Upgrade Your Google Analytics Tracking
Discover the exact origin of your website traffic with UTM parameters.
Google Analytics is an incredibly powerful marketing tool that allows website owners to track data for a variety of different metrics. However, one area where Google Analytics is slightly lacking is its ability to accurately track where all of your traffic is coming from.
Google does its best to determine where your traffic is coming from through its analysis of website cookies and URLs. However, if Google can’t figure out how a user landed on your site, GA will throw that traffic into the “(direct)/(none)” category within your Acquisition reporting dashboard.
The “(direct)/(none)” category serves two purposes. The first purpose is to log users who directly entered the URL of your website into their browser address bar. The second purpose is to log traffic that doesn’t have any referral information attached to it (Google can’t figure out where it came from).
The problem with Google throwing unrecognized traffic into this category is that you will be missing out on valuable information about that traffic. The best way to fix this is through the use of utm parameters.
What is a UTM Parameter?
A UTM parameter is simply a tracking code that you can add to the end of a URL. This tracking code allows you to track the exact source of website traffic when a user clicks on the URL.
Think of utm parameters as a tracking upgrade for Google Analytics. They allow you to see where your traffic is coming from and ultimately how well your campaigns are performing.
Here’s an example of a URL with a utm parameter attached to the end of it:
At first glance, the end of the URL probably looks like complete gibberish, however there is a method to that madneess.
The 5 Components of a UTM Code
Identified by utm_source within the tracking code, Campaign Source tracks exactly where your traffic is coming from. If you look back at the example above, you’ll notice utm_source=facebook in the code. As you can probably guess, the campaign source for this link would be Facebook.
As a general rule of thumb, simply use the name of the social media channel or website you will be using to post your link.
Labeled by utm_medium in the utm code, Campaign Medium tracks the general category of the traffic source. For instance, if you look at the example above, you’ll see utm_medium=social. Naturally, this indicates that the traffic came from a social media source.
For Campaign Medium, you’ll want to use tags that are as general as possible. Good examples of medium tags include:
When you filter your Acquisition report by medium in Google Analytics, the program will provide you with useful information about the general performance of your digital marketing campaigns.
Labeled by utm_campaign in the utm code, Campaign Name tracks which campaign your traffic was generated by. Campaign Name is essentially the exact opposite of Campaign Medium, as it allows you to track the performance of individual campaign names. So, if you already have a name for an established campaign or if you have one in mind, this is where you would place that name.
For instance, if you look at the example above, you’ll notice utm_campaign=blog_posts. This tag refers to tracking the performance of blog posts in a content marketing campaign.
Labeled by utm_content in the utm tracking code, Campaign Content tracks the specific link location that generated your traffic. This tag isn’t necessarily required for your utm code, however I would recommend using it if you need to track the performance of specific link locations within your email campaigns or landing pages.
Utm content tags will allow you to test specific link locations to see if some locations work better than others.
Labeled by utm_term in the utm tracking code, Campaign Term allows you to track paid keywords. This tag is mostly used when you are running PPC ads on a platform outside of Google Ads, such as Bing Ads. Google Ads will autotag your keywords for you, however it won’t be able to track keywords outside of the platform.
To summarize, if you have keywords you’d like to track outside of Google Ads, you can use Campaign Term to do so.
Creating URLs with UTM Parameters
If you’re feeling a bit overwhelmed at this point, don’t worry. The best thing about utm parameters is that you actually don’t have to make the codes yourself. Google offers a free tool to create utm-treated URLs with the Google URL Builder.
Google’s URL builder will give you fields to fill in data for each utm tag and will auto-generate the URL for you. They also give you a few helpful hints below the fields if you forget what each tag represents.
By itself, Google Analytics is an incredibly powerful tool to track a number of different performance metrics for your website. However, when combined with utm parameters, Google Analytics will allow you to see exactly where your traffic is coming from, as well as the overall performance of specific campaigns. If you’re a digital marketer that is serious about understanding your website traffic, I highly recommend using utm parameters when creating links to your website.