Adding UTM tracking codes to website links is a great way to bolster the capabilities of Google Analytics, shore up data gaps, and better understand your visitors.
The potential challenge lies in the execution.
The Dangers of Using UTM Codes Improperly
Plenty of well-meaning marketers rush to implement UTM tracking codes, only to end up muddling their data by accident. Simple mistakes, many of which are made time and time again, lead to:
- Lots of frustration
- Wasted time and money
- A poorer understanding of the people you’d like to become customers
The marketers who make these mistakes would have been better off not adding UTM codes at all. Why? Because poorly-executed tracking codes lead to inaccurate and cumbersome data.
That becomes a problem when you rely on it to make business decisions. With a distorted view of the situation, you find yourself investing in certain marketing channels under the (false) assumption that they’re performing much better than they really are. Or abandoning efforts that were paying off.
Spotting – and Avoiding – the Most Common UTM Pitfalls
Proper UTM tagging makes up for Google Analytics’ shortcomings by offering a more complete picture of the situation – one that you can use to make better business decisions.
Achieving this means avoiding the pitfalls that so many marketers fall into. Once you identify the most common mistakes, it’s easier to avoid them yourself.
Here are six of the most common UTM parameter mistakes:
1. Using UTM Tracking When You Shouldn’t
UTM codes help Google Analytics fill in the gaps when their referral feature doesn’t track where a visitor comes from. It’s a great way to get a more complete picture of the data… but only in certain situations.
One of the most dangerous situations is when a marketer decides to add UTM codes to an internal link on their website. This is counterproductive because: 1) Google Analytics already tracks visitor activity as they navigate your site, and 2) it erases the information regarding the original traffic source which brought the visitor to your site.
Say a visitor follows a link you posted on Twitter to your new blog article. While reading it, they click on an internal link to a product landing page. If the landing page link contains UTM codes, you’ll lose the information about where the visitor initially came from: Twitter.
The ideal situation to use UTM tracking codes is when you share website links elsewhere, including:
- Email clients
- Links in documents (PDF, MS Word, Powerpoint, etc.)
- Mobile apps
- Social media platforms
Adding UTM codes there offers you more information than you would have otherwise. But there’s absolutely no need to add tracking codes to internal links on your website!
2. Failing to Shorten Long, Messy URLs
I built an example URL to give you an idea of what a typical URL with tracking codes might look like:
Not exactly neat and clean, right?
It’s important to include all of those parameters to get the most comprehensive view of your visitor data possible. But stringing them all together into a long URL is problematic for a few reasons:
- Aesthetics. Long, messy URLs aren’t nearly as pleasing to the eye as short, clean URLs.
- Create suspicion and distrust. Consider how a visitor might feel when they hover on a link, on the verge of clicking it, only to find what looks like a never-ending string of strange characters. To the untrained eye, they might look more like malware than a legitimate website.
One of the best way to beat this is to use a link shortener to clean up unwieldy UTM tracking codes. You can use programs like:
- Wistia’s Fresh URL
- The Terminus built-in link shortener.
Short, clean links look nicer; they don’t require a leap of faith for a visitor to click on them. Even better: the Terminus link shortener allows you to create branded short URLs, so your visitors can instantly recognize that the link belongs to you and is legitimate.
3. Confusing Medium and Source Parameters
Of all the UTM parameters, medium and source are some of the most confusing. Some marketers think they’re interchangeable. Others have the meaning completely reversed in their minds.
The easiest way to think about it is this:
- Medium. How the visitor came to your website.
- Source. Where the visitor came from to get your website.
That might not sound like an important distinction, but it’s crucial. Google Analytics supports a variety of options for the medium (email, social, cpc, etc.) Source is open-ended, leaving it up to you to define as you see fit. Our free UTM best practices email course goes into more detail about these issues, so be sure to check it out if you haven’t already.
Let’s say someone ended up on your landing page after following a link you posted on Twitter. It’s easy to assume that the medium and source would be the same thing: “twitter.” But Twitter doesn’t fall under one of the acceptable UTM medium parameters; the best choice there would be “social.”
Because you have more flexibility with source, you could get more specific by labeling it as “twitter.”
Avoid redundancies here. Just remember that medium describes how the visitor came, and source gives you the opportunity to get more specific about exactly where they came from.
4. Failing to Use the Campaign Parameter Effectively
The campaign parameter gives you complete flexibility to analyze our marketing efforts by the specific business objective you’re trying to achieve.
Unfortunately, many of us aren’t using this parameter effectively. By sticking with generic labels, we make it impossible to: 1) remember which campaign we were talking about when we assess the data later on, and 2) compare it with other campaigns.
utm_campaign=email_29 might make all the sense in the world when you create the link. But it becomes hard to remember what you meant months – or years – down the road. And something like utm_campaign=email is way too general to be of any use.
Take a moment with every link and determine what business objective you are trying to accomplish. Trying to get someone to buy your new product a few weeks after launch? You could name your campaign utm_campaign=spring_2017_launch. Sending out this week’s email newsletter? Why not call it utm_campaign=weekly-2017_02_12 so it’s easy to reference and compare with other weeks.
5. A Lack of Consistency Regarding Spelling, Capitalization, and Naming Conventions
UTM tracking codes are extremely useful, but they are picky. The slightest variation in spelling or capitalization can completely ruin your data.
“Email” and “email” might be the same to you. But Google Analytics doesn’t interpret them that way. If you mix up your parameters and use “email” and “Email” interchangeably, you’ll end up with multiple segments of data instead of a single figure.
These minor errors make it much harder to interpret and compare data. Instead of having a single figure to analyze, you’re forced to check in multiple locations and add up the information for an accurate interpretation of what’s happening.
The issue can get even worse if you’re working with a marketing team. You might end up with numerous variations for every parameter, diluting your data to the point of it becoming useless.
Consistency is paramount. Decide on naming conventions up front, and make sure everyone involved has access to the same document. Better yet: try the Terminus URL building tools to create multiple URLs, use presets to populate common settings, and collaborate with your team.
6. Creating New Campaign Names for Every Different Medium and Source
In addition to naming campaigns improperly, some marketers miss the larger picture.
Most of us use multiple marketing channels – blog posts, email, social media, etc. – to accomplish our various business objectives. But when it’s time to define UTM parameters, we treat each link as if they’re a discrete entity without connection to any other.
Let’s say you’re trying to convince customers to buy a new product shortly after launch. You’re using social media and email marketing in a joint effort to do this. A common mistake is to define new campaigns for every new source and medium (Twitter launch, Facebook launch, Email launch, etc.)
The solution: create a single campaign and use that parameter across all the marketing channels involved. This gives you a true perspective on how each piece of the campaign works together – instead of just piecemeal insights into how different efforts perform in isolation. You can still use UTM medium and UTM source to identify which specific channel visitors are coming from.
More and more of our marketing today is a multi-channel, integrated effort. Our UTM tracking codes – and the insights we gain from them – should reflect that.
Using UTM tracking codes might seem intimidating at first glance, but it doesn’t need to be.
An awareness of the most common mistakes will help make it that much easier to navigate the learning curve and make the most of precious visitor data. There’s no better time to start than now.
What do you think is the most dangerous UTM tracking code mistake people make? Why? Have you made it yourself? Leave a comment below and share your experience!