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Saturday, 02 March 2024 19:50

Google Analytics 4: The Ultimate UTM Guide

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.  

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.

What are the new GA4 UTM Parameters?

GA4 has introduced a few new UTM Parameters that will further extned your ability to analyze and improve your digital marketing campaigns.  These new parameters are:

  1. `utm_source_platform`: Used to define the buying platform of the traffic - such as Search Ads 360, or other Demand Side Platform (DSP).
  2. `utm_creative_format`: Allows for finer differentiation of the creative - video, display, search, ...  (Not currently visible in GA4 reports.)
  3. `utm_marketing_tactic`: The specific marketing tactic in use for this campaign - lead gen, remarketing, upsell, ... (Not currently visible in GA4 reports.) 

This Google Analytics answer provides Google's detail about these parameters - https://support.google.com/analytics/answer/10917952.  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 Answer - https://support.google.com/analytics/answer/9756891?hl=en

Channel

Rules

Direct

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

Organic Search

Medium = organic

Organic Social

Source matches a regex list of social sites

OR

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

Paid Social

Source matches a regex list of social sites

OR

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

Email

Medium = email

Affiliates

Medium = affiliate

Referral

Medium = referral

Paid Search

Ad Distribution Network != Content

Medium = cpc | ppc | paidsearch

Cross-network

Campaign Name contains "cross-network"

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

Paid Shopping

(Source matches a list of shopping sites

OR

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

AND

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

Other Advertising

Medium = cpv | cpa | cpp

Display

Ad Distribution Network = Content

Medium = display | cpm| banner

 For the complete list of the Social, Search and Shopping source defintions used above see this table from Google - https://storage.googleapis.com/support-kms-prod/qn1xhBu8MVcZPIZ2WZMNdI40FtZXFPGYxj2K  

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:

  • Use consistent with naming conventions to simplify analysis and avoid confusion.  Use Google's Default Channel definitions and the same source and medium names.

    Understand that UTM parameters are case sensitive; 'Facebook' and 'facebook' will be tracked as separate sources.  We like to use all lower case.

    UTM links create new Sessions in GA4 and also impact all the Acquisition data.  To measure internal links use the flow reports of the Click Event which is already measured in the existing GA4 code.  This can be viewed in the Event reports as well as the Explore reports.

    Use UTM builder tools or tol defaults to ensure accuracy and save time.  Most Email and Social Media marketing tools provide UTM settings - set them up once and have consistent data going forward.

    • Never include sensitive or personal information in UTM tags.
    • Structure your campaign names systematically for easier analysis later on.  For example include dates to differentiate recurring campaigns, specific product or service names, ...
  • By sticking to these practices, your UTM data will be both meaningful and actionable.

What is the best UTM Tagging approach with 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.)

Source

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

Medium

Recommend using the Google values seen in the prior table.  

Content

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".

Keyword

Not used for this channel.

The resulting URL would look something like this:

https://trionia.com/?utm_content=kitten-picture-ver-a%7Cmedia-people%7C300x250&utm_medium=banner&utm_source=nyt&utm_campaign=product-awareness-spring-2019 

What is the best way to use UTM tags with Paid Social Ads?

Paid campaigns in social media can be tagged to provide more information than is provided by default - Source and medium.  It also allows you to track campaign data that if left untagged would come over in the Orcanic Social channel with a medium of "referral".

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-2024".

Source

Continue to use the default value that GA4 uses for Organic posts - such as facebook, twitter, linkedin.

Medium

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

Content

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"

Keyword

Not used for this channel.

A URL for a sample post:

https://trionia.com/?utm_content=product-highlights%7Creasons-to-switch&utm_medium=paid&utm_source=facebook&utm_campaign=product-awareness-spring-2024

For social media shorten the link to eliminate the chance that the parameters are removed by the social media outlet - the bitly (http://bitly.com).

How should Email Links use UTM Tags?

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.

Source

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.)

Medium

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

Content

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 "feb-2024-monthly-update-m" could be changed to - "feb-2024-update-subject", "feb-2024-update-product-faq", "feb-2024-update-product-features", 

Keyword

Not used for this channel.

A URL for a sample post:

https://trionia.com/?utm_content=feb-newsletter&utm_medium=email&utm_source=weekly-email&utm_campaign=product-awareness-winter 

How do we use UTM Parameters with Bing Ads?

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

https://help.ads.microsoft.com/#apex/ads/en/56762/2

 Further Resources

The Google UTM Builder Link - https://ga-dev-tools.appspot.com/campaign-url-builder/ 

Blog post by Annie Cushing - https://www.annielytics.com/guides/definitive-guide-campaign-tagging-google-analytics/ 

RaffleCopter blog post on UTM Naming Conventions - http://blog.rafflecopter.com/2014/04/utm-naming-conventions/

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