Data

How to improve campaign measurement in Google Analytics with UTMs.

In the fast-paced world of marketing, businesses continue to use campaigns as a key part of their strategy to reach audiences, ideally messaging them at the right time, in the right channel with the right offer.
9 minute read
By Shemaiah Cox

The amount of time and money spent planning and executing campaigns, at varying scales, has created an increasing need for an effective measurement strategy to understand what works and what does not, as part of a test and learn strategy. This is where UTMs become one of the many superhero’s you can employ in your endeavour to ensure you are getting the most out of your efforts.

So, what are UTMs? How do they work? How do they relate to Google Analytics? These are some of the questions you may be asking yourself and questions we will uncover as you read on.

What are UTMs?

For a very brief history lesson, UTM stands for Urchin Tracking Modules. Urchin was an analytics platform which Google acquired and it eventually evolved into (you guessed it) Google Analytics. Since then, UTMs have become ‘The’ way of tracking marketing campaigns in Google Analytics. With UTMs on your side you will benefit from the invaluable data needed to help optimize both cost and performance by answering such as:

  • How do different segments of users engage with my website after clicking on my Ad?
  • Are users completing the intended Goal, for example, a newsletter subscription?
  • How many users bounce after seeing the landing page?
  • How long are users spending on my site after seeing the ad?
  • Does the Ad yield an effective Return on Investment (ROI)?

How do UTMs work?

Don’t worry, there is no need to bring out that old computer science textbook just yet. Let’s do this the easy way (well-ish).

When you click on a referral link from an external website or a search engine, the special UTM parameters added to that URL are sent directly to Google analytics. There are 5 parameters in total which consist of:

  • utm_source: Identifies the referral of the traffic i.e google.co.uk, facebook.com
  • utm_medium: Identifies the marketing channel grouping i.e. email, cpc, affiliate
  • utm_campaign: Identifies your campaign by name
  • utm_content: Identifies they type of content i.e if you have 2 links within the same ad you can use the call-to-action name to differentiate
  • utm_term: Identifies the paid search keywords used for the ad

Let’s say you have decided to create an email campaign for a Christmas Sale you have coming up, you may consider using something like the following to define your campaign set up:

  • utm_source = winter_mailer
  • utm_medium = email
  • utm_campaign = christmas_sale_2021

Then final URL will end up looking like this:

www.example.com/?utm_source=winter_mailer&=utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=christmas_sale_2021

Please note: utm_source, utm_medium and utm_campaign are compulsory. Google states that utm_term and utm_content are optional parameters, but it is recommended to use this as much as possible as you will have more valuable information available to you when you finally analyse the performance of your campaign – see more about this is our top tips section below.

So, you may be thinking,

“that’s great but is this a manual process each time?”

No, is the short answer to this. Google have a Campaign URL Builder tool you can use to help populate your URLs with the custom parameters mentioned above.

You can experiment here: https://ga-dev-tools.appspot.com/campaign-url-builder/

Google UTM Builder form

Can I track internal content using UTMs?

Okay, so you now have a brand-new method for measuring campaign performance. Wouldn’t it be great if you could apply this approach to an internal link for banners on your site? Well, the answer to that is No, I’m afraid. Although this may seem like a no-brainer at first, we have to understand the implications of doing so and how it can lead to whole lot of untruths in Google Analytics.

The most valid reason against this is that Google Analytics is a session-based platform, meaning when a user arrives at your site the referral information is stored in a cookie i.e., user A came from google or your special Christmas-sale campaign. If you add another UTM tracking link within your site after the user has already arrived, then the original referral source i.e., Google will be overwritten (yikes!!!).

How do I overcome this?

A simple answer would be using Event tracking instead. We have previously written a Blog article - see the quick link at the bottom of this article - about Google Event tracking, which you will find useful if you need to get started. I won’t go into the details here, but the idea is to set up events in GA to allow you capture as much useful information as you need about the call-to-actions, links or banners users engage with — these are, after all, also known as ‘engagement events’ - you can then analyse until your heart is content.

How do I see UTM campaign performance in Google Analytics?

The great news is that Google Analytics will process and store the data automatically, meaning that you are only left with the task of visualizing the data. Generally, UTMs will fall into the following Google Analytics default dimensions when a user clicks on a UTM decorated link:

  • utm_source = source
  • utm_medium = medium
  • utm_campaign = campaign
  • utm_term = keyword
  • utm_content = ad content

If you prefer to use GA to do analysis you can search for the campaign name under Acquisition -> Campaigns -> All Campaigns - see below:

GA screenshot - wide

However, this method is limited if you want to see all the UTM parameters associated with that campaign as you can only add one additional dimension to the interface. If you feel like a challenge and would like more flexibility, we recommend setting up a quick data studio report and adding all the above dimensions to a table - this way all the information is in one place - a great way to troubleshoot as-well as measure campaign performance.

ekino top tips for UTMs

  • Use lowercase for all your utm parameters as this will not only allow google to correctly bucket the medium in its own default groupings but will allow for consistency across all campaigns
  • Spaces are not recommended for multi-word values. It is best practice to join words together using an underscore ’_’ or dash ‘-‘
  • Try to be as descriptive as possible so another person looking at the collected data is easily able to understand what the values refer to
  • Utilize utm_term and utm_content as much as you can. If you are not running a paid keyword campaign you can use theses parameters to reflect the things like the campaign strategy i.e. retargeting or the campaign locale if the campaign will be trafficked in various locations i.e. a banner ad for Italy would have a value of Italy and so on

Conclusion

As you have seen, UTMs are an excellent way to collect and measure campaign performance in Google Analytics, offering a consistent and flexible way to see what is working and what is not when it comes to your marketing activity. There are few gotchas when it comes to setting them up correctly but most of this has been covered in the above sections.

The main takeaway is, the next time you think of online campaigns or Google Analytics, think of UTMs because they truly are your friend in this volatile world of data.

Shemaiah Cox
Web Analyst, ekino London.
Shemaiah is a technologically savvy web analyst with a creative approach to problem solving. He has a passion for Google Analytics and digital data measurement.

more from ekino

10 minute read
Fellow Salesforce Marketing Cloud enthusiasts will agree that 2019 began with a bang, as the highly anticipated integration between Google Analytics 360 and Salesforce Marketing Cloud was launched in January.
By Sidney Udechukwu
8 minute read
A detailed overview of Google Analytics Events and how they can benefit your business
By Guillaume Wan
8 minute read
A detailed overview of Google Analytics Goals and how they can benefit your business
By Guillaume Wan