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what are utm codes

What are UTM Codes?

Of the many advantages of digital marketing, the ability to clearly track a customer’s journey from start to finish is the most powerful. Wouldn’t it be great if you could apply this same functionality to all marketing campaigns?

Fortunately, Google has created a system based on UTM (Urchin Tracking Module) codes that allows you to track offline and online campaigns alike. So what are UTM codes? Well, here’s a quick primer on this important technology.

how to use utm codes

UTM Codes – A Definition

The simplest answer to “what are UTM codes” is that they are pieces of code that are placed at the end of a URL to track the campaign name, medium, and source. Using these codes, Google Analytics software can determine where traffic is coming from.

This can be set up by creating a URL with a UTM code and redirecting it to your main webpage. You can then create a unique UTM code for each type of offline marketing that you do. For instance, a lead from a newspaper ad will use a specific URL with a redirect to a UTM code that is tracking traffic for newspaper ads. This can be repeated for TV, radio, and any other offline marketing activity you’re engaged in.

How to Create UTM Codes

Now that we’ve answered “what are UTM codes”, let’s look at how you can go about making one. Here are the 2 common ways of creating UTM codes:

1. Manual Method

A UTM code can be created manually if you understand the structure of URL’s. Here is a sample UTM code:

utm codes

By taking a look at this UTM code you can figure out that it’s for a radio ad in Boston. You can use any keywords you’d like in the ad, but as a rule of thumb using relevant keywords makes tracking multiple campaigns easier.

The manual method of creating UTM codes is not recommended – it’s useful for testing purposes, but beyond that you should opt for the second method.

2. Google URL Builder

Using the Google URL builder you can create UTM codes quickly and in an organized fashion. In the “Website URL” field, type in the homepage of your marketing campaign. Then, enter the traffic source in the field bellow – all other fields are optional. However, to get organized you’re encouraged to make use of all fields in the URL builder.

Once all fields are filled, scroll down and you’ll see the URL. Copy it and use it in your campaigns — it’s that simple!

The Anatomy of UTM Codes

So now that we’ve answered “what are UTM codes” and “how do I make one”, we’ll look at what UTM codes do. You may have noticed that the UTM code is broken down into various parameters. Once you understand each parameter, you can understand the full UTM code just by looking at it.

Here are the 5 parameters you should be aware of:

  1. Utm_source: the traffic source of the code is identified using this tag.
  2. Utm_medium: this shows what medium the traffic came from.
  3. Utm_campaign: This parameter should have a date that allows you to easily distinguish between the campaigns. For example, radioadAPR2018 would indicate that the campaign belongs to a radio ad that was launched in April of 2018.
  4. Utm_content: this parameter is reserved for the specifics of the campaign. For example, if you are running a campaign with two different sales videos, then you can specify which video using this parameter.
  5. Utm_term: this parameter can be used to identify things like the keywords used to drive the traffic.

tips for how to use utm codes

Tips for Using UTM Codes

Use dashes for spaces: To be on the safe side, it’s a good idea to use a dash when creating a space between two words. Matt Cuts, a Google senior member, suggests this because of the way dashes are interpreted compared with underscores.

Avoid repetition: Try to avoid entering exactly the same information for more than one of the parameters. You need to be creative with your naming so that the tracking can be broken down into useful segments. The more defined your tracking is, the better you can determine the parts of the advertising that are positive ROI and the parts that are performing poorly.

Tags must be descriptive: The point of UTM codes is to track and organize the data. Ambiguous parameter names can be difficult to interpret down the line. This is especially true if several team members are working on the same project. Ask a team member to read your entire UTM code and see if they can figure out what specific marketing campaign it refers to. If they can figure it out, then it’s a good UTM code.

Only use applicable parameters: There is no need to use every parameter that’s available. You might be able to get away with just the first 3 if you are running a limited number of campaigns.

UTM codes for internal links are a bad idea: Once you get the hang of UTM codes you might get carried away and decide to use them for internal links. That’s counterproductive because you can lose valuable information, like the original traffic source the website visitor came from. Therefore, only use UTM codes with outbound content.

what is a utm code

How to Overcome Long UTM Codes

The URL length from UTM codes can be incredibly long and cumbersome. Here are 3 common solutions you could implement:

1. QR Codes

A lot of apps nowadays make use of QR codes that are like bar codes that direct the user to a particular URL. QR code generators like Kaywa can be used to provide mobile users a way of accessing a page that’s tracked using a UTM code without forcing them to type in the long URL.

2. Google Tool

There are a number of websites that can transform a long URL into a short one. You can make use of the Google tool to shorter the URL. This also allows you to use Google Analytics to track the number of clickthroughs that are generated. Using shorter URL’s is very useful in social media outlets that restrict the number of characters that can be used in a post.

3. Use Anchor Text

One of the simplest ways of hiding hideously long URL’s is to make use of anchor text — the clickable portion of a text hyperlink. It’s a good idea to use relevant keywords for the anchor text as this improves your website from an SEO perspective.


UTM codes are a highly useful tool for the modern marketer that can be implemented in a myriad of creative ways. The biggest problem that it solves is tacking offline marketing. However, it can be used for all facets of your online marketing campaign. So now when someone asks you “What are UTM codes?”, you’ll be able to tell them everything they need to know!

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