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How To Use Utm Parameters To Grow Your Audience

Tips and tricks on using utm source to correctly identify your website visitors

Kirill Zubovsky / April 28th, 2020


The Shortcut

The original post is below, and if you want to do things right, I would recommend reading it and following through the steps. However, if you want a shortcut, a TLDR or a trick, then I suggest doing only this one thing. Make sure your url has a 'utm_source' as it is required, then put everything else into 'utm_campaign'. For example: ?utm_source=smashnotes.com&utm_campaign=linkedin:ads:one-pod-aday:start:may-19-2020 What this is going to do in Analytics is create a unique campaign, labeled as 'linkedin:ads:one-pod-aday:start:may-19-2020'. It is descriptive, it tells you exactly where the traffic is coming from (because you wrote it) and now you can easily filter for all the visitors from this particular medium/source/campaign in one step! Of course, if you want to compare your analytics, slice and dice it, and get a really deep view, then take a look at the rest of the post. Besides, the two methods are not mutually exclusive. You can always use all the tags, and a lengthy campaign indicator.

The Proper Way

If you share any content on the internet, you probably want to know whether it converts to new listeners, new reads, new subscribers and shares. After all, if you are putting an effort into something, it better be producing a desired outcome. One way to track this cheaply is by using free Google Analytics, coupled with UTM Parameters[1]. It is a very simple tool that lets you track where your visitors come from, and how they engage with your content. Here is what a link to a podcast might look like in a Smash Notes Newsletter. https://smashnotes.com/p/rad-dad-hosted-by-kirill-zubovsky/e/caspar-babypants-raising-kids-and-finding-yourself-at-the-same-time/s/what-was-it-like-to-quit-mtv-and-a-million-fans?utm_source=smashnotes.com&utm_content=bullet-link&utm_medium=newsletter&utm_campaign=weekly_2020_04_27 That's a lot of words there, but What you want to pay particular attention is to everything that comes after the "?" mark. utm_source=smashnotes.com& utm_content=bullet-link& utm_medium=newsletter& utm_campaign=weekly_2020_04_27 All it is is just 4 parameters that identify where and when the link was clicked, without identifying exactly who clicked it. Some very sophisticated tracking systems will enable you to track clicks down to individual users, but for our purposes, it's unnecessary. All we want to know is what content works best, and where to share it. Do you get more clicks from a Facebook post, a Google Ad, or a mention in someone's blog post? With UTM params figuring this out is quite straight forward. Here's what you need:
'utm_content' Identifies what specifically was clicked to bring the user to the site. In our case, it's 'bullet-link', which indicated to me that whoever came to this link, clicked one of the bullets in the newsletter. You can write anything you want here, as long as you can stay consistent and be able to map your labels to your actual content. 'utm_medium' Identifies marketing medium used for this link, such as email newsletter, a website banner, a cost-per-click ad... etc. You can theoretically put whatever you want here, as long as you are consistent and can map your labels to medium, but in practice this is not true, and Google Analytics will not work correctly, unless you follow their unspoken rules. See a note below. 'utm_source' Identifies which site sent the traffic, and is a required parameter. It is the only required parameter, but your identification won't work without it. For example, if you are running Google Ads to your site, utm_medium would say Google, if users are coming to your website by clicking on it on Smash Notes, it would say SmashNotes.com and so forth. UTM Source is your best bet to track who is sending you users. 'utm_campaign' Identifies a specific product promotion or strategic campaign.
Notice that each parameter is connected by an "&" sign, values have no spaces, and the whole sequence starts after a "?" mark added to the end of the url. Special notes about utm_medium parameter and how to provide it to Google. Although in theory you should be able to mark any medium, be that Web, or Mars, or Message-in-a-Bottle, if you do that, you are not going to see it in your analytics. Google will take any parameter that it does not intuitively understand and bundle it as 'Other'. To get it out of that bucket, you would have to write custom filters in the admin panel, which kills the joy of using these tags to begin with. However, if you abide by Google's rules, the following are the default GA tags that will be grouped accordingly. All terms are case-sensitive.
organic : Organic Search social, social-network, social-media : Social email : Email affiliate: Affiliate referral : Referral cpc, ppc, paidsearch : Paid Search cpv, cpa, cpp, context-text : Other Advertising display, cpm, banner, Content : Display
If you follow these rules, and start adding simple tracking to all the links that you share, soon you will have a lot more insight into what is working the best. When you do, you can double-down on that and grow your audience faster and more efficient than before.

The Advance Way

As one of the readers pointed out, there is an advanced way to use Google Analytics. It is not well advertised, and is seldom used due to complexity, but someone might find it useful. Essentially, you can maintain a master map of how all your tags map to unique IDs, like 'utm_id=237'. All your public-facing links will only display this short tracker, but by giving Analytics a master file, it will be able to separate all the parameters and track them as before. Take a look at -> How To Use Master Tracking Codes on Google forum. Also, if you know a little bit of how to code, and would like to track which UTM parameters are bringing most signs ups for your online forms, like a newsletter form, for example, consider using Sup.js to Save URL Parameters.
Hope it helps, and if you have any questions, please subscribe to the Smash Notes Newsletter and next time you get it, send me a reply with your questions, happy to help! Have a great day, Kirill Zubovsky. ps. Wikipedia is another great source to explain utm params in a succinct way. [1] Why is it called UTM parameter? UTM stands for Urchin Traffic Monitor and comes from Urchin, a web statistics analysis program that was developed by Urchin Software Corporation, acquired by Google in April 2005.

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