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What is UTM code?

Andy Topps
Andy Topps26.08.2016

What is UTM code? Let us explain

One of the many great advantages of digital marketing is the ability to track the success (or not) of your campaigns, and this is largely down to a great piece of very simple code known as Urchin Tracking Module, which you’ll probably know as the much simpler UTM.

These UTM parameters are added to the end of a URL so that you can identify the source and campaigns that send traffic to your website. Adding a UTM to the end of a URL doesn’t affect the web page; but no UTM, no tracking.

When a user clicks a referral link, or an ad or a banner, the UTM is sent to Google Analytics (or other such tools) which then processes it so you can see the effectiveness of each of your campaigns.

Urchin Software

The UTM was developed by Urchin Software, (http://analytics.blogspot.co.uk/2012/01/end-of-era-for-urchin-software.html) a company founded in 1998 by Paul Muret, who is now vice president of engineering at Google where he leads the Google Analytics team.

He is on record as saying he was "blown away by the response" when the first version of Urchin was rolled out to customers. "It was clear that Urchin was filling a fundamental need to understand customer engagement in a new medium. Suddenly, it made the intangible packets of traffic flying invisibly all over the world very tangible”, he stated.

Within a few short years the business grew considerably thanks to Urchin and Urchin on Demand, an online version of the product, and in early 2005 it was bought by Google which saw the potential of data to create a better web.

Effective offline

We’ve already said that the UTM is a very simple technique but we haven’t, so far, mentioned how they are also really effective offline.

By creating a vanity URL for each offline campaign, and then redirecting that URL to whatever forwarding address you assign to it (most likely your main domain) gives you the ability to track how a weekly newspaper ad, coupon, radio ad, tweet or TV commercial is working without having to create custom landing pages for each campaign.

By creating a separate UTM code for a tweet or print ad, for example, you can get data on which generates more traffic and conversions etc. It also allows you to track, not only, the source and the medium (radio, Facebook, coupon, etc), but even individual campaign names.

URL Builder Tool

Within the Google Analytics package there’s the URL Builder Tool which helps you tag your URLs properly. All you need to do is add up to five values to your website URL that you want to track such as campaign topic, month, media type; then click “generate URL”, and there you are.

Another wonderful thing about UTM codes is that you can change them whenever you like to adjust areas such as the medium or the campaign month.

But what exactly does UTM code look like? This is what we’ll call a normal URL; www.vital.co.uk, and this is the URL with a UTM parameter added (which doesn’t work, it’s just for demonstration purposes only :

www.vital.co.uk/?utm_source=domain.com&utm_medium=banner&utm_campaign=winter15&utm_content=blue_ad&utm_term=headline_v1.

The parameter is added to the URL with "?", and there are five dimensions of UTM parameters:

  • utm_source = name of the source (usually the domain of source website)
  • utm_medium = name of the medium; type of traffic (ie, cpc = paid search, organic = organic search; referral = link from another website etc)
  • utm_campaign = name of the campaign; ie, name of the campaign in Google AdWords, date of your e-mail campaign, etc
  • utm_content = to distinguish different parts of one campaign; ie, name of AdGroup in Google AdWords (with auto-tagging you will see the headline of your ads in this dimension)
  • utm_term = to distinguish different parts of one content; ie, keyword in Google AdWords.

There’s nothing too complicated about UTMs, the trick is knowing how to tweak the code to reflect your changing campaigns and to then act on what does and doesn’t work.

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