Whenever I read tweets and blog comments about UTM parameters, it seems there is a lot of confusion around them. I believe it may be because UTM parameters are so deceptively simple.
Wait, UTMs are simple?
UTM parameters are just a set of five parameters (utm_campaign, utm_medium, utm_source, utm_term, and utm_content) that you can add to your URLs and get more insights in your analytics reports. These parameters do a lot of work and are interpreted in very specific ways in Google Analytics.
In this post, I’m going to answer 7 of the most frequently asked questions about UTM parameters.
1. Will Tagging URLs With UTM Parameters Affect the Search Rankings Of My Website?
Short answer: No. It will not affect search rankings of your website in any way. It will neither improve your website’s search rankings nor harm them.
Long answer: Google (and even Bing) knows that UTM parameters are used for tracking. It ignores them when crawling websites. That being said, there have been some instances in the past where links with UTM parameters have shown up in search results. However, those are anomalies and most websites are indexed correctly.
Pro Tip: How to Tell Google What URL Should Be Indexed?
Since we are talking about this, let me give you a little tip. You can tell Google what URL it should use when indexing a page on your website. If the URL of a page is http://yoursite.com/sale, you can add
<link rel="canonical" href="http://yoursite.com/sale" />
in the <head> section of your website.
This tells Google to always use http://yoursite.com/sale in the search engine results page. Making this change will make sure that any parameter you add to your URLs (UTM or not) won’t affect how your website is shown in search results.
2. Should I Use UTM Parameters For Internal Links On My Website?
Let me tell you an example of why it’s such a bad idea. Let’s say you published a new blog post, An Awesome Way To Do Something Awesome. You shared it on Twitter. One of your followers clicks on the link and arrives at www.yoursite.com/blog/awesome-post. When they are done reading, they want to go to your home page. They click on a link that takes them to http://www.yoursite.com/?utm_source=blog. You just lost the information that the user came from Twitter. Your analytics report will say that the visitor came from the blog and not from Twitter.
Instead of using UTM parameters for internal linking, use UTM in your analytics tool such as Google Analytics to track your visitor’s activities. It most likely has some report/tool that lets you get this information. Use that for internal tracking. e.g. Google Analytics provides event tracking for user actions.
3. Do Custom UTM Parameters Affect the Google Analytics Reporting On Social Referrals?
Yes and no.
- If a URL doesn’t have UTM parameters, Google looks at the referring URL and matches it against a list of hundreds of websites it believes are social networks. If there’s a match, the visit is attributed to social traffic.
- If a URL does have UTM parameters and utm_medium is either social, social-network, social-media, sm, social network, or social media, then the visit is also attributed to social traffic. So it’s very important to use the right value for utm_medium. Remember, ‘twitter’ is not a medium. It is a source.
- If a URL does have UTM parameters and utm_medium is not one of the above mentioned values, it won’t be counted as a visit from a social network. It will, however, show up in other traffic reports, e.g Campaigns report.
4. Do UTM Parameters Make A URL Less Trustworthy, Resulting in Fewer Clicks?
It depends on your particular scenario. Instinctively, short URLs with little to no visible tracking information feel more trustworthy and clickable. But before coming to any conclusion, you should A/B test both scenarios (with and without tracking information).
But, that’s alright. There is another way.
You can actually hide the ugly long URLs by:
- Using shorteners (e.g bit.ly) is a good way to hide tracking information. Shortened URLs are much more acceptable when sharing on social networks.
- In emails, you can use call-to-action anchor text to mask the tracking URLs. In addition, you can also use shortened URLs.
Pro Tip: Cleaning Up Long URLs?
You can do a little retrospective cleanup once a visitor lands on your website. Use Wistia’s Fresh URL script to dynamically remove any UTM parameters from the URL after Google Analytics has had a chance to log the information.
5. Where Do I Find utm_term And utm_content In Google Analytics?
Navigating Google Analytics can be difficult, but once you know where you’re going, you’ll be able to pull UTM reports in a flash.
Here’s how to find utm_term and utm_content in Google Analytics:
- In most Google Analytics reports, you can see a row with Primary Dimension followed by several links. The last one is usually marked Other.
- Click on Other and then click Acquisition. You will see Ad Content which corresponds to utm_content. Similarly, Keyword corresponds to utm_term.
This question basically asks if you should use http://www.example.com/?utm_source=twitter (/ before ?) or http://www.example.com?utm_source=twitter (no / before ?).
Before I give you my answer, copy each of these two URLs (above) and paste them in your browser. What do you see?
You will see that the browser added a slash to the URL even when there was no slash. If you don’t add a slash manually, the browser will do it for you. However, since adding it is a convention (even using a modern browser), I’d recommend adding it anyway.
7. Is There A Character Limit For the UTM Parameters?
There’s no inherent character limit on the UTM parameters. But there are a couple of reasons why you should keep them fairly short.
- Without going into the technical details, a URL that has fewer than 2000 characters will work with any combination of browser and web server. So even though there’s no limit on any individual UTM parameter, collectively, along with the destination URL, there’s a limit of about 2000 characters on the final URL.
- It’s a good practice to keep the UTM parameters short and meaningful. They need to make sense in reports, charts, etc. They should look clean and intuitive.
8. How Does UTM Tracking Work?
With all this talk about adding UTM parameters to URLs, sometimes you wonder how does it actually work? After you create a URL like this http://www.yoursite.com/?utm_source=blog and share it in your campaigns, do you need to do anything else?
If you have Google Analytics installed on your website, it will work automatically. The GA script will correctly detect all the UTM parameters and build the campaign reports for you.
However, remember that utm_source is a required parameter for Google Analytics. If it is not present, GA will ignore all others.
9. Can I Use UTM Parameters on Social Media Campaigns?
Yes, and you should.
A significant number of people access social media sites using various mobile apps. The visits from these apps will not have a reliable referrer information. So UTM parameters can be quite useful.
It’s highly recommended to use UTM parameters in your social media campaigns.
10. How Do I Add a UTM Code to Google Analytics?
You don’t really add any UTM code to Google Analytics.
As mentioned earlier, all you need to do is add UTM codes to your URLs and use them in your marketing campaigns. Google Analytics script on your website will automatically add those UTM codes to your reports.
Bonus: How To Build and Manage UTM URLs?
Knowing all the issues around using UTM parameters is only the first step.
Building and managing your UTM URLs is a whole other ball game. If you are serious about your UTM strategy, you need good tools for yourself and your team.
I’m biased, but Terminus UTM URL Builder is built for robust UTM tracking. Helping you make your UTM conventions part of your URL builder is just one such feature.
If you haven’t already, signup for a free 21-day trial and see it for yourself. There are zero risks. Cancel anytime.