Urchin Tracking Module (UTM) Parameters

Doctor Digital, how do UTM parameters work in tracking my customers online?

Doctor Digital Says

The UTM parameter stands for Urchin Tracking Module, which immediately makes it seem like a cute internet helper in a scruffy outfit with adorable freckles about to ask for another serving of soup. Let’s hold that simple non-jargon laden thought as our north star and find out how these little rascals can help you to better understand where your customers come from, how they get to you, and why that’s important.

Firstly, UTM parameters are simply five tags that you add to a URL. When someone clicks on a URL with UTM parameters, those tags are sent back to your Google Analytics for tracking. Today, up to 81% of shoppers conduct online research before making a big purchase. If your business has a website, it's important to get a sense of how people are finding your content. One of the primary ways to do that is through UTM parameters.

I’m going to try and make this simple enough for a street urchin with a heart of gold to understand, as were about to move into some complex territory.

This is what a standard URL looks like:


This is what that same URL with UTM parameters looks like:


In bold are the UTM parameters that have been added to this blog post's URL for tracking purposes. You'll notice the string starts with a "?" and contains the three of the possible five tags: utm_source, utm_medium, and utm_campaign.

The addition of the UTM parameter doesn't change the content of the post. Rather, it allows for analytics to interpret the origin and basic engagement information about the visitor. The other two possible tags, utm_content and utm_term, were not used in this case.

Let’s unpack what each of those five terms does using the Google definitions. You’ll note that source, medium and name are required, and the other two are additional:

UTM Parameters Blog - picture of five terms.png

Our friends at Google have a critical role to play in UTM, and helpfully have a generator that assists you to create your own UTM URL links. So now you know what they do, someone else can generate that pesky code.

UTM Parameters Blog - Google generator example.png

Simply put, UTM parameters are five tags you can add to the end of the URLs of your marketing or promotional efforts. When your appended URL is then visited, it allows analytics software to track information, such as how visitors are coming to your site and if they're interacting with any content associated with a campaign. This can be particularly useful, especially if there are multiple ways to access your online assets and you're trying to identify which channels to focus on.

Gathering data about which types of promotions or content is working for your website audience opens the door for optimization and experimentation. You can use UTM parameters in email, messaging, or even social campaigns to determine which of those channels work best for your buyer personas and current website audience.

Knowing which channels work best can help your team target and use the types of content that perform well, which can positively impact your campaigns' return on investment and make sure you are spending your hard earned social dollars where they count. More soup kid?

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