Have you ever asked yourself, “Are my digital advertising, social media marketing (SMM), or e-newsletter campaigns really working?” If so, this blog is for you!
Measuring the outcome of a marketing campaign is critical because it allows marketing teams to determine if their strategy and tactics are successful. Whether a company has invested in paid digital advertising, implemented a social media campaign, or distributed a series of e-newsletters, leveraging Urchin Tracking Module (UTM) parameters to create tracking links can help marketers more effectively monitor, aggregate, and ultimately report on online marketing efforts for priority campaigns.
Using tracking links gives companies the ability to monitor user actions in Google Analytics and sort data within the dashboard to view key stats related to the impact of paid advertising, social media, and e-mail campaign efforts, ideally connecting corresponding online campaign goals (e.g., registrations, donations, etc.) to specific outreach tactics.
To dig deeper into tracking links, including how to set them up and best practices, continue reading!
Step #1: Understanding UTM-Tagged Links
Without tracking links, most visitors appear to come through as organic, referral, or direct traffic. This makes it difficult to view campaigns separately in Google Analytics and pinpoint which specific digital marketing efforts yielded the best results.
To start, it is important to understand that tracking links tag four primary dimensions onto any URL. The primary dimensions tell Google how to track/compartmentalize data within Google Analytics. These dimensions also serve as the base for how data can be filtered and viewed through the creation of custom dashboards.
Campaign (utm_campaign): The campaign variable offers the ability to name the overarching theme behind the traffic being sent to the site.
Source (utm_source): The source variable allows users to inform Google Analytics of the origin source of traffic.
Medium (utm_medium): The medium variable is used to assign the “channel” of the traffic. Channels within Google Analytics include (by default): Direct, Organic, Referral, Email, Social, and Other.
Content (utm_content): The content variable is used to define the specific element, link, or other item that is clicked to send traffic to the site.
These UTM tags can be added manually or via an online tool such as utm.io or UTM Maker. Additionally, it is recommended the links be shortened on certain online platforms, like social media (we will dig into this later in the blog). Once added to specific campaigns (e.g., paid ads, social media posts, etc.), these tags provide the ability to filter the corresponding data in Google Analytics so a campaign can be easily viewed with compartmentalized information on results and conversions from the various channels and tools leveraged.
A Note on Capitalization/Formatting
When manually adding UTM tags, it is important to keep the formatting for the parameters identical to ensure they track properly. This includes using lowercase for all characters because otherwise, “Facebook” and “facebook” will be shown as two separate sources.
Sample Link: website.com/page-address/?utm_campaign=text-here&utm_source=facebook&utm_medium=organic-social&utm_content=fb-post-name-and-detail
The link above showcases the various dimensions in a tracking code. The added tracking code is preceded by a “?” and each dimension is separated by an “&” symbol:
Any URL variable starts with the “?” character. This indicates to the browser that the text beyond the question mark will be session data or variable data that needs to be used by the website. This character is used only once in any URL.
As you add more variables (in the case of Google Analytics you generally add all four variables) each variable must be separated by the “&” character, or ampersand. This indicates that a new variable will be following the previous. This character can be used multiple times in a URL.
Step #2: Establishing the Campaign Goals
Understanding what the goals are for each campaign can help ensure related tracking is established in Google Analytics and can be connected to the tracking dashboards that will be created using the link-provided insights.
Let’s look at an example! Let’s say an organization is launching a targeted fundraising effort that will take place over a defined period of time. They are using social media to promote the fundraising campaign with their main goal being donations via an online fundraising campaign form that lives on their website. For this example, the campaign goal would be donations. Using UTM-tagged links, the organization can track how many people donated via the fundraising campaign form and where those individuals came from (e.g., social media post).
It is important to note that any links that go from a company’s marketing piece (e.g., email, paid advertisement, etc.) to an external site, UTM tracking capabilities will not apply (as the tracking is occurring on the external site).
If, however, a link is going to the company’s page which then directs visitors to the external website, a tracking goal could be setup for clicks to a button or designated link on that page and related UTM data would then be added to the corresponding link URL. For this approach, marketers will only be able to track users up until the point they leave the company’s website.
Step #3: Defining the Campaign Variable
The third step in setting up successful Google Analytics tracking links is defining the campaign variable for each primary initiative. The following are example identifiers for the “campaign” field based on the identified goals. It will be important that every link being created for use in an online channel leverages the same consistent campaign variable. Best practice would also include adding the year when applicable for recurring campaigns.
Annual Day of Giving
Step #4: Define the Source Variable
The source variable, when used correctly, identifies the source platform of the link click action. The source variable should always be used in combination with the medium variable. Neither the source nor medium variables should be used alone.
The following list includes examples of source variables that might be considered based on online outreach efforts:
Social Media Links (Paid or Organic)
Step #5: Define the Medium Variable
The medium variable is used to provide additional detail and context for the source variable. Neither the source nor medium variables should be used alone.
The following are examples of source variables that may be employed for online efforts under the noted campaigns.
Paid Digital Advertising
Organic Social Posts
Standard mediums recognized by Google Analytics include organic, referral, cost-per-click (CPC), email, and none. Organic and none are two mediums that are exclusive to non-tagged traffic. At no time should a user create a variable that uses those.
Step #6: Define the Content Variable
The content variable is used to define what link, button, image, or other element was clicked. This dimension usually requires the most customization each time a link is created. Using the content variable properly allows Google Analytics admins the ability to track best-performing elements and can be helpful for A/B testing of things like email template designs, types of content that perform best on social, etc.
The following offer examples for how the content variable might be adapted to maximize tracking.
Ideally, the content will be where an Analytics user gets most of the detail about what post, email link, picture, etc. drove the most individuals to click, and should be descriptive enough that the marketer does not need a legend or a “road map” to determine performance at a glance.
Step #7: Test the Link & Shorten It
Once you have created a link with all the required variables, always be sure to test the link in a browser to ensure it directs to the proper page prior to use. Once created, consider shortening through a resource like bitly. Statistics indicate users prefer links they can see in their entirety when a URL is posted so shortening provides an improved user experience for visible links.
Step #8: Paste the Link into the Resource
The link is now ready for use and can be used in the designated resource, such as social media, paid advertisements, or e-newsletters.
GRIT is here for all your digital marketing needs. Whether you need help setting up a Google Analytics dashboard, creating UTM parameters to track links in Google Analytics, or measuring the success of your marketing efforts, our team of digital marketing experts can provide support and make recommendations on how to enhance your digital presence. Get in touch with us online or by calling (717) 885-0014.