UTM parameters are a wonderful tool for agencies–they’re like a secret weapon for proving ROI to clients because they’re so effective at tracking not only website traffic but where exactly that traffic is coming from. And the good news is that UTM parameters (aka UTM codes or UTM tags) are compatible with Google Analytics, whether you’re still using the old Universal Analytics (UA) or you’ve moved on to Google Analytics 4 (GA4).
But if you’re in the process of switching from UA to GA4, there are a few differences between them when it comes to UTM parameters, as GA4 makes campaign tracking more accurate and powerful than ever, especially with the help of Google’s URL Builder.
This article provides an overview of using UTM parameters in GA4 and shows you how to use a URL Builder so your agency can fine-tune your clients’ campaign tracking and set those funnel attributions straight.
What are UTM Parameters?
A UTM parameter is a snippet of code that you add to the end of a URL. You can add these UTM codes to the ends of any links you share, whether it’s in your client’s newsletters, blog articles, or even social media posts! And when someone clicks on a link with a UTM code, you’re able to easily track a variety of dimensions or parameters that you specified in the snippet of code.
As covered in our in-depth post on UTM tracking codes for Universal Analytics, there are five standard parameters you can track with a UTM tag:
Source: Tracks where the traffic is coming from (for example, if you want to track the traffic generated from a tweet, you would specify the source as Twitter in the UTM parameter)
Medium: Tracks the channel the traffic came from (i.e., was it organic social, CPC, email, etc.)
Campaign Name: Tracks specific campaigns, so come up with a name that easily differentiates it from other campaigns (such as a product name, seasonal promo, or influencer/spokesperson)
Content: This parameter is used to differentiate ads if there are multiple links to the same URL in a campaign. For example, if you have a landing page with an ad banner, text ad, and video ad, you can track how much traffic is generated by each ad by creating unique UTM codes for all of them
Keyword or Term: Tracks which keyword or term generated the traffic and is specifically used for paid ads
What Does ‘UTM’ Stand For?
‘UTM’ is an acronym for “Urchin Tracking Module” and the name is a reference to Urchin Software Corporation, which laid the foundation for Google Analytics after it was acquired by the search engine giant back in 2005.
UTM Parameter Examples
To illustrate what a UTM code might look like in the wild, here is an example created using Google’s URL Builder (more on this later):
In this example, the above link will be used to track the performance of an organic Instagram post that promotes a blog article as part of an overall content marketing campaign. Here’s a detailed breakdown of all the elements in the link:
https://agencyanalytics.com/blog/utm-tracking: This is the blog post’s original base URL, and it’s easily identified as everything that comes before the “?”
?: The ‘question mark’ indicates that everything that comes after it are the UTM parameters
utm_source=instagram: The source, in this case, is Instagram
&: The ampersand (&) indicates another UTM parameter
utm_medium=organic+social: This indicates the channel, in this case, organic social
utm_campaign=april+content+marketing: This is the name of the campaign, in this case, a content marketing campaign for the month of April
So far, all of this is pretty similar to how UTM codes worked in the Universal Analytics world, so there is some comfort in that.
Why Should I Use Google’s URL Builder?
The Google Analytics Campaign URL Builder is an easy way to quickly add UTM parameters to your campaigns instead of manually creating them yourself, making it a godsend for those with limited coding experience or knowledge.
To use the URL Builder, simply fill out the form by entering the URL and required fields, and it will create a custom tracking URL for your campaigns! If the URL is too long, you can easily shorten it as well using Bitly.
What’s New? Comparing UTM Parameters in Universal Analytics vs. Google Analytics 4
The new model for UTM tracking in GA4 (compared to Universal Analytics) simplifies tracking by reducing the reliance on manual UTM tagging and introducing automatic event tracking. It also adds some new parameters. Let’s see how the changes Google Analytics 4 compares to Universal Analytics.
UTM Parameters in Universal Analytics
UTM tracking in Universal Analytics identifies:
Source–Where the traffic came from, such as a social media platform or search engine
Medium–What brought the traffic? (i.e., email, CPC, or referral)
Campaign–Which campaign is this traffic associated with?
Term–What are the exact keywords that triggered the ad?
Content–Which are the different versions of the same ad or link? (i.e., different button colors, ad sizes, or location on the page)
In addition to those five standard UTM parameters, there is also the Campaign ID (utm_id) which allows you to assign campaigns with a unique ID that complements the other parameters for even more in-depth campaign tracking and reporting
New UTM Parameters in GA4
UTM parameters in GA4 have been updated to align with Google's current recommendations and include additional parameters for campaign tracking, as well as tracking user behavior such as:
But GA4 also goes beyond the UTM parameters supported by Universal Analytics mentioned in the previous section (i.e., Source, Medium, Campaign, Term, Content, and ID) with the following additional parameters:
Limitations of Google’s Campaign URL Builder
The Campaign URL Builder is a great tool, but it may not work for all agencies. For one, it’s a free tool, which is great for smaller agencies and one-person marketing teams, but it also comes with certain limitations that may leave larger agencies wanting more.
Manual Data Entry
While using the URL Builder means that you don’t have to create your UTM parameters from scratch, you still have to enter the URL and parameters manually. While this isn’t an issue if you only need a few UTM codes at a time, larger agencies that need to track hundreds of campaigns may find using Google’s URL Builder is too time-consuming and labor-intensive to be a viable option.
Furthermore, the URL Builder can only create one link at a time, and it doesn’t allow you to create campaign templates to speed up the process either, so if your agency often deals with hundreds or even thousands of UTM tracking links, this tool probably isn’t for you.
The URL Builder is pretty much limited to the five standard UTM parameters we talked about earlier–Source, Medium, Campaign Name, Keyword / Term, and Content–with one additional ‘Campaign ID’ parameter that only serves to further help differentiate the campaigns from each other.
But GA4 tracks so many more data dimensions than that, and you can even create your own custom dimensions as well. Meanwhile, the URL Builder doesn’t let you take advantage of any of that, and many agencies could find that very disappointing. This means the GA4’s new UTM parameters, like the Source Platform, Creative Format, and Marketing Tactic we looked at earlier, are unavailable in the URL Builder.
Creating a Campaign URL Builder in Google Sheets
If your agency is processing a large volume of links, a Google Sheet URL builder template will come in very handy.
Not only does it save you time and reduce the likelihood of errors, but it also ensures consistency across different channels, making it easier to analyze the effectiveness of each campaign. And the benefits don't stop there.
By using Google Sheets to create and manage UTM tracking codes, you can easily share the standard format with your team, collaborate in real-time, and maintain consistency.👇
Whether your team is currently optimizing Google Ads campaigns or setting up a new Performance Max campaign, building and keeping an ongoing record of your UTM campaigns in Google Sheets is a real time-saver. Even if you are automatically appending tracking parameters at the campaign or account level, a UTM organizer makes sure the formatting is in place to assign the correct placeholders to the correct parameters.
10 UTM Tracking Best Practices for Agencies
Agencies need to keep track of client campaigns and stay organized when managing and tracking multiple campaigns simultaneously. And because they are typically working with dozens, if not hundreds, of clients at a time, they need streamlined processes to scale.
So here are the top 10 things your agency should be doing when it comes to UTM tracking:
1. Use Consistent Naming Conventions
Use consistent and descriptive names for your UTM parameters so they are easy to find and analyze. Also, make sure to use lowercase only because UTM tags are case-sensitive and use underscores instead of spaces.
For example, when it comes to social media platforms like Facebook, determine whether you will use ‘facebook’, ‘Facebook’, or simply ‘fb’ and make sure that it’s applied across the board.
2. Keep It Simple
Avoid using too many UTM parameters, especially if they’re not particularly relevant or useful. Don’t include them just for the sake of it because it will make your URLs too long and unwieldy.
3. Use a URL Shortener
Keeping the URLs short and sweet will make them more memorable and won’t kill your caption’s character count
Use URL builder tools to create UTM parameters will make your job easier because they’re faster while ensuring greater consistency and accuracy than doing it yourself. So save yourself the time, labor, and headache and use a URL builder instead; although larger agencies may find the free version from Google a bit too limiting, a custom Google Sheet might just do the trick.
4. Be Specific When Filling Out UTM Parameters
Use specific names for campaigns, sources, and mediums, and avoid using vague terms. You want to take the guesswork out as much as possible to reduce the chances of mistakes and misinterpretations.
5. Test and Verify
Before launching a campaign, test and verify your UTM parameters to ensure they are working correctly and tracking data accurately. That way, you can proactively fix everything before it’s too late and avoid that stress.
6. Keep an Organized Record
Maintaining an organized record of all UTM parameters used across campaigns will help prevent duplication. It also serves as a resource for the rest of your team and helps maintain consistency when it comes to your naming conventions. Keeping a record can be as simple as having an SOP on naming conventions and/or a spreadsheet that’s shared with all your relevant team members to ensure everyone is on the same page.
7. Avoid Duplication
As noted above, it’s important to avoid duplicating UTM parameters across different campaigns, as it can lead to data confusion and inaccuracies. While you want consistency in your naming conventions, avoiding duplication and keeping your UTM parameters as unique as possible will make your job a lot easier in the long run.
8. Exclude Internal Traffic
Use filters to exclude internal traffic and ensure that UTM parameters are not applied to internal testing or traffic, or else it will muddy your data and make it less reliable.
9. Track Both Online and Offline Campaigns
Consider using UTM parameters to track offline campaigns, such as events, print ads, or billboards, by creating custom parameters for tracking offline sources and mediums. Then you can gauge the effectiveness of your offline campaigns against your online efforts, which can help your clients when it comes time to allocate the marketing budget.
10. Review and Analyze Data Regularly
Regularly review and analyze UTM tracking data to gain insights into campaign performance and make data-driven decisions. Most agencies do this at least monthly, but we recommend doing this at more regular intervals because it’s a great way to double-check that your UTM codes are working the way they’re supposed to.
Checking your data more often also means you can leverage your data to glean more insights to continuously optimize campaigns to improve ROI and better achieve your client’s marketing goals as you go.
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GA4 UTM Tracking FAQs
Here are a few of the most common questions we get from clients when it comes to UTM tracking in GA4.
Where Do I Find My Campaign Tracking in Google Analytics 4?
So, let’s say at this point, you’ve set your UTM parameters, and you’re tracking your campaign traffic. Now, you’re probably wondering where you can find all of that precious data in GA4. Don’t worry; it’s easy enough.
Once you’re in GA4, click the “Reports” icon in the leftmost panel (it’s the second one, directly underneath the “Home” icon). From there, click on “Acquisition” and then select “Traffic acquisition” from the dropdown options.
By default, your website traffic report will be grouped by channel, but to change that, simply click on the “down” arrow circled in red below:
From there, simply choose one of the options, such as “Session source/medium” or “Session source platform”.
To add more of your UTM parameters in GA4, simply click on the “+” icon next to the downward arrow (circled in red in the preceding screenshot) and select “Traffic Source”, and choose the dimensions you want from the list.
How Do I Match My UTM Parameters with GA4 Dimensions?
One of the trickier things about using UTM parameters in Google Analytics 4 is that the GA4 metrics and dimensions don’t necessarily have the same names as the UTM parameters. So in this section, we’ll take the guesswork out of matching your Google Analytics 4 dimensions to the UTM parameters. As you’ll see, the UTM parameters have multiple dimensions to choose from, according to Analytics Mania:
Session source, First user source
First user medium, Session medium
Session campaign, First user campaign
Session manual term, First user manual term
Session manual ad content, First user manual ad content
Campaign ID (utm_id)
Session campaign id, First user campaign id
Session source platform, First user source platform
Session creative format, First user creative format
Session marketing tactic, First user marketing tactic
Should I Test My UTM Parameters?
It’s always a good idea to test your UTM parameters once you’ve set up a campaign. So plug your tagged URL into your browser and see what comes out. If it goes from an “http” to an “https” redirect, then your UTM parameters won’t pass. But if the UTM parameters you entered stay at the end of the page once it’s loaded, then your client’s information will be tracked.
If you don’t test beforehand, you risk losing out on critical campaign data, especially if it’s not noticed or fixed until halfway through the campaign–or worse. It’s a fine example of where it’s better to “measure twice, cut once,” as the carpenters and craftspeople might say.
Should I Use All Five Parameters?
While it’s not necessary to use all five UTM parameters, if you’re using Google’s URL Builder, you must include the website URL and the following three:
Whether you want to include the other UTM parameters is up to you, but generally, you should only include them if they’re necessary and useful. Including too many UTM parameters for the sake of it will make your URLs too long, and it can negatively affect how search engines crawl and index your site.
The Takeaway: UTM Tracking and Reporting in GA4
Acquisition metrics are some of the most important numbers to highlight in client reports in GA4, and GA4’s UTM tracking offers a deeper granularity compared to Universal Analytics if you use it right.
Adding UTM parameters to track virtually any campaign is easy–especially if you use a URL Builder. However, larger agencies may find URL builders do have limitations that may prevent them from taking full advantage of UTM tracking in GA4.
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