Tracking the Trail: UTMs are Key Tools for Understanding Consumer Journeys

In the dynamic world of digital marketing, comprehending the heart of consumer decision making is vital for crafting effective marketing strategies. This is where UTM (Urchin Tracking Module) parameters become indispensable.

By leveraging UTMs, marketers can decode the complexities of consumer behavior by understanding which sources, mediums, and campaigns resonate most with their audience. This deep dive into consumer decision-making allows for tailored strategies that truly engage and convert.

What are UTMs?

UTMs are tags that are added to URLs to help track the performance of online marketing campaigns. They provide detailed insights into the source, medium, and/or campaign that is driving traffic to a website, enabling marketers to understand which efforts are most effective. By using UTM parameters, businesses can analyze user behavior and make data-driven decisions to optimize their marketing strategies.

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How do they work?

UTMs work by appending specific parameters to a URL, which are then tracked by tools like Google Analytics. When a user clicks on a URL containing UTM parameters, these tags are sent with the URL to the analytics tool which will record detailed information about that user’s actions. This data is then aggregated and presented in reports, enabling us to see exactly how users found a webpage and how different marketing efforts are performing.

Parameters that can be tracked using UTMs include:

  • Campaign Name
  • Traffic Source (ex: Google Ads, LinkedIn, etc.)
  • Traffic Medium (ex: paid social, display, etc.)
  • What Creative Was Used
  • What Keyword or Term Led to a Site Visit

When should you use UTMs?

You should use a UTM whenever you want to track the performance of a specific digital campaign, understand how users are reaching your website, and their actions after landing. Examples of placements where you can utilize UTMs include:

  • QR codes
  • Email links
  • Social links (paid and organic)
  • Vanity URL redirects (ex: shortened URLs used on billboards or in radio ads)
  • Clickable ads run by vendors/media partners (ex: native ads, video or banner ads on websites, etc.)
  • Any clickable advertisement leading to your site.

The only exception to this rule is for Google Ads and YouTube ad campaigns, where Google automatically appends UTMs.

When UTMs should not be used:

  • Website links that drive traffic to other pages within the same website
  • Website links that drive traffic to subdomains being tracked within the same GA4 property

The reason you should avoid using UTMs on internal website links is to avoid artificial inflation, as these clicks will be viewed as a new session even if the user was already on the website. Your original campaign/traffic source will also be overwritten. To track internal clicks or actions within a website, use Google Tag Manager or a similar tool to set up custom event tracking in your analytics account.

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How to Construct UTMs and Best Practices

Here are the steps and best practices for constructing UTMs properly:

1. Start with Your Base URL: This is the URL of the page you want to track.

2. Add UTM Parameters
: There are five main parameters you can use:

  • utm_source: Identifies the source of your traffic. Use this to specify the platform or referrer.
  • utm_medium: Describes the medium or marketing channel.
  • utm_campaign: Specifies the campaign name to track different marketing initiatives.
  • utm_term: Used for tracking keywords in paid search campaigns.
  • utm_content: Differentiates similar content or links within the same campaign.

3. Construct the URL: Combine your base URL with the UTM parameters. Separate the base URL and the first parameter with a question mark (?) and use ampersands (&) to separate each parameter. Each parameter identifier should be separated by an underscore (utm_medium). Each word following the = sign in an individual parameter should be separated by a dash (paid-social). 

To simplify the process, you can use a free UTM generator like Google’s Campaign URL builder.

UTMs are powerful tools that can provide detailed insights into the effectiveness of your campaigns, enabling you to fine-tune your strategies based on real data. By understanding the decisions your consumers make throughout the user experience journey, you can create more compelling and targeted marketing efforts. UTMs empower you to track and analyze the precise impact of each campaign, ensuring that your resources are invested in what truly drives consumer engagement and conversion.