How To Use UTM Parameters To Correctly Identify Your Website Visitorsby@kz
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How To Use UTM Parameters To Correctly Identify Your Website Visitors

by Kirill ZubovskyMay 30th, 2020
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Google Analytics is a simple tool that lets you track where your visitors come from, and how they engage with your content. It is just 4 parameters that identify where and when the link was clicked, without identifying exactly who clicked it. All we want to know is what content works best, and where to share it. Google Analytics will not work correctly unless you follow their unspoken rules, unless you are running Google Ads to your site, but in practice in practice, this is not true. You can always use all the tags and a lengthly campaign indicator.

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As I was looking for ways to grow the Smash Notes daily newsletter, I began researching which of the traffic sources were actually converting to signups. In the process, I learned a few things about Google Analytics, so much so that even Google Analytics team found it worth sharing. What I know now about GA is incredibly simple, but completely underutilized way to analyze, to segment and to grow your audience. Here it is.

The Shortcut

If you want to do things right, and you want to get all the deep insights about your customers, I would recommend reading the entire post 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:


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 lengthly 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.

That's a lot of words there, but What you want to pay particular attention is to everything that comes after "?" mark.

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 to it on Smash Notes, it would say 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 abou 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 advance way to use Google Analytics. It is not well advertise, 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

In fact, when Google Analytics twitter account shared this post with their 1M followers, they used precisely the advanced method. Their link only contains

, and all the other details are hidden behind the scenes.

The irony of this method is that while Google Analytics (the company) is getting all the deep knowledge about the conversion, my own blog is only able to track that one id. It's not all bad, since I know that this `linkId` was only used by Google, and only on this tweet.

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.

This story originally appeared on Smash Notes blog.