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Guide to UTM parameters for marketing campaigns in Google Analytics 4
Olga Mirgorodskaya, Creative writer @ OWOX
How can you know if your marketing campaign is profitable or if you’re getting enough traffic from your recent email campaign? There is a simple answer — with UTM tags.
UTM tags help you track where traffic is coming from, allowing you to measure the performance of your campaigns, sources, traffic types, and even paid keywords.
In this article, updated in 2024, you’ll learn what UTM tags are, what types of UTM tags are available in Google Analytics 4, how to create UTM tags to track your ad campaigns, and the most common mistakes when it comes to creating UTM tags.
Understanding UTM parameters
What are UTM parameters?
UTM tags, also known as UTM parameters or UTM codes, are added to the end of URLs to track the origin of website traffic. A UTM tag consists of a UTM parameter and its value.
In this example, utm_source, utm_medium, and utm_campaign are UTM parameters, and google, cpc, and kids_toys are their values. These particular values mean the following:
- google is the advertising system, or the source that has brought the user to your website
- cpc is the type of traffic medium (cost per click)
- kids_toys is the name of the advertising campaign
UTM parameters are fixed, whereas values can be set and updated at your discretion.
Please note that each parameter and value should be separated with an equal sign (=) and that multiple “parameter=value” pairs are separated by an ampersand (&).
Why are UTM parameters important for marketing campaigns?
UTM parameters are used to sort the data in a web analytics system. They also help to group values or variables that are sent to the system.
A UTM tag is a basic element for analyzing advertising campaigns. Without UTM tags, it becomes impossible to evaluate the performance of specific ad campaigns, uncover which ad attracted a specific customer, link sessions with ad costs, or build true data analytics or business intelligence (BI) systems.
On top of that, UTM tags allow businesses to measure the impact of each particular marketing channel and traffic source and to analyze campaigns to determine which are producing the best (and worst) results. Using UTM tags also helps businesses make quick decisions about their advertising budgets based on real-time changes in website traffic.
How do UTM parameters work in GA4?
Let’s say we want to advertise this article on Instagram. To get started, we’ll take the article’s URL and add the appropriate tags to it to get a working link:
Next, we need to add this link to an ad. When a user clicks on the link in the ad, Google Analytics 4 will receive information about the visit and the traffic source. In our example, the source is instagram/cpc.
UTM tags allow you to merge user session data with ad spend data to evaluate channel ROI. Google Analytics 4 has a Non-Google cost report that lets you compare session data, spend and revenue data, and ROAS across different advertising channels. However, this report automatically collects statistics about Google Ads only. Marketers have to manually upload data from other sources.
This problem can be solved with the help of OWOX BI. Using OWOX BI, you can automate importing of cost data from Facebook, Bing, Criteo, and other sources into Google Analytics 4. You will be able to analyze advertising campaigns in a familiar interface and effectively reallocate your budget.
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UTM parameter components in Google Analytics 4
UTM parameters in GA4 can be divided into two main categories: required (source, medium, campaign, campaign_id) and optional (term, content, source platform, creative_format, marketing_tactic).
Identifies the traffic source, such as a website or advertising system. Example: utm_source=bing.
Identifies the type of marketing medium, such as email or cpc. Example: utm_medium=cpc.
Identifies the specific advertising campaign. Example: utm_campaign=kids_toys.
A unique identifier for a campaign (Campaign ID) that is required for GA4 data import. Example: utm_id=bing_123abc.
Important! If you are planning to import non-Google advertising cost data to Google Analytics 4, you need to add the utm_id (campaign identifier) parameter to the links in your ads.
Currently, Google Analytics 4 only supports manual importing of non-Google ad cost data. To automate imports and save your time, use the solution from OWOX.
Identifies keywords for paid keyword campaigns. Example: utm_term=running+shoes.
Differentiates between links or ads that point to the same URL from the same source, medium, and campaign. Example: utm_content=banner.
Identifies the platform directing traffic to a given Google Analytics property (such as a buying platform that sets budgets and targeting criteria or a platform that manages organic traffic data). Example: utm_source_platform=GoogleAds.
Identifies the type of creative, such as display or video. Example: utm_creative_format=video.
Identifies targeting criteria applied to a campaign, such as remarketing or prospecting. Example: utm_marketing_tactic=remarketing_180days
Note: The utm_creative_format and utm_marketing_tactic parameters are not currently reported in Google Analytics 4 properties but are listed in the Google Help section.
Creating UTM parameters
Determine the source of your traffic. This could be a search engine, social media platform, email, or any other source. Be as specific as possible when defining your sources.
Determine the medium of your traffic. This could be paid search, organic search, social media, email, or any other type of medium. Again, be as specific as possible when defining your mediums.
Create a campaign. This could be a product launch, a holiday promotion, or any other type of campaign. Use a unique identifier for each campaign to ensure accurate tracking.
Once you’ve determined your source, medium, and campaign, it’s time to add the UTM parameters to your campaign links. You can do this manually by adding the parameters to the end of your URLs, or you can use a UTM builder tool to create the links for you.
We recommend using the URL builder from Google or the handy OWOX UTM Builder, which we created with all the nuances of GA4 in mind.
To create UTM tags with UTM Builder:
- Enter the full URL of a web page that users will be linked to
- Add the parameters and values that will be used in the UTM tag
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Common mistakes to avoid when creating UTM parameters
1. Not using UTM tags at all
This is a major mistake made by many advertisers that hinders their ability to evaluate the effectiveness of traffic sources. Automated tagging functions may not be reliable, especially when a user clicks on an ad link within an application (like Facebook), the link is then opened inside the application, and the information about the facebook/referral traffic source is lost.
2. Not adding required parameters
Failing to include all required parameters can lead to the collection of incomplete or inaccurate data.
3. Using different cases with the same UTM tag
Since UTM tags are case-sensitive, using variations like “cpc” and “CPC” will result in separate tracking for each variant, making it difficult to get a complete picture of a specific traffic source. Always use consistent naming conventions.
4. Syntax errors
Using spaces or incorrectly using ampersands (&) and equal signs (=) results in incorrect tracking of traffic sources.
5. Using more than one question mark in a URL
A question mark is added after the main website URL. It may be used only once in a URL; otherwise, the user will be redirected to a 404 page.
6. Adding too many UTM parameters
Administrators often set too many parameters that don’t have any specific meaning but that clutter up reports and distort the overall picture. As a result, there’s a lot of information about small traffic sources in reports. This information doesn’t have value, and it distorts the overall picture and makes it impossible to correctly evaluate campaign efficiency.
7. Using long campaign names
It may be hard to find the campaign you need in Google Analytics 4 if the campaign name is too long, especially if campaign names start with the same words. As a rule, you don’t have to use all nine possible fields in a URL builder. Adding source, medium, campaign name, and id parameters will usually be enough. For example, in order to tag an email campaign, the following parameters are sufficient:
8. Not considering subdomains
It’s common for a website to have multiple subdomains. Each subdomain should be set up as a separate website in Google Analytics. Otherwise, data from different subdomains may be interpreted differently, and user actions may not be properly tracked. This can affect the outcome of your analysis, since each subdomain will initiate a new session. As a result, you may not be able to track user actions on the website and evaluate the efficiency of a particular traffic source.
9. Tagging internal links
There’s no need to add UTM parameters to internal URLs within a website, as Google Analytics 4 can track traffic within your website without tagging. Tagging internal links can actually result in a loss of information about the source of a visitor’s referral.
Tracking UTM parameters in Google Analytics 4
Before you can track UTM parameters, you need to properly place them in your URLs. You can use Google’s Campaign URL Builder to create properly formatted URLs with UTM parameters.
Enable UTM parameter tracking in GA4
In GA4, go to the Admin section and click on Data Streams. Select the appropriate data stream and choose Tagging. Turn on UTM parameter tracking and choose Save.
View UTM parameter data in GA4
Once UTM parameter tracking is enabled, GA4 will automatically track UTM parameters for all incoming traffic. To view UTM parameter data, go to the Acquisition section of GA4 and choose All Traffic. You can then view UTM parameter data for each source and medium.
Analyze marketing performance with UTM parameter data
With UTM parameter tracking enabled, you can use GA4’s reporting features to analyze the performance of your marketing campaigns. You can view data for each UTM parameter as well as overall campaign performance.
One of the main differences between Google Universal and Google Analytics 4 when it comes to UTM tracking is the level of detail and customization available. In Universal Analytics, UTM parameters are limited to source, medium, campaign, term, and content, which are used to determine the source of the referral and the campaign that brought the user to your site.
Google Analytics 4 offers more UTM parameters than Universal Analytics, giving you more control over the data it collects and allowing you to track more specific information about your campaigns. In addition to the standard UTM parameters, four additional parameters can now be collected.
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Why are UTM parameters important for marketing campaigns?UTM parameters allow you to track the effectiveness of your marketing campaigns by providing data on how visitors are arriving at your website. This data can be used to optimize your campaigns and improve your ROI.
What are some best practices for creating UTM parameters?Best practices for creating UTM parameters include using consistent naming conventions and values, avoiding special characters or spaces, and using lowercase letters.
How can I view UTM parameter data in GA4?UTM parameter data can be viewed in GA4 by navigating to Acquisition > Campaigns report or by creating a custom report with the desired metrics and dimensions.
How can I use UTM parameters for analyzing campaign performance?UTM parameters can be used to analyze campaign performance by providing data on the effectiveness of different marketing channels and campaigns. This data can be used to optimize campaigns and improve ROI.