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What are UTM Parameters? A Simple & Clear Explanation

Here’s a simple truth:

UTM parameters have been a crucial tool for online marketers for decades, and they’re just as useful now as ever.

They’re so widely used that every marketer needs a firm understanding of what they are and how they’re used. That’s why we wrote this guide, and in it you’ll learn:

  • Why you should use UTM parameters
  • What the five UTM parameters are
  • How to create URLs with UTM parameters
  • How to track results from UTM parameters
  • What “UTM” stands for

Let’s dive in with an explanation of why you should be using UTM parameters for your marketing campaigns.

What are UTM parameters used for?

UTM parameters are a set of standardized URL parameters.

You’ve undoubtedly seen URL parameters before. They look something like this (bolded part):

https://example.com/some-page?video=1

The purpose of a URL parameter is to send additional information to a website. For example, the parameter above might tell the site to autoplay a video that normally waits for the user to start.

Likewise, UTM parameters convey additional information; they tell you where the visitor came from. For instance, a URL with UTM parameters might look like this:

https://example.com/some-page?utm_campaign=Free+Ebook&utm_medium=Social+Media&utm_source=Facebook

Looking at this URL, you can tell that it’d be used to promote a free ebook on Facebook.

Since these parameters are formatted in a predictable way, such as utm_source, analytics tools can read this information and then report on them.

Campaigns dashboard
The Campaigns dashboard in Independent Analytics Pro

In other words, the point of using UTM parameters is so you can track exactly where your visitors are coming from. Rather than knowing you had 100 visitors from Facebook, you can know you had 70 visitors from your free ebook post and another 30 from a link you left in a comment.

As you can understand, this makes UTM parameters invaluable for evaluating the effectiveness of your marketing campaigns. You should use them virtually everywhere you can to get the most accurate data possible.

UTM URLs are also commonly referred to as campaign URLs.

What are the five UTM parameters?

The example above demonstrated three of the parameters, all of which are required, but there are five UTM parameters in total.

utm_campaign: This parameter is used to name the campaign itself. You can think of it as the “title” of the link.

utm_medium: The medium is the marketing channel used. For instance, it might be email, social media, or PPC.

utm_source: This is the specific source the link will be placed on, like YouTube, Facebook, or AdWords.

utm_content (optional): If you have multiple links on the same page, this parameter can be used to distinguish them. For instance, you might want to track performance separately for a link in the introduction of a sales email vs. a link in the conclusion.

utm_term (optional): The last parameter is used mainly for paid search. You can add the keywords used in bidding here to keep track of their performance.

Now that you’re familiar with all of the parameters let’s talk about how to create your own campaign links.

How to create links with UTM parameters

Creating your campaign URLs is very easy.

You could type out the parameters yourself, but this is an error-prone practice, and you don’t want to miss out on data due to silly human error.

There are quite a few campaign URL builders available, but we’ll share a couple here.

First, if you’re using WordPress, then we recommend our plugin, Independent Analytics.

Independent Analytics plugin page

The free version provides a full-featured analytics suite right inside the WP admin dashboard.

There’s also a Pro version, and this includes a campaign reporting dashboard as well as a dedicated campaign builder.

Campaign URL Builder

For non-WordPress users, there are a few free tools available, but you can’t go wrong with the official campaign URL builder provided by Google.

Google's campaign URL builder
Click here to access the URL builder

All you have to do is enter the required fields, and it will generate a properly formatted campaign URL, ready for tracking.

The only downside is that it doesn’t save the URLs you’ve created in the past, so you may want to keep track of them in a spreadsheet.

Speaking of tracking, let’s cover how you can see how many clicks these campaign links get.

How to track your own UTM URLs

Most web analytics tools have some way of tracking campaign URLs.

Independent Analytics Pro includes a campaigns report that displays all your traffic, organized by unique campaign.

Campaign table

You can clearly see the number of visitors from each campaign along with performance metrics, such as session duration and bounce rate. You can also filter by any table column to view data for specific campaigns.

If you’re selling products with WooCommerce, you’ll also appreciate the WooCommerce integration that allows you to see the number of sales and conversion rate of each campaign.

WooCommerce sales data in the Campaigns report

Independent Analytics is made exclusively for WordPress, so if you’re using another CMS, you might prefer Clicky or Google Analytics instead. They’re both full-featured analytics tools and include campaign tracking.

What does UTM stand for?

After all this talk about UTM parameters, you might be wondering, “What does UTM stand for anyway?”

UTM stands for “Urchin tracking module.” Urchin was an early web analytics tool that Google acquired in 2005 and rebranded as Google Analytics.

Since the “UTM” parameters were already used widely, Google kept the naming convention intact. Fast forward a couple of decades, and these URL parameters are used more widely than ever before. Virtually all marketing tools recognize these same five URL parameters, so they’re here to stay.

Start using UTM parameters today

URL parameters are a common way to add more info to URLs. The UTM parameters are so popular that it’s given all marketers a standardized way to track where their visitors are coming from.

In addition to counting visitors, these URLs are also critical for gauging the ROI of paid ad campaigns.

If you don’t have an analytics tool of choice already, check out our free plugin, Independent Analytics

Get started with Independent Analytics

Learn more Click to download

The free version includes all the essentials you need for web analytics, and there’s a Pro upgrade that adds campaign tracking, WooCommece integration, real-time analytics, and more.

Thanks for following our guide on the definition of UTM parameters and how they’re used. You can leave a comment below if you have any further questions.

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