URL Builder for GA4: The Newest Version of UTM Tracking Codes

An image showing a URL builder for Google Analytics 4 with a preview of a UTM source code

QUICK SUMMARY:

A URL builder simplifies tracking website traffic and its sources, enhancing campaign accuracy. It integrates seamlessly with Google Analytics 4, optimizing the use of UTM parameters for detailed insights. This guide offers an essential overview for agencies to improve client campaign metrics effectively. Dive deeper to understand how to leverage this tool for client success.

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.

We'll cover:

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:

  1. 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)

  2. Medium: Tracks the channel the traffic came from (i.e., was it organic social, CPC, email, etc.)

  3. 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)

  4. 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

  5. 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):

https://agencyanalytics.com/blog/utm-tracking?utm_source=instagram&utm_medium=organic+social&utm_campaign=april+content+marketing

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. 

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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.

A screenshot of the campaign URL builder from Google Analytics

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:

  • Dynamic parameters

  • Event parameters

  • User properties

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:

  • Source Platform

  • Creative Format

  • Marketing Tactic

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.

Limited Parameters

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.👇

Download Your UTM Organizer

Keep an organized record of all UTM parameters used across campaigns.

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?

A screenshot showing where to find traffic acquisition in GA4

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: 

Screenshot showing how the website traffic report will be grouped by channel in GA4

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:

UTM Parameter

GA4 Dimensions

UTM Parameter

Source (utm_source)

GA4 Dimensions

Session source, First user source

UTM Parameter

Medium (utm_medium)

GA4 Dimensions

First user medium, Session medium

UTM Parameter

Campaign (utm_campaign)

GA4 Dimensions

Session campaign, First user campaign

UTM Parameter

Term (utm_term)

GA4 Dimensions

Session manual term, First user manual term

UTM Parameter

Content (utm_content)

GA4 Dimensions

Session manual ad content, First user manual ad content

UTM Parameter

Campaign ID (utm_id)

GA4 Dimensions

Session campaign id, First user campaign id

UTM Parameter

Source platform

GA4 Dimensions

Session source platform, First user source platform

UTM Parameter

Creative format

GA4 Dimensions

Session creative format, First user creative format

UTM Parameter

Marketing tactic

GA4 Dimensions

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: 

  1. Campaign Source

  2. Campaign Medium

  3. Campaign Name

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.

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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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Michael Okada

Written by

Michael Okada

Michael is a Vancouver-based writer with over a decades’ experience in digital marketing. He specializes in distilling complex topics into relatable and engaging content.

Read more posts by Michael Okada ›

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