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    The Value of UTM Codes

    Posted by Jodi Ireland
    UTM code callout

    UTM codes — short for Urchin Tracking Modules — are snippets of text added to URLs to track website traffic and measure the performance of digital marketing campaigns. These codes (also called UTM parameters) provide valuable insights for marketing teams by revealing where clicks originate. Imagine a user clicks on an Instagram link leading to your company’s landing page. UTM codes tell you the click came from Instagram.

    Beyond identifying sources, UTM codes answer deeper questions, too, and allow you to optimize your marketing strategy:

    • Which marketing platform drives the most traffic?
    • Which social media call-to-action (CTA) generates the most revenue?

    UTM codes also offer more granular tracking than standard software, which might only tell you which website the traffic came from. UTM codes, however, can tell you the specific ad or post. They’re also useful for outbound marketing campaigns like email marketing, social media, and paid ads. They don’t apply to direct traffic (users typing your URL into the search bar) or organic traffic (results from search engines).

    Why are UTM codes important?

    These codes unlock detailed insights into how users reach your content and the effectiveness of your campaigns. They allow you to attribute traffic to specific sources, campaigns, and content pieces. Without UTM codes, gauging the success of individual elements becomes a guessing game, with a lack of data making it challenging to:

    • Control spending on paid campaigns since you can’t pinpoint the exact ads delivering the best results.
    • Measure social media engagement since you can’t assess which social posts drive valuable website traffic.

    In today’s marketing landscape, resources are precious. By providing insights about your most successful content and channels, UTM codes empower you to:

    • Allocate budgets more strategically, focusing marketing efforts on content formats, topics, and channels driving traffic, leads, and revenue.
    • Optimize content by refining your strategy based on what resonates most strongly with your target audiences.

    Understanding UTM codes

    Think of these codes as tiny data spies embedded within your website links. Because they’re composed of specific parameters, these codes generate the granular data that allows you to analyze performance through filters in Google Analytics or other software.

    In GA4, for example, you can find our UTM data by navigating to reports > acquisition > traffic (or user) acquisition. Analytics Mania offers a user-friendly walkthrough (and video!) on how to find and use UTM data in GA4

    While UTM codes contain various elements, four key parameters are crucial for insightful results. Two are required, and two are optional. 

    Medium

    This parameter describes how users arrived at your content. Google Analytics, GA4, and other analytics platforms use specific categorizations, so stay consistent. 

    It will look like this: utm_medium=social.

    • Cost-per-click (CPC): Paid traffic from platforms like Google Ads and Bing Ads.
    • Organic: Unpaid traffic from search engine results pages (SERPs) like Google, Bing, Yahoo, etc.
    • Social: Unpaid traffic from social media platforms like Facebook, Instagram, or YouTube.
    • Paid social: Paid traffic from social media platforms. This user engagement differs significantly from CPC, necessitating a separate analysis. For proper attribution, paid social might require custom rules in Google Analytics or GA4.
    • Email: Traffic originating from links embedded in email content.
    • Referral: Unpaid traffic from external websites, not including social media platforms.
    • Video: Traffic from links in videos (except YouTube ads tracked in Google Ads).
    • Document: Traffic from links embedded in offline documents (PDFs, presentations, etc.).
    • Offline: Traffic not originating from online sources (leaflets, print ads, etc.).
    • None: Traffic with no identified medium (direct traffic).

    Source 

    This parameter specifies the exact location users came from (a search engine or website) like Google, Facebook, or bbc.co.uk. While there are millions of potential sources, maintain consistency when creating a source manually to ensure accurate data analysis.

    For example, TeenLife adds a default UTM code for our paid advertising clients: utm_source=teenlife. Adding a custom UTM code to the “view website” link on your listing will replace TeenLife’s default.

    Campaign name

    This parameter identifies the specific campaign you’re running, such as a Google Ads or PR campaign. You can create a name but ensure consistency across the platforms for accurate data analysis.

    It looks like this: utm_campaign=new-product-launch-2024

    Content

    This parameter describes the promoted content type (i.e., a banner ad, video, or blog post). It’s useful for A/B testing two different ads within the same campaign. Again, consistency is key here with naming to ensure accurate analysis.

    Pro tip: For affiliate marketing, choose the most appropriate medium (email, offline, referral) and use the “campaign” attribute to identify affiliate traffic. You can use a UTM code builder/generator to streamline the process. UTM Code Builder, Google Analytics, and Buffer have free options to try out their platforms. You’ll fill out the following fields:

    • Website URL
    • Campaign ID
    • Campaign source (e.g., newsletter, email, Google)
    • Campaign medium (e.g., banner, CPC, email)
    • Campaign name (e.g., product, promo code, slogan, etc.)
    • Campaign term (paid keywords)
    • Campaign content

    Where to use UTM codes

    Want to know more about where — and when — to put UTM codes to work? Here are some use cases.

    Advertising on another organization's website

    You're collecting information on people who want to enroll in your program. Here's how to quantify how many leads you gathered from advertising on TeenLife.

    URL: https://www.examplesummerprogram.com/enroll-now?utm_source=teenlife

    UTM Source: teenlife

    Because this example is an enrollment form, the organization opted not to include the UTM medium or campaign.

    Social media 

    Uncover which social media posts or ads resonate most with your audience. Track clicks and conversions, and identify content that drives the most website traffic. This data helps you refine your social media approach and allocate resources strategically.

    Example: You’re promoting a new webinar on X. Your UTM codes might look like this:

    • Base URL: https://www.example.com/webinar-registration
    • UTM Source: X
    • UTM Medium: social
    • UTM Campaign: summer-webinar-series
    • Final URL: https://www.example.com/webinar-registration?utm_source=X&utm_medium=social&utm_campaign=summer-webinar-series

    Email marketing 

    Gain insights into who clicks your email links, which emails perform best, and which links within emails generate the most engagement, leading to purchases, sign-ups, requests for info, etc.

    Example: You’re sending an email blast about a new program offering.  

    • Base URL: https://www.example.com/new-program-offering
    • UTM Source: email
    • UTM Medium: newsletter
    • UTM Campaign: new-program-offering-promo-july-2024
    • Final URL: https://www.example.com/new-program-offering?utm_source=email&utm_medium=newsletter&utm_campaign=new-program-offering-promo-july-2024

    Paid advertising

    Optimize your ad spend by differentiating among ad variations, keywords, and campaigns. Allocate resources to high-performing ads and eliminate wasteful spending.

    Example: You’re running Facebook ads for a summer program. Here’s a way to see how the campaign is performing.

    • Base URL: https://www.example.com/summer-program
    • UTM Source: facebook
    • UTM Medium: paid-social
    • UTM Campaign: summer-program-promotion
    • Final URL: https://www.example.com/summer-program?utm_source=facebook&utm_medium=paid-social&utm_campaign=summer-program-promotion

    Influencer marketing

    Measure traffic, conversions, and revenue generated from individual influencers or publications. This data helps you understand which partnerships have the most impact.

    Example: A former participant is promoting your gap program on Instagram. Here’s how to track their impact.

    • Base URL: https://www.example.com/gap-program
    • UTM Source: instagram
    • UTM Medium: social
    • UTM Campaign: gap-influencer-collab
    • Final URL: https://www.example.com/gap-program?utm_source=instagram&utm_medium=social&utm_campaign=gap-influencer-collab

    Best practices

    Ready to add UTM codes to your digital marketing campaign links? If you’re a visual learner, Monsterinsights’ useful (and free) tutorial also offers strategies for using UTM codes. To start, keep the following “golden rules” in mind:

    • Establish clear naming conventions that everyone will use. Is it “social media” or “social,” “paid search” or “search,” meta” or “facebook,” etc.? 

    Pro tip: UTM tracking links typically use all lowercase.

    • Skip spaces, which default to percentage signs thus complicating tracking and delivering inconsistent data. Dashes and underscores are your friends, but be consistent, whichever you choose.
    • Aim for self-explanatory UTM codes. Whoever looks at the code should quickly and easily understand its meaning. For example: 

    https://www.example.com/summer-programs/travel-to-europe/?utm_source=example&utm_medium=social&utm_content=image&utm_campaign=european-summer-programs

    Just looking at this code tells us everything we need to know!

    • While powerful, UTM codes can significantly lengthen URLs, especially during complex campaigns, negatively impacting user experience (UX). The solution? Use a link shortener like Bit.ly or Rebrandly. These tools “shrink” lengthy URLs containing UTM codes into shorter, more shareable links. This strategy is particularly helpful for social media posts that have character limits.
    • Avoid using UTM codes on internal links, which can disrupt your analytics data. Save them for outbound content. Otherwise, if a visitor lands on your homepage from a Facebook ad you’ve tagged with UTM codes and then clicks an internal link to your (also tagged) blog post, the UTM information resets and falsely attributes the blog post view to the homepage and not the original Facebook ad.
    • Test your links to ensure they function smoothly. Start with manual verification by clicking the link and reviewing the URL in the browser’s address bar once the page loads. Verify that the UTM codes are present and accurate. You can also use GAF to confirm that your UTM codes are appearing correctly and attributing traffic to the proper campaigns or conversions you’ve defined.

    UTM codes provide infinite value by providing granular data about your marketing campaigns and channels. These codes empower you to gain deeper visibility, prove return on investment (ROI), and make smarter decisions to achieve your marketing goals.

    Want to learn more about creating and using your own UTM codes? Check out this blog.

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    Jodi Ireland

    Jodi is TeenLife's Director of Content. Prior to joining the team, she worked as a Content Director at BLASTmedia, a PR company based in Indianapolis, IN. She's had several careers over the years — as a horse trainer, high school Latin teacher, college professor, editor, and journalist — but has always found time to write. When she's not advocating for the Oxford Comma or learning about the latest AI, Jodi's cheering on the Phillies or Eagles, curled up with a book and a cat, or gaming with her teenager.

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