What are Google UTM Parameters? Guide to Improve Traffic Attribution


Do you know the UTM parameters of Google ? Although the marketers that dominate them are still few, these codes are the key to correctly attribute traffic to your website once and for all.

With the UTM parameters , you can know exactly where your visitors come from and accurately measure the results of each campaign. But in order to apply them to our marketing, we first have to know how Google’s traffic sources are recognized. In this guide we tell you all the details so that you too can harness the power of the UTM.

How traffic is attributed in Google Analytics: HTTP Referrer and UTM Parameters

In order to know which marketing actions are being effective and which are not, marketers have to be able to attribute the conversions to the correct source.

This is especially important when you consider that a single conversion may require different contact points and devices. If we cannot clearly identify the traffic sources that contribute to each action, we will not be able to calculate the cost per acquisition or the return on advertising investment of the different channels.

Google Analytics divides all traffic to a website into sessions (previously known as visits). A session in Google Analytics is defined as a set of interactions that take place on a website in a certain period. A single session can contain multiple page views, events, social interactions, and e-commerce transactions.

Google identifies a single traffic source for each session using two resources: the HTTP Referrer and the UTM parameters.

HTTP Referrer

When a user clicks on a link to navigate from page A (source) to page B (destination), the browser sends the source URL to the destination page through the browser in a field called “HTTP Referrer”. This field can be read by any script executed on the landing page.

Google Analytics uses the HTTP Referrer to understand which page sent the user to log in, and identifies the origin page as the source of the traffic. But there are quite a few cases in which we cannot access this parameter, for example:

  • If the user has switched from a secure page (HTTPS) to an unsecure page (HTTP).
  • If the user comes from a link that does not pass the HTTP Referrer, for example, links in PDF documents, emails, mobile applications or instant messages.
  • If the user has entered the address of the page directly or has accessed from their favorites.
  • If the user has scanned a QR code.

UTM parameters

As we have just seen, the HTTP Referrer is not always available, which prevents us from knowing where a good part of our traffic comes from. In addition, the information you provide us is limited.

And to solve this, we have the UTM parameters .

The UTM parameters (“Urchin Tracking Modules”, by the company that invented them) are 5 parameters that we can add to the links that lead to our website :

  • utm_source : the site that is sending traffic
  • utm_medium : the channel, for example, email or cpc
  • utm_campaign : the promotion generated by the session
  • utm_term : The search term used by the user or the specific element within a channel
  • utm_content : the specific content that has taken the user to our website

In this way, we can identify a much higher percentage of our traffic and with much more precision. Please note that if a link has UTM parameters, Google will ignore the HTTP Referrer.

Best practices for each UTM parameter

1) utm_source

The utm_source value should be the name of the platform or tool used , for example Facebook, YouTube or MailChimp. Both utm_source and utm_medium are mandatory for Google to register the traffic source.

Here it is interesting to stop to think about how we are going to report traffic from email marketing. In Google documentation, it is recommended to include the name of the mailing list or the specific newsletter, instead of the email service provider.

This approach makes sense to analyze the results of different email campaigns, but it can be very impractical, since in the end a lot of different email sources will appear in the results and you will not be able to add the results well.

Therefore, the recommendation is that the utm_source is always the automation tool that we are using (for example, Active Campaign) and that the mailing list or the newsletter go to utm_medium.

2) utm_medium

The utm_medium value identifies the general channel through which a user reaches your website, for example, email, search engine advertising or social networks.

The same channel can have multiple different sources. For example, within the email channel, we can have different automation tools or even e-commerce platforms that send transactional emails to customers.

In order for the information to be as ordered as possible, it is recommended to always configure the utm_medium following the standard Google channel grouping:

  • organic: unpaid traffic from search engines. You cannot add UTM parameters to links in search engines, but Google Analytics automatically detects the traffic of the main search engines through the HTTP Referrer.
  • cpc: paid traffic from ads with a cost-per-click model. This is the channel that is used by default for Google Ads campaigns.
  • ppc: paid traffic in which the advertiser pays for each click on the link.
  • cpm: display and banner campaigns with a payment model based on cost per thousand.
  • displaydisplay campaigns and banners.
  • social: traffic from social media platforms.
  • referral: traffic from websites that are neither a search engine nor a social media platform.
  • affiliate: traffic from affiliate marketing.
  • email: traffic from email marketing campaigns.
  • (none): when there are no UTM parameters or Google Analytics, it cannot find the traffic source.

A couple of things to keep in mind:

  • Many tools have built-in functionality to add UTMs to all the links they generate. Sometimes these UTMs are different from the list we’ve shown above, so if possible, customize them so that all the information is well grouped.
  • Keep in mind that the same source (source) can give rise to different channels (mediums). For example, Facebook can send traffic through “referral” (when someone shares a link on your wall), “cpc” (Facebook Ads), or “social” (when someone clicks on a post on your page).

3) utm_campaign

Although this parameter called utm_campaign is not mandatory as in the case of the previous two, it is still highly recommended to be able to measure the effectiveness of your marketing actions individually.

The most important thing to use this parameter well is that the nomenclature is clear and consistent . It is recommended to use a value that identifies either the promoted product, category or event, or the objective of the promotion.

For example, let’s imagine that we have an ecommerce for sports products and that we launch specific campaigns for specific dates: Christmas, Black Friday, Father’s Day… Each campaign has Facebook Ads, Google Ads and emails.

In this case, we would use a different UTM parameter for each campaign, for example black-friday, regardless of the channel. In this way, we will be able to compare the campaigns with each other globally. And if we want to delve into the data of each campaign, we can enter it to see the information separated by channels.

Obviously, if we adopt this approach, the same campaign can cover different sources and channels.

4) utm_term

The utm_term may seem a bit fuzzy, since its content depends on the source and the channel. When you assign a value to this channel, think about what will help you the most to identify the specific element within the promotion or marketing activity . For example, you can use utm_term for an email, an ad, a social media post, the title of a blog post, a search term … Here are the recommendations based on the combination of “source” and ” medium”:

  • google / cpc: the search keyword
  • facebook / cpc: the ad title
  • twitter / social: the text of the tweet
  • activecampaign / email: the subject of the email
  • facebook / social: the title of the publication
  • youtube / social: the title of the video
  • website.com/referral: the title of the blog article
  • instagram / social: the title of the Story

5) utm_content

The utm_content parameter is used to differentiate similar content , links within an advertisement or a blog article, call-to-action buttons within an email or variants of an A / B test .

This parameter is totally optional, but it is very useful to expand the information available within Google Analytics. Here are some ideas to use it:

  • In email marketing: use the utm_content to distinguish the list to which an email was sent, the variant in an A / B test, the specific link within an email or the campaign’s dispatch date.
  • On Facebook Ads: Use it to identify the ad audience, ad type and format, or the conversion funnel phase.
  • In YouTube videos: use the utm_content to identify the clicked link (on a card, in the description …), the category of the video, the duration or the author.
  • In blog articles: Classify traffic sources based on the category or author of the article or the specific link the user clicked on.

UTM parameter tools

As you can see, properly managing UTM parameters can be quite complex. But luckily, there are several specialized tools for UTM parameters to save time and avoid human error. To get started, sign up for these three:

  • Google URL Maker – A free Google tool to add UTM parameters to our URLs.
  • UTM.io: web-based tool to create, share and synchronize UTM parameters.
  • Terminus  another web tool that helps you manage the naming of your UTM parameters.

Tips and tricks to make better use of UTMs

Send multiple values ​​through utm_content

utm_source, utm_medium, utm_campaign and utm_term have limitations on the information you can send with them, but you can take advantage of the utm_content parameter to send the rest of the data you need to know about a click .

To send multiple values ​​through a single UTM attribute, it is recommended to use this format:

key1 – value-01_key2 – value-02

In this case, “key” would be the type of information to send and “value” the value of it.

Don’t use UTM parameters on internal links

Never use UTM in the internal links of your website, since if you do so, the user’s current session will end and the new session will be attributed to the internal link. Therefore, you cannot attribute the user’s actions to the source of external traffic.

Do not include confidential information in the UTM parameters

UTM parameters are visible in the URL, so users’ personal information (name, email address, phone number …) should never be put there. Furthermore, collecting personal information is prohibited under the Google Analytics terms of service.

Use shortened links

Links to UTM parameters can become very long, so before sharing it is better passing them through a link shortener like bit.ly.

Hides UTM parameters from users

Even if you use a shortened link, the user will be redirected to the destination URL, which includes the UTM parameters. You can fix it with Wistia’s Fresh URL tool, which hides the UTM parameters from the browser’s address bar once Google Analytics has registered them.

Get organized from the start

As you have seen throughout this article, UTM parameters can provide us with a lot of information, but if they are not properly classified and labeled, the result can be chaos. So my recommendation is that you do not get carried away by the rush and, before implementing them, decide on a nomenclature and train your entire team to use it consistently.