTM parameters on to those too.
  6. Email links or campaigns – you can use UTM codes to track all of the different links that go out in your email newsletters, or you can track the post the email links to itself. That way if it’s forwarded or shared, you’ll know more about its reach.
  7. Stop dark social traffic – when users on mobile devices open links on social media from within apps they’re often lost to a phenomenon known as ‘dark social’. This is where the referral source is listed as ‘direct’ or ‘referral’ rather than ‘social’. UTM codes can, in many cases, help to mitigate this.

Now it’s over to you…

And if you see this as a strategy you’d like to discuss, but don’t necessarily have the time or skill to do it yourself, you can book in a free Strategy Call to discuss your project.

Or you can head over to our Growth Calculator to calculate your revenue growth potential and to discover the two key objectives that you need to achieve to send your revenue skywards.

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