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What Is URL Tagging & How Do I Do It?

Showing ROI on your digital marketing efforts is key to any marketing campaign, but often times, marketers have a hard time tracking this data and properly analyzing its overall performance. Sure, Google Analytics is a great way to analyze your traffic at a high level, but you can take this data a level deeper to quickly zero in on specific pieces of marketing materials and assets to see their performance and engagement. One way to do this is to leverage UTM tagging for links in your marketing efforts.

What Is UTM Tagging?

UTM tagging is a custom query parameter you can use to append any URL on your website or marketing materials. The value of using UTM tags is that it allows you to control attribution within Google Analytics (GA). In other words, you can better define what specific marketing channels drove specific sources of traffic and subsequently conversions.

Here’s an example of a UTM tag for our own website.

What the above link is saying is that the source of the traffic is "mailchimp", the medium is "email" and the campaign is "newsletter". This will make more sense later on but this is how it appears under your source / medium acquisition reports in GA.

How Does UTM Tagging Work?

A UTM tag has five variables that the entire parameter defines. Those include:

  • Source
  • Medium
  • Campaign
  • Content
  • Keyword or Term

Source and Medium are required tags and Campaign is highly suggested. Content and Keyword are used to provide added context to a link, whether that’s identifying a specific link on a page (in the case there’s multiple) or a keyword from a paid search ad.

Within GA, when you navigate to the Acquisition > All Traffic > Channels report, your primary dimension display is called a “default channel grouping.” Default channel groupings are rule based groupings of your traffic, primarily defined by your UTM medium. For example, Organic Search traffic is defined by medium = organic. You can find the definitions to each channel on Google’s Support Site.

You should consider what defines each of these channels before you start tagging links to your website. Choosing to use the lowercase “email” versus the uppercase “Email” as your medium has a big effect on how your traffic is defined. You may also find that you need to modify the default channel grouping definitions or even create your own. These can all be modified in GA’s Admin panel under your view.

What Is The Benefit Of UTM Tagging?

GA does a great job on its own identifying sources of traffic like organic, social, and paid search efforts on Google Ads and Bing Ads.

GA is traditionally not good at attributing traffic to email marketing efforts and many other non-search paid channels such as programmatic marketing. In most cases, this traffic is characterized as direct / none or “Direct” when looking at the default channel grouping. The obvious reason why this is not beneficial is that you will not be able to determine any ROI of your marketing efforts. Even worse, you may choose to discontinue certain marketing channels even though they could be driving your revenue.

Another channel where GA falls short is social media. If you’re running paid social ads, as well as putting out organic posts, GA will be unable to tell the difference. Instead, both sources, in the case of Facebook will show up as / referral.

There are many more benefits to UTM tagging but the above examples are the most common. The more marketing channels and advertising you’re running, the more robust your UTM strategy needs to be.

How Do I UTM Tag?

UTM tagging is easy. We’ve outlined common tips in the next section but for creating the tags themselves, Google provides a great URL Builder tool in which you enter your URL and respective variables.

Tips For UTM Tagging

  • Consistency is key: Inconsistent tagging will cause many headaches when it’s time to report on your success. Capitalization, use of spaces and aligning variables to the same parameter will greatly impact your tagging efforts.
  • Keep track of your tags: Use a Google sheet to track all past, present and future tags make it easy for knowing what to look for in your reports and helps support our first tip of consistency.
  • Tag all URLs: Putting an initial effort into identifying all links will pay off when it’s time to review the results. Some commonly overlooked links include social posts (separate for paid and organic), email signatures, header links in email newsletters, 3rd party advertising channels, etc. As long as you’re using auto-tagging in Google Ads and Bing Ads, you shouldn’t have to worry about those links. Same goes for organic listings on Google and Bing.

Following the above tips will help you better keep track of your marketing efforts and how they are resulting in terms of engagement and conversions. It’s important that you stay consistent and double check your tags so that data is being properly allocated in Google Analytics to help you make stronger marketing decisions.

As a Google Certified digital marketing agency, we're always here to answer questions you may have regarding your Google Analytics implementation. Feel free to shoot us a message, and one of our Google Analytics Certified experts will be in touch to help you out. Happy tagging!

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About the author

Dan Kipp

Dan Kipp is the Google Analytics and Google Tag Manager guru at Marcel Digital. He loves traveling, cooking, sports, and spending spare time with friends and family.

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