Marketing Strategy Blog

What are Google UTM parameters and why are they important?


Have you ever wondered how effective your efforts are at driving customers to your website? You spent money to get visitors to your website, but did it work?

Have you: 

  • Purchased a digital banner ad or native ad to drive traffic to your business website?
  • Sent out an email to your customer list for a special event?
  • Sponsored a contest or promotion to generate leads?
  • Purchased a print ad in newspaper or magazine to promote a sale on your website?

Afterwards you probably wondered what your return on investment (ROI) was. 

Your need to understand what drove customers to your website is the exact reason why UTM codes can be so helpful.  I think of this as understanding not just how many times the ball was thrown, but also how many times it was caught.

What are UTM Tags?

I like to know what acronyms stand for because I like to be able to casually rattle off definitions whenever they come up in conversation. But knowing that “UTM” stands for “Urchin Tracking Module” isn’t in the least bit helpful and has never impressed friends or family!

“UTM code”,  “UTM tags” and “UTM parameters” are all different ways of describing the capability of almost any website to ignore anything after a “?” question mark in a URL, and the ability of almost any analytics program to keep that information, and make sense of it if it is formatted the right way. 

Said another way, UTM parameters are special words you put in the hyperlink URLs in your marketing campaigns (Throws) that help identify users that come to your site as a result of your marketing campaigns (Catches). 

Try this experiment (and mess with our analytics too!)

Go to the top of this page in the URL field of your web browser. If there isn’t a question mark in the URL, add one at the end and then type any gobbledygook you want, but no spaces. (And if there is already a “?” question mark in the URL, remove everything after it first).  If you’re at a loss for what to type, use: “?tom_is_a_genius!”. Then hit return. 

You should see that the page reloaded, everything about the page looks the same, and the words you typed are still there in the URL field. 

What isn’t obvious is that Google Analytics just recorded a new pageview to this unique page with the gobbledygook words you typed at the end!

You can try this on your own website in one window, and watch your own Google Analytics’ realtime view in another window at the same time. You should see a new active page with your typed gobbledygook in it:

Screen Shot 2020-03-17 at 2.48.42 PM

Just sending gobbledygook is fun, sure. But by being a bit more exact in the gobbledygook we type, we can pass real information to Google Analytics. 

You read that right, by just typing stuff in the URL field of any site you visit, you can speak to Google Analytics!

Read on because I’m going to tell you the super-secret phrases to whisper in Google Analytics’ ear!

Why use UTM tags?=

Taking the time to add a just a bit of gobbledygook to the URLs that you use in your emails and banner ads will give you a better understanding of whether your time and money is well spent on advertising. If you don’t add UTM tags to your URLs, then Google won’t know specifically how those users arrived and will miscategorize the method that brought users to your site. Traffic without a “source” will be categorized as “direct”, which just means that neither Google, or you, will know where it came from. In other words, you won’t know who threw the ball.

The most important UTM tags

Although there are 5 super secret phrases, or "tags" you can use to talk to Google Analytics for campaign tracking, but we can get by with just three:

utm_Source: this is the referring website that sent the traffic

utm_Medium: this is the specific vehicle used, like “PPC” for pay per click, or “newsletter”

utm_Campaign: Used to distinguish one ad campaign from another “red sale”, “blue sale”

Remember in the experiment above where you changed the URL parameters of this blog URL and sent some gobbledygook to our Google Analytics? Here is a more refined URL that you can use to tell our Google Analytics where you came from! You can mess with the highlighted portions to be whatever you want, as long as you don’t change the super special “utm_source”, “utm_medium” or “utm_campaign” words:

The Easiest method to add UTM parameters to your own URLs: =

I think that the easiest method is to just take my example code and finesse it just a bit for your own purpose. Take the URL for the page you want to track, and add the following code after the question mark and add it to the URL:


You can then change any of the highlighted words to be whatever you want that makes sense for you (just no spaces or other special characters)

The Second Easiest method to add UTM tags to your campaign URLs: 

Google has a page that will help you create these they think is pretty easy too!

Whether you start off with my tags or use the Google Campaign Builder method, the outcome will be a tag that you can copy and paste your own advertising campaign URLs to send source, medium and campaign to your own Google Analytics.

Once you’ve created the URL with the UTM parameters, you can add it to the link in your newsletter, banner ad or wherever you’re going to use it. 

Where to find the campaign data in Google Analytics

To see the output from your UTM tagging effort, go into your Google Analytics account and navigate to  Acquisition -> Campaigns -> All Campaigns. 


You’ll be able to see each campaign name which equates to each of the utm_campaign parameters you used in your UTM links. For more detail, you can choose a secondary dimension of “source/medium” to get more detail of the utm_source and utm_medium that you used. 

Do and Don’t:

  • Don’t use UTM parameters to track links within your own site. If you do this, you’ll be erasing the true source that brought a user to your site. 
  • Don’t use UTMs on AdWords campaigns. Google automatically tags AdWords campaigns.
  • Do keep a list of your UTM parameters you’ve used in the past and keep them consistent in the future. Use easy-to-undersand words that make sense to anyone reading them are better than arcane codes that require a table to look up.


Google Analytics was created to help website owners understand if the money they spend on advertising is providing value.  Swift Local Solutions which can help connect more of the right people to your site with local and targeted advertising. Click the link to find out more information about connecting to our audience.




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