What’s the deal with UTM tracking and why you should use it? Here are your answers:

According to e-Marketer, social media marketers struggle to consistently measure ROI. As a result, getting a fair budget often feels like trying to befriend a bear: exhausting, frustrating and will probably end with one of us playing dead.

We have to prove real ROI that’s aligned with the business goals and helps propel them forward. Otherwise, persuading the deciding parties (whether that’s a boss or a client) that social media efforts have a measurable impact on the business is extremely tough.

So how can we prove effectiveness? How can we measure the exact impact of our social media marketing efforts in terms of traffic and conversion? How can we move beyond metrics like reach, comments, likes and shares and toward the meatier side of the business that ultimately leads to sales?

There is an answer: UTM tracking.

But before we dive in into what it is and how you can use it, let’s take a look at why precisely measuring our marketing efforts is essential to success.

The impossibly high value of an iron clad attribution strategy

Marketing attribution is the idea of tracking all our marketing efforts and measuring the results they create.

Under a hyper efficient marketing strategy, every social media post, eBook, blog post, video or demo is a part of a unified, larger strategy that helps reach specific goals. Each piece has a role to play and its performance is measured against that role.

Let’s say you created a Facebook ad whose sole role is to drive traffic to a specific landing page. Its success has to be measured against that goal and not against how many likes, comments or shares it gets. Next, imagine that the landing page’s purpose is to get people to sign up for a free webinar training next Tuesday. That’s the stat we track.

This level of precision makes it easy to see what’s working and make data driven adjustments accordingly. Instead of throwing content out there and hoping and praying something sticks, we can actively adjust our overall strategy based on incoming data.

Effective social media marketing is half art, half science. By getting the science part right, we can afford to be more creative within the framework and create more of the type of content our audience loves. And this neatly leads us back to UTM tracking.

What’s UTM tracking?

UTM stands for Urchin Tracking Module. That explains it, right!? End of post.

Just kidding. An Urchin Tracking Module is a bit of code tacked on to the end of a URL that gives your analytics software some juicy details about the person that just used that URL. It looks a little something like this:


This piece of code tells us where the visitor came from and why. How do we know all this? By using UTM parameters like utm_source, utm_medium and utm_campaign. Let’s take a look at what these parameters are and what they do.

1. The source parameter

Want to know where your spanking new visitor just came from? Easy, UTM tracking can give you that. That’s what the source parameter tells you.

Let’s take this into the physical world and imagine that your visitor is actually a traveller that goes by the name of Evilio. (Yes. He’s probably a supervillain.)

Evilio just arrived at Chicago’s O’Hare airport. His plane came in from Atlanta. So, if we were using UTM tracking it would look like this: utm_source=Atlanta.

2. The medium parameter

This parameter paints the bigger picture by telling us how our visitor reached us.

Evilio could’ve used a lot of different ways to get to O’Hare. He could have come by bus, train, automobile, his own two feet or his designated supervillain-mobile. But he didn’t. He flew. So the medium parameter would be utm_medium=plane.

3. The campaign parameter

We know how our visitor got to us but we still don’t know why! This is the final piece of the puzzle.

Let’s say Evilio saw a giant billboard while walking around Atlanta with his pet platypus. He scanned the unique QR code and learned about a free training for using social media to find higher quality minions. This was all part of a marketing campaign called “find your match.”

So when we see utm_campain=find-your-match, we know exactly what drove him to us.

4. The two less known parameters

The source, medium and campaign parameters are the trio you’ll use almost every time because they tell you how and why. However, they are not the only ones. We’ve got two additional ones: the utm_content parameter and the utm_term parameter.

The content parameter is used to tell the difference between similar sounding posts while the term parameter is used to track paid keywords. Both are useful for tracking the success of your ads.

Understanding our visitors

UTM tracking helps us understand how and why people are getting to us. This allows us to measure the success of different channels against specific goals so we can consciously do more of what’s working and less of all that other stuff.

Ultimately, this means more traffic, higher conversions and more money in everyone’s pocket (and budget.)

Building better social media campaigns with UTM tracking

There are two main ways you can use UTM tracking to measure the success of your social media marketing campaigns. You can set it up through Google Analytics (or your analytics software of choice) or you can set it up through your social media management dashboard.

Not all social media dashboards offer this service but as marketers continue to jump on the data train, it’s becoming a fairly common feature. Buffer, MavSocial, Agorapulse and Hootsuite offer it as an option in certain plans.

Setting UTM tracking up through any of these services is pretty straight forward so for the sake of simplicity, we’ll focus on how to do it through Google Analytics.

Setting up UTM tracking through Google Analytics

The process I’m about to share assumes you’ve got an account. (If you don’t, head over here to set one up. Here’s the how-to if your site runs on WordPress.)

1. Go to the campaign URL builder and create your link

Head over to a tool called the campaign URL builder and use it to create the UTM tracking parameters. You’ve got to include a source but the rest of the parameters are optional.

Building a URL with UTM parameters

To make the most of it, I’d suggest using at least the first three parameters: the source, medium and campaign.

Capital letters and spelling matter so make sure you use the same naming conventions every time!

2. Grab your link

Scroll to the bottom and grab your link with your shiny new UTM tracking parameters. The whole thing just takes a couple of seconds.

UTM tracking parameters for RevSocial example

You can also convert the URL into a short link so it looks more approachable (and less like you threw in a bunch of marketing gobbledygook in there.)

3. Paste the link into your social media post

Now that your link has super-secret tracking abilities, use it in your social media marketing campaign and start measuring those results.

Using UTM tracking like a pro

Desperate to see how your brand new UTM powered link is performing?

Google Analytics Campaigns
1. Open your Google Analytics account.

2. Under Reports click on Acquisition and then select Campaigns.

3. Under Campaigns, you’ll find all the info about trackable URLs and gain access to a wealth of useful information.

Campaign Info

4. Analyze the data! This is the most important step of the process and the reason we set everything up in the first place.

Use that data to inform your future strategy. Study the numbers, measure the success of your campaign and compare it to the rest of your efforts.

Some best practices to keep you in the winner’s seat

Now that you’ve set up UTM tracking codes, let’s take a look at how you can make the most of them!

1. Use a consistent naming convention for all your parameters

Decide on a naming convention for the different parameters and stick to it. If you are going to use the medium parameter “social-media” to track all traffic that comes through a social source don’t suddenly change it to “social.”

Stay consistent because every time you use a different term or spell it differently, it tracks separately making it harder to analyze patterns.

2. Track every campaign

To get the best benefits, this needs to be an all or nothing kind of measure. Start introducing UTM tracking to all your campaigns, whether they are through social media, email or giant billboards at the side of the highway.

This way you can quickly eliminate the deadweight efforts and use their budgets to focus on the tactics that are working.

3. Track both the general and the specific

You can use UTM tracking to measure all the traffic that comes to you from, say, Instagram or you can use it to measure the traffic (and subsequent conversions) going to a specific landing page from your pinned Tweet.

Both the general and granular insights can be extremely useful so measure both.

4. Shorten your codes

When you tack on three to five different parameters at the end of a URL, the whole thing starts looking awfully long and unsightly. Use the default Google shortener or a link shortener like Bitly to keep your URL looking sharp.

Embrace your best efforts (and forget the rest)

UTM tracking helps you discover what parts of your social media marketing strategy are really working and which elements are due an early retirement.

With countless articles telling us what to do and not do, it’s easy to get sucked into trying too many things at the same time just because our favorite influencer is doing it.

UTM tracking creates clarity and accountability by eliminating guess work. You’ll know exactly where your time and cash is going and why. It makes it easier to prove real social ROI instead of chasing vanity metrics like clicks, likes and comments.

By making UTM tracking an essential building block of your social media strategy, you’ll know who lands on your site, why, whether they converted and how to get more people like them there again. And that, to me, sounds like the social media marketing dream.

If you have any questions on how to use UTM tracking, feel free to submit them in the comments below.

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