UTM Tracking Best Practices: Collect Campaign Data & Reduce Direct Traffic

by | Apr 12, 2020 | Ecommerce | 0 comments

Summary of Best Practices

This is this is the essence of what you need to learn from this article:

  • NEVER use campaign tracking for internal links from one page to another on your site. Use event tracking (article link) or Internal Promotions (GA documentation link) instead.
  • Decide on a syntax and always follow it to prevent cardinality issues. For example, use lowercase letters throughout, use hypens not underscores or spaces.
  • Use generic (but descriptive) source and medium values.
  • Be consistent across teams and departments. Prepare a guideline document that can be distributed amongst staff.
  • Each parameter should be distinct and easily identifiable to other members of your team.
  • Keep a record of tagged links. This gives you and your team a reference point for analysis.
  • Use a URL shortner such as http://bitly.com.
  • ALWAYS check the link works before sharing it!


Why do you need to apply best practice or have a protocol for UTM tagging?

UTM’s are one of the primary methods of recording custom data to Google Analytics. Junk data in equals junk data out, so care needs to be taken…

Common problems with incorrect setups / bad practices:

  1. If they are set, but done in an inconsistant format such as mixed cases, different abbreviations, different spellings or mixing the source and medium around the wrong way by different team members (or even the same person), then your Aquisiton reports are probably a bit of a mess. You might find that a lot of your tagged traffic has ended up in the Other Channel – which means GA didn’t know what to do with it.
  2. If you or your team has ignored UTM’s up until now then most likely some of your best traffic is lost to the Direct Channel. Meaning the Direct Channel has a significant amount of Revenue and Transactions attributed to it, high Conversion Rate and decent engagment stats. If you have a high percentage of traffic hiding in Direct, say above 25% of monthly Sessions, then its definately time to review your UTM practices.

    If you have a solid UTM strategy already in place and are seeing a high amount of Direct traffic then the issue could lie else where. Check out this article to learn more about what Direct traffic really is and ways to reduce it, claim back attribution and identify and fix broken session data.

  3. You or your team might have filled out UTM values for some campaigns that prompted them, such Facebook Ads, but without proper planning or thought process on structure. Its probably a bit messy, but often salvagable; if the link origins can be identified.


What are UTM’s and URL Parameters?

UTM’s are a specific set of URL query parameters.

Query parameters that are appendend to URL’s in the syntax of Google Analytics’ Urchin Tracking Module are affectionately known as UTM’s. They provide a method of tracking the performance of external links / link campaigns against on site session data (e.g. visitor engagement or ecommerce metics).

The tracking specification for link campaigns is very simple, but often set up incorrectly because of not understanding what the structure needed to ensure an appropriate data granularity looks like. Later on we will take a look at how to analyse correctly tagged link campaigns in a few different reports so you can see specific use cases and gain insight into what the output of UTM data looks like.

Channel (Social) > Source (facebook) > Medium (cpc) > Campaign (summer-2021) > Term > Content (carosel)

First, lets break down the different components of a URL:

* Hostname
* Page Path
* Query Parameter
* Parameter Value
* ? – anything after the question mark are query strings or parameters
* & – multiple parameters can be concatenated in URL seperated by an ampersand

Broadly there are 2 types of URL parameters:

  • Technical – which are often used to send data to the CMS or for a tracking platform to read such as Google Analytics (UTM’s, _ga, etc.), Facebook (fbclid) or Google Ads (gclid).
  • Functional – which serve a function for the end user, meaning the change the content on the page. Examples include category page filters on an ecommerce store such as size, colour, type, material, other variant, etc. or the page number on a search results page or category page.

These can wreak havoc on URL based reports in GA, particularly when doing Landing Page analysis. To find out more about impact of URL parameters in Google Analytics and ways to filter them correctly check out this article on Parameter Exclusions.

Right now, we are only concerned with UTM parameters, of which there are only 5. 3 are considered essential/required and the other 2 are optional, but very useful in specific cases or can be repurposed to fit your need – we’ll get into that more.


Why Tag Campaign Links with UTM’s?

  • Data enrichment/data hygene (company wide protocol)
  • Campaign performance monitoring and analysis. Paid, Social, Email
  • Reduce Direct attribution and claim back lost acqusition data

Ultimately you want to know where your top level conversions are coming from, where the purchases and revenue is coming from. Well traffic attribution comes before conversion attribution.

UTM tracking plays an essential role in attributing traffic to their original sources of traffic. In turn we can then calculate the true cost per acquisition (CPA) and return on ad spend (ROAS) for each traffic strategy.


What are GA’s UTM parameters and Example Use Cases




UTM Builders




URL Shortners





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