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Google Analytics: The Ultimate UTM Guide

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UTM Tagging Guide

UTM Inforgraphic TrioniaWelcome to our comprehensive guide on UTM tags, tailored specifically for digital strategists and marketers who are keen to elevate their analytics game. In this guide, we will dissect the world of UTM parameters to equip you with the knowledge necessary for diligent campaign tracking. Our aim is to enhance your understanding with straightforward explanations and practical advice, all in a professional yet relatable manner. Would love to hear your comments about tips and tricks you have used with using UTM parameters with your marketing.


What are UTM Tags?

UTM tags, also known as UTM parameters, are simple code snippets added to the end of a URL to track the performance of campaigns and content. UTM, which stands for "Urchin Tracking Module".  This comes from Urchin Software Corporation, which was acquired by Google to become Google Analytics!  These tags enable Google Analytics to capture granular details about where traffic comes from, offering insights into the effectiveness of your marketing efforts. 

The UTM tracking capability in Google Analytics is a great way to understand your website traffic and marketing effectiveness – the built in reports provide a great way to answer the questions that are typical for learning how a campaign performed and learn how to improve future campaigns.  Some of questions you can answer are:

  • How did our campaign perform? 
  • By new users, by conversions, by conversion rate...? 
  • Compared to prior campaigns?
  • What ad performed best?
  • What size, call to action, image variant...  worked best?
  • What time of day worked best (or worst)?
  • What channel attracts new visitors?  Drives user engagement?  Leads to clients?

In GA4 we can answer these questions using the built in Reports and the Explore reports.  For example the Acquisition report below we have selected the "Session source / medium" dimensions and the "Session campaign" secondary dimension - this report provides us a view of the detailed traffic sources as well as information about our Campaigns in particular our email campaigns:

The ultimate utm guide - GA4 acquisition report with session source, medium and campaign dimensions shown.

And from the Acquistion report we can dive into more detail about the 'Content' of the links in an email - using the utm_content tag which in turn populates the "Session manual ad content" field.  This field shows how each link in our email performs.  This utm_content tag can be extended to include information about an Ad variant, including colors, size, imagery...  To allow you to validate the performance of various ads.

explore report utm email content

It is these types of insights and more that show the benefit of understanding how people respond to campaigns and ads.  

Providing this useful information to Google Analytics is done using the 'UTM' parameters.  These parameters are a set values that can be tagged to each ad, when a user clicks on the ad Google Analytics automatically process the parameters so they are available in the Acquisition reports and other built in reports.  This provides insights and understanding of visitor and donor behavior that will drive continued improvement of all marketing efforts.

What are the UTM Parameter Definitions?

The original five UTM parameters you can use to track your marketing campaigns are:

  1. `utm_source`: Identifies the source of traffic, such as a search engine, newsletter, or other referring site.
  2. `utm_medium`: Denotes the medium used to share the URL, like email, CPC, or social.
  3. `utm_campaign`: Specifies the individual campaign or promotion.
  4. `utm_term`: Used primarily for tracking keyword data for paid search campaigns.
  5. `utm_content`: Helps to differentiate similar content, or links within the same ad.

Each parameter provides valuable data points to understand how users interact with your digital strategy initiatives.

We will provide more detail about each parameter in the examples and with links in the appendix.

The way to think about these parameters is to consider how they will answer your marketing questions and how to best utilize Google Analytics to answer these questions.  Trionia’s best practices incorporate this into our recommendations.  We also provide resources at the end of this 

What are the GA4 Default Channel Settings?

Google Analytics 4 (GA4) is the latest generation of Google's analytics offering, introducing a host of new features and changes. Understanding default channel groupings in GA4 is crucial for accurate data interpretation.

In GA4, default channels are predefined categories of traffic. When setting up UTM tags, aligning them with these default channel groupings will ensure consistent and understandable reporting metrics. Channels like 'Direct', 'Organic Search', 'Social', 'Email', and 'Affiliates' are some of the defaults that your tagged URLs will slot into for a streamlined analysis.  For the latest list see this Google Analytics Anser -




Source = (direct) & Medium = (not set) | (none)

Organic Search

Medium = organic

Organic Social

Source matches a regex list of social sites


Medium = social | social-network | social-media | sm | social network | social media

Paid Social

Source matches a regex list of social sites


Medium matches regex ^(.*cp.*|ppc|retargeting|paid.*)$


Medium = email


Medium = affiliate


Medium = referral

Paid Search

Ad Distribution Network != Content

Medium = cpc | ppc | paidsearch


Campaign Name contains "cross-network"

Cross-network includes Demand Gen, Performance Max and Smart Shopping.

Paid Shopping

(Source matches a list of shopping sites


Campaign Name matches regex ^(.*(([^a-df-z]|^)shop|shopping).*)$)


Medium matches regex ^(.*cp.*|ppc|retargeting|paid.*)$

Other Advertising

Medium = cpv | cpa | cpp


Ad Distribution Network = Content

Medium = display | cpm| banner


What are the UTM Tagging Best Practices?

To glean the most out of your UTM-tagged URLs, it's essential to adhere to some best practices:

  • Consistency is Key: Be consistent with naming conventions to avoid skewed data.
  • Case Sensitivity: Understand that UTM parameters are case sensitive; 'Facebook' and 'facebook' would be tracked separately.
  • Short and Clear Labels: Use labels that are easy to decipher for organized reporting.
  • Tools for Simplicity: Utilize UTM builder tools to ensure accuracy and save time.
  • Avoid Sensitive Information: Never include sensitive or personal information in UTM tags.
  • Use Campaign Naming Hierarchies: Structure your campaign names systematically for easier analysis later on.

By sticking to these practices, your UTM data will be both meaningful and actionable.

Bing Ads

Use auto-tagging to ensure that you can track your Bing traffic.

Display Ads

The following recommendations will place the Display ads in the 'Display" default channel as well as show the exact placements for further analysis of the ad results.

Campaign Name

Campaign names are most useful when they are descriptive name.  Campaign names can also be used across channels to determine the overall impact of larger communication/marketing efforts - for example "new product awareness" used in paid search could also be used in display and email campaigns.  (Could include media name in the campaign.)


A best practice is to use the source seen in organic and referral traffic - for example "nyt", "cnn" "hbo".


Recommend using the Google values seen in the prior table.  


Again descriptive names are most useful.  Two additional pieces of information to consider adding here is the media outlet and banner size.  For banner size - such as 300x250, 300x600, 728x90...  The result is a content parameter that looks like this - "kitten-picture-ver-a|media-people|300x250".


Not used for this channel.

The resulting URL would look something like this: 

Social Ads

Regular posts to social media can be tagged to provide more information than is provided by default - Source and medium.

Campaign Name

Tying together campaigns used in other channels to social media communication help to understand how these channels work together - for example we can use the same campaign - "product-awareness-spring-2019".


Continue to use the placement of the posts - such as, (twitter),


When the posts are being paid for it helps to differentiate this in the reports Trionia recommends using "display" for the medium.  Choose one different from the medium used for Banner Ads to simplify differentiating these values.  


Since social media posts are normally a combination of text and images a short title that also describes the image used is recommended.  Something like: "product-highlights|top-reasons-to-switch"


Not used for this channel.

A URL for a sample post:

For social media shorten the link to eliminate the chance that the parameters are removed by the social media outlet - the bitly ( or the google ( shortener are two good choices.

Email Links

Tracking emails can be improved by tying to the Campaigns used in the other channels campaign goals. The content parameter can contain information about each link in an email to reflect the topics and images that promote user interaction.  (Some of this may be in place already - on analytics information was reviewed to create this document.)

Campaign Name

Tying together campaigns used in other channels with email communication help to understand how these channels work together - for example an email that includes a link to the Product details or Frequently Asked Questions can be a part of an overall campaign for product awareness.


Continue to use the source of the emails.  (Consider switching to lower case - if this is done, care will need to be taken to compare to historical data.)


The medium of 'email' is perfect for this channel.  


This parameter is perfect for describing the email subject.  EMails also contain additional articles and links, the content parameter is ideal for tracking these as well.  So the following "september-2016-monthly-update-m" could be changed to - "sep-2016-update-subject", "sep-2016-update-product-faq", "sep-2016-update-product-features", 


Not used for this channel.

A URL for a sample post: 

General Best Practice

  1. Do not use different sources or mediums with Google Ads campaign - stick with the built in values.  
  2. Use lowercase for all UTM terms – Campaign, Source, Medium and Content.  Google Analytics considers ‘Facebook’ and ‘facebook’ to be two different sources – which is clearly not the intent.  To minimize the chance of user errors, a filter should be created in the Google Analytics views to change all these fields to lowercase as well.  Of course, if this is done - care must be taken when filtering to view historical information.
  3. Use dashes, underscores or the pipe symbol ("|") to separate words in the UTM parameters – spaces can also be used.  Avoid special characters – like &, @,… - these will break your links.
  4. Do not use UTM tags on internal links – so for example the clicks on the interstitial links. These are already measured by the existing Google Analytics code and can be viewed in the content reports as well as the Page Analytics plugin for the Chrome browser.
  5. DO NOT CLICK on your own UTM Links - as this will permanently change your analytics.

Further Resources

The Google UTM Builder Link - 

Blog post by Annie Cushing - 

RaffleCopter blog post on UTM Naming Conventions -

Additional Info

  • Browser Title: A complete Guide to UTM Tracking in Google Analytics
Read 4396 times Last modified on Friday, 23 February 2024 18:26
Jay Murphy

Jay Murphy is a digital analytics expert and founder of Trionia, where he specializes in transforming data into actionable insights for large and mid-sized businesses. With over thirty years of experience and a passion for Google Analytics since its inception, Jay has honed his skills to bridge the gap between technical data analysis and strategic business planning. An educator at heart, he has developed and taught comprehensive digital marketing courses at both the undergraduate level and within organizations, enriching minds with his deep understanding of the digital analytics landscape.

His career, which began in systems analysis for spacecraft guidance, has evolved through roles that blend technical acumen with strategic vision across various sectors, including Fortune 500, Higher Education and Non-Profits. Certified in Google Analytics since 2011, Jay's leadership at Trionia has spearheaded successful online campaigns and innovative marketing strategies, underlining his commitment to leveraging data for growth. Jay's approach goes beyond the numbers; he's a storyteller who uses data to drive business success, making him a pivotal figure in the digital marketing world.

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