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UTM Parameters Best Practices

It’s good that your site is getting traffic and your marketing seems to be working, but can you tell where all your traffic is really from? Or what campaign is performing the best from a single location? How much Twitter traffic is coming from your Tweets vs your ads?

These are questions many companies ask and they have simple answers: UTM parameters. Our question for you is, are you using them correctly? Do you know the UTM parameters best practices?

Misused UTM parameters can lead to misplaced traffic in Google Analytics, incorrect campaign reporting, and data disproportions when viewing marketing ROI.

First of all, let’s look at why we bother with UTM parameters. The parameters are tags you add to a URL in order to track the true source of a session/visit. Doing this allows you to see your traffic sources in many ways:

  • Identify what sessions are coming from an ad you have on another site and how many sessions are generated by that site as a referral.

  • See what traffic is coming from each campaign you are running on a site, letting you see the performance of each campaign and the overall ROI. (Yeah A/B testing!)

  • Drill down further and give each call-to-action or ad creative a different UTM parameter in order to measure the performance of each ad from any specific source (Oh, more A/B testing!)


With such benefits, it is easy to see why you would want to make sure they are properly used and built. But to do this correctly you need to understand what UTM parameters are constructed of:

  • utm_source (required)

    • function: identifies the source of a session

    • example: newsletter, facebook, twitter, CNN, youtube, bronto

  • utm_medium (required)

    • function: identifies the medium of a session

      • example: email, social, banner, video, cpc

  • utm_campaign (required)

    • function: identifies the campaign that lead to the session.

    • example: brand-awareness-2016

  • utm_term (optional)

    • function: In paid search this identifies the keyword that brought in a session. If you have Google AdWords connected to your Google Analytics with auto-tagging on, this will be done automatically for AdWords. But for other custom campaigns it can be used for keywords or for things like the ad’s purpose.

    • example: brand, promo

  • utm_content (optional)

    • function: this is suggested for A/B testing and content targeting ad. Letting you identify between 2 different call-to-action (cta) banner ads for the same source.

    • example: product-cta, top-seller-cta 

So an example UTM parameter would look like this:


It's easy to let things slip and become messy, causing UTM parameters to be misused and leading to reporting issues. By keeping things clean, simple and consistent, you'll ensure accurate reporting. Use a UTM parameter tagging tracker like this to create and track your UTM paramaters.


Following these 5 UTM parameters best practices will help you avoid any issues.


Avoid repetition & answer questions

When building a UTM parameter you want to answer 6 questions with just the URL itself:

1. Where does this campaign go to (URL)?
2. What campaign is it?
3. What kind of ad?
4. What site is this from?
5. What was the ad's focus?
6. What version of the ad is this?


Each one of these questions should be answered in their own section of the parameters without repeating itself.



Use what Google uses

A common mistake is adding information to a medium or source when building a UTM parameter. By adding information, you risk Google becoming confused and placing the traffic in a different channel than what you want, like in (Other). Google defines many common mediums already. To limit any need for traffic regrouping, use them as much as possible.

  • social

  • email

  • feed

  • banner

  • cpc

  • cpm

  • display

  • affiliate

  • ebook

  • video

  • tv

  • print

  • billboard

  • partner

  • radio

  • qr code

  • widget

  • and more…


Should Google not have what you need it’s ok to create your own, but avoid adding to it. For example:


Google by default categorizes mediums into Channels. Though these rules can be customized if necessary, it is important to know what shows where. 

Default Channel Group Mediums Shown

Display, cpm, AdWords (with ad distribution network set to "content")

Paid Cpc, ppc, AdWords Search Network

"cpc", "ppc", "cpm", "cpv", "cpa", "cpp", "affiliate" (excluding Paid Search)

Organic search engines
Social approximately 400 social networks
Referral websites that are not social networks

tagged with a medium of "email"

Direct source="(direct)" and medium="(not set)" or "(none)"

*Note that not all sites or email providers are seen correctly in Google. This can happen when the source itself is miss-tagged (uses capitalized labels) or does not tag all its variations (example: Meaning that they can be found in the wrong group such as (other) or referrals. Any non-default medium like “banner” is often placed in (other).


Keep it simple, silly

Simple, consistent, content is important. Not only does it help keep the URL itself cleaner, it is easier to track and report on. You do not need to make fields complicated, using the optional content and term UTM fields allows you to include all the important identification information.


Lowercase everything & be consistent

Consistency is key in any reporting. Labeling things the same way, and all in lower case will help keep reporting consistent, traffic rightly assigned to channels, and make it easy to measure A/B testing results and ROI. 






Track your UTM parameters

As time goes on and you grow your marketing efforts, internally and with partners, you will make more and more UTM parameter URLs. Keeping track of all of them all in one place is important for consistency and record keeping.

UTM parameters are powerful tools that can really help you track and test your marketing efforts. By following these UTM parameters best practices you can ensure you're maximizing your marketing efforts.


Using a UTM Parameter Tagging Tracker will help you build and log all of your UTM parameters, helping you remember which parameters are paired with what creative, what thier intention is, etc. 


Download a FREE UTM Parameter Tagging Tracker


Download Now


By Bethny Card

As a Digital Marketing Specialist, Bethny is a strong SEO resource for Thinkwrap and our clients. She holds an advanced diploma in Advertising, and brings with her over five years’ experience working in the digital marketing field across Canada and abroad. Her dedication to her career and thirst for knowledge contribute to her role helping customers achieve omnichannel growth maximum ROI.

Tags: SEO, Analytics