The WHY and the HOW of UTM Codes for SEO
UTM codes stand for Urchin Tracking Monitor. The name comes from Urchin Tracker which was a web analytics software that served as the base for Google Analytics. These are often used with Google Ads (formally Google AdWords). Marketing in the old days you spent hundreds, even thousands, of dollars on newspaper ads. These ads you often didn’t know the results. Either due to you or your employees not asking how you heard of us or truly thinking the newspaper was making results (e.g. you guessed). Today with technology you often will spend less but demand to know whether the results are working for you. First, you should’ve been asking that question under old school methods but there really was no 100% way of knowing. With UTM codes you can have some pretty accurate methods of how people are reaching you. They also can be used beyond just paid ads if used correctly. We’re going to not only dig into what UTM codes are but how you can use them and how to create them (easily).
With so many channels for marketing from search engines, to other websites, to social media the question of who is coming to your website is only one of the key questions to ask. Yes, it’s good people are coming. It’s even better if they convert and become customers (that’s what we all want). It’s also good to know where they are coming from so that you know if your organic campaigns or paid campaigns are performing the best for you. This is where UTM codes come into play and help you make sound, educated, and informed decisions to grow your business.
UTM codes are simple parameters you add to your website URL (e.g. https://www.jm2marketing.com is an untouched URL). An example of a longer URL would be https://www.jm2marketing.com/?utm_source=Facebook&utm_medium=cpc&utm_campaign= Plan+Services+July&utm_term=valparaiso+web+design&utm_content=bluelink. To generate this URM URL we went to Google who gives you this magical “secret sauce” or “pixie dust” to you. They want you to use it as they know, like all good companies, that knowledge is power and the more knowledge you have the more you will use marketing (and they hope Google Ads).
A quick few notes about UTM codes
- In the creation you will notice after the .com and slash (/) that there is a question mark (?). This is the start of the parameters. If you already have parameters in your URL you will need to add the UTM codes after your parameters and not use a ? but a ampersand (&).
- Wherever you need a “space” you should use a + sign. For example, to use running shoes you would type in running+shoes.
- You don’t have to use all of the parameters. The more you use the more accurate your information, but you do not have to use all of them. We strongly recommend you do though as even if you don’t need it today there is an option you may want it later on. As an example:
- https://www.jm2marketing.com/?utm_source=LinkedIn would be the minimum you would have as it gives you the source, in this example, as LinkedIn.
- For any of the values you don’t have to use “real names”. You can use items where it applies to internal systems. As an example, you could use source as ABC123 instead of Facebook. The key is making it so that it works with your business processes.
UTM Code breakdown
Our example: utm_source=Facebook
The source is where the information is coming from. This is often Google, Facebook, LinkedIn, Newsletter, Twitter, etc. This lets you know at a high level where everything is coming from.
Our example: utm_medium=cpc
How is this being used. CPC stands for cost-per-click. The other used command is email. You can use whatever you want but remember to have some consistency. We often use:
- cpc – Cost per Click
- email – For regular email
- magazine – For your ads running in magazine sites
- ·newsletter – For newsletter campaigns
- ·newspaper – For ads running on a newspaper site
- ·newssource – For ad campaigns running on a news source
- ·video – For links we include in videos
Note: Although we have mediums such as magazine and newspaper you do not want to have a user type in these URL’s. You use these on links people would click, not type in.
Our example: urm_campaign=Plan+Services+July
What is the name of the campaign. If you are running ads for specific services or products this is what you will use.
Our example: utm_term=valparaiso+web+design
The term is the keyword phrase that you are using for a specific URL. If you are running the same ad for multiple keyword phrases you should have different URL’s for each of the phrases.
Our example: utm_content=bluelink
Often when you run a campaign you will do what is called A/B testing. With A/B testing you break it into sub-categories (or campaigns). This allows you to have bluelink, redlink, or textlink if you were running three campaigns. The first with a blue button, then a red button, and one that just had a text link. By doing A/B testing you can see what is truly working and what isn’t working.
Often in a newsletter we will use all the same information and change the utm_content to match the link in the newsletter. Rather than using the same URL for every link we will use utm_content=link1, utm_content=link2, etc. where link1 or link2 are descriptive to where they are within the newsletter.
Why UTM codes matter
Whether you are marketing the business yourself or someone is doing it for you when it comes push to shove you are a marketer. Marketers need to know what is driving traffic to your site. You need the data to prove it and that data needs to be as accurate and understandable as possible.
UTM code tips and tricks (Take these tips to HEART and HOME!)
- Keep it simple! Don’t over think and don’t under think. Have just the amount of information you need to be successful.
- Establish naming conventions prior to beginning
- If you want to track a UTM that is long in an “physical” billboard, magazine, or newspaper use a URL shortener like https://goo.gl/ or https://bitly.com/. They will make the URL shorter while giving you the ability to track in real-world scenarios. Using a URL shortener correctly you can later change the URL for a different campaign and re-using an existing short URL.
- Use UTM codes wherever you can. Places I use them are in my email signature so that I know it is coming from my signature. Taking it a step forward you can break it down by employee as well to know where that information comes from. You can also use it as part of a referral process to know that someone is sharing you URL.
- All too often we see companies that do Google Ads, Bing Ads, Facebook campaigns without thinking. This is like cooking spaghetti, throwing it at the wall and seeing what sticks. This is the worst thing any business can do. I hate to say this but when you have no plan the only thing you have "planned for" is to FAIL. Take an extra week (or two) and create a plan. This covers where to market, what the objectives are, what is "success",how you will adjust to things not working (e.g. how are you going to adapt -- being agile).
- The next is after you start your campaign that you do not change it or adapt (e.g. agile above).Digital technology will either help you succeed or help you waste your money. Going the old way of I build it and they will come is certain failure for your business. Whether you do print or digital you cannot do a long "thinking process". You need to be prepared, well thought out, and move. Don't sit on your ass waiting to make certain it is "perfect". If it is print you do need to take more time as once it's printed it can't be changed. Digital can. Digital is also cheaper when done correctly.
Any marketing campaign you do should use UTM codes. Often it is good to use everywhere that you want to track the success of a campaign. They are free to use and the link to the Google campaign builder can be found at https://ga-dev-tools.appspot.com/campaign-url-builder/.
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