If you have been working in marketing, you probably already know what UTMs are. They are the little extensions that you add to a URL in order to track users as they click a link and continue to navigate your website. If you don’t know what they are, here is a link to a basic explanation.
UTMs are in theory a great tool to track your marketing efforts. However, there are many barriers and limitations which are often even overseen by experienced marketers. Because of that, we have written a short guide specifically for those advanced principles of UTM parameters to turn you from being a good marketer to an expert marketer.
Consistency is key
The biggest error in a successful UTM implementation lies in inconsistency and human error. Inconsistently used in UTMs give a skewed view on the results and works against data-driven decision making. Conversions may be incorrectly attributed which affects the decision making of upcoming marketing campaigns. Below are some of the top reasons why inconsistencies appear and how to avoid them.
Always use consistent casing
One of the biggest mistakes in using UTM's is a lack of consistency in applying them. One major source of inconsistency is capitalization. UTMs are case-sensitive. This means that it matters if you are using capital letters. The medium “email” is not the same as “Email”! The easiest way to ensure correct capitalization is to agree to always use the same case, so either lowercase or UPPERCASE. However, even once agreed, people sometimes tend to make mistakes and use incorrect casing. For that reason, it is smart to set up a filter in Google Analytics that will change the capitalization of UTM's to the correct case.
To set up a case filter for UTM's in Google Analytics:
- Go to your admin panel in Analytics. On the far right, you have the option to set up a filter.
- Create a new filter, under filter type, choose “Custom”
- Select “Lowercase”
- Under the Filter Field, select the parameters that you want to turn to lowercase. You will have to set up a filter for each of the parameters separately:
- “Campaign Source”
- “Campaign Medium”
- “Campaign Content”
That’s it! Remember that it can take up to 24 hours before the filters will be applied to the account and filters will only go into effect for the data that comes in from that point onwards. It probably will cause a temporary inconsistency with historic mixed case UTMs, but in the long term, these filters will be a huge help in maintaining consistency.
Create tagging working habits
It is surprisingly difficult to stay consistent in using UTM tags, especially when working with them "cross-department". It is very easy to mix up phrasing (was it social+organic or organic+social? email or emails?) and to avoid misspellings and typos. For that reason, it may be good to use an Excel or Sheets template with dropdown menus of all the UTM tags that are in use. Especially when teams have just started to work with UTMs, it is very important to check and remind teammates to use them.
Don't mix up source and medium fields
While most of the parameters are straightforward and not very important, source and medium are very often mixed up, which can lead to very skewed analysis when evaluating the campaign performance.
The source field is compulsory when using UTMs. Without the source field, your UTMs won’t run. The easiest way to use source fields consistently is to simply put the domain name (with extension; .com, .au etc.). So “facebook.com” is a good value for “Source”.
The “Medium” field is half-compulsory. It means that it's possible to use UTMs without this field, but it will still make the medium field appear in Analytics. The caveat is that the value will be defined as “not set”. For that reason, it is strongly advised to always use the medium field. For the medium, you should use the default channel names, or the ones you define yourself when using "custom channel grouping". You can find the list of default mediums here.
UTM Pro tips
Here are a few tips to make your utm game even stronger!
Use a "+" for a space
The + sign gets shown as a space in Google Analytics. So it is esthetically pleasing to use them in UTMs: "discount+campaign+2021". be aware, when using a UTM builder, the plus signs get changed to "%2B", so plus signs shouldn't be used in the UTM builder.
Pay attention to redirects
301 and 302 redirects (permanent and temporary) are a serious threat to UTM tracking. When redirects are in place, there is a big chance that the UTM parameter will get stripped and the visit will not be tracked properly.
Don’t tag your internal links
Sometimes people make the mistake of tagging internal links with UTM parameters, which is not a good thing to do. When you follow a tagged link, Analytics will consider this a new session and apply those UTMs to the session. If for example, you arrived initially from TikTok and had those UTMs appended, they will be stripped. So UTM parameters should only be used for external links!
Don't use UTMs with auto-tagging in Google Ads
While most advertising platforms don't have this feature, Google's auto-tagging functionality integrates with Analytics. This "GCLID" will typically overwrite any UTM parameters.
There are some cases where UTMs are prefered over auto-tagging, for example when in rare cases, the website strips gclid ID's. In this case, it's possible to use UTMs. However, in Analytics you will need to set the UTM to override the gclid id:
- Go to the admin panel in Analytics
- Go to property settings
- Under additional settings - "allow UTMs to override auto-tagging"
You can shorten your links
UTM parameters are ugly. They add a huge snippet behind your URL, which can be aesthetically unpleasant, especially when using the URL in a place where it is visible for everyone to see.
That’s why we included an additional feature in our UTM Builder — link shortener.
Keeping the guidelines above in mind, UTMs can become essential tools in order to track and optimize the performance of your digital marketing. While Google Ads provides tools for auto-tagging campaigns, other PPC tools like Facebook, Linkedin, Tiktok and others, should be manually tagged.
eLama provides a powerful UTM builder which allows you to easily add UTM tags to your links. Just fill in the required fields and feel comfortable that your marketing efforts are not going to waste!