The core part of digital marketing for any serious company is analytics. Indeed, it is crucial to understand which advertising channels, campaigns and creatives make business money, and which just generate impressions. In order to transfer data about advertising campaigns to the analytics system, UTM tags should be used. This is the easiest and most accessible way to transfer information about advertising campaigns and ads to Google Analytics.
What are UTM tags?
The operating logic of UTM tags is very simple. You just add a tail with variables and parameters to a regular external link.
Variables are the values that are entered before the “=” signs. Roughly speaking, these are the fields that you need to fill out so that the analytics system understands where the user came from to the website.
Parameters are the values that are entered after the “=” signs. They contain information about an advertising campaign or other data allowing to identify the source of traffic.
The classic five variables in a UTM tag are as follows:
● utm_source — campaign source, the channel from which the user came;
● utm_medium — traffic type, additional information about the source;
● utm_campaign — data about the name of the advertising campaign;
● utm_content — link content, often containing ad or banner titles;
● utm_term — additional information about the transition to the website.
The first three variables should be used as a minimum, the rest are optional. You can add your own variables, but not all analytics systems recognize them correctly.
Parsing of a UTM tag and all its components
Let’s say you drive traffic to example.com from Facebook. With tags, the link will look like this:
utm_source=fb means that the traffic source is Facebook. If you are planning to use other advertising systems, then you can apply the parameters of google, tiktok, etc. utm_medium=cpc means that the traffic type is cpc (cost per click), paid traffic with pay per click. The traffic type does not have to be paid – it can be:
● transitions from email newsletters – then set the email parameter,
● link in a post on a social network – then set the post parameter, etc.
utm_campaign is the data about the name of our advertising campaign. For example, we can use the promo parameter for all promotional campaigns or apply more specific parameters. For an advertising campaign on March 8, enter 8march, for the New Year – ny2022. This data will show that traffic is related to this marketing activity.
utm_content is responsible for the visual content of the creative. Typically, this part of the tag describes the content of the advertising banner. Let’s say our banner shows the author of the article on a white horse. Then we can use the tag like this: utm_content=knight_on_a_white_horse.
utm_term contains additional information about the transition to the website. Most often, it includes a keyword or another characteristic that for various reasons was not included in the previous tag.
Static and dynamic tag parameters: when and which ones are best to use
Tag parameters are globally of two types:
What was in the examples above are static parameters. You come up with and enter them yourself. If you are planning a small number of advertising campaigns and creatives, for example, three to five campaigns, each with the same number of ads, then static tags are quite suitable. If a large campaign structure is planned, then it is better to use dynamic tags. Their essence is that the advertising systems themselves enter the necessary data into them – you just design the template. To coordinate tags internally, tables should be applied. Each specialist specifies the tags he/she is planning to use therein.
The absence of a unified logic in tags will lead to the fact that the same channel will be described in a report with a bunch of different tags – this will greatly complicate project analytics. The syntax for static tags is entirely up to you. For example, if you want to describe an advertising campaign aimed at selling a new iPhone, in which you will use a green banner, you can name the parameter utm_campaign=iphone14 or iph14promo, and the utm_content parameter greenbanner or zeleniykreativ. You can show your imagination, but it is essential not to get confused in the tags and use them consistently so that the whole team tags all the traffic according to the same logic.
For dynamic tags, the syntax is strict and is described in the help of each advertising system.
Syntax of UTM tags
Let’s create UTM tags for an advertising campaign for an online men’s clothing store, and along the way we’ll explain what and how to do.
Here are the campaign details:
● landing page – https://brandclothes.ru/winter_sale;
● we launch advertising on Google search (advertising system – Google Ads);
● the name of the campaign is “Winter Coat Sale”;
● we create 2 ads for the campaign;
● keywords: “men’s winter coats”, “men’s coats sale”.
Let’s create UTM tag step by step.
The first step is to assign a value to each tag. To do this, enter the name of the tag itself, an equal sign (“=”), and then the parameter value.
There are two important points here:
1. We start with the mandatory tags.
2. We build the mandatory tags according to the principle “from general to specific” – first the highest level parameter (source), then the type of advertising, campaign, ad and keyword.
We assign values to the tags:
● utm_source=google — here we can specify any other value, the main thing is that later on it is clear that the traffic came specifically from Google search. For example, you can specify the value google-search. Please note that if you use two or more words in a parameter value, connect them using a hyphen or underscore. If you leave a space between words, the link will be incorrect.
● utm_medium=search — using this value we specify what type of advertising is used in the campaign (search one).
● utm_campaign=muzhskie-palto — the name of the campaign that we specified in Google Ads.
● utm_content=ad1 — with this parameter we can track which of the two ads is more effective. The previous tags will be the same for both ads, and in the utm_content tag we point to a specific ad. Accordingly, the value for the second ad will be utm_content=ad2).
● utm_term=zimnie-muzhskie-palto — specify the keyword. Please note that for UTM tags to work correctly, it is better to use the Latin alphabet. To do this, transliterate Russian words (manually or using special services).
So, we have all the elements that will make up the tagged link ready. Now let’s put it together step by step.
1. Specify the URL of the landing page (to which we will drive traffic): https://brandclothes.ru/winter_sale
2. Add a question mark at the end of the URL:
3. Place the first UTM tag:
4. Remember, GET parameters should be connected by an ampersand. So, we put an ampersand:
5. Next, place the second tag: https://brandclothes.ru/winter_sale?utm_source=google&utm_medium=search
6. Place an ampersand again, then the third tag, etc. Don’t put an ampersand after the last tag.
For the first ad we got the following link:
The link for the second ad will look almost identical. Only the values of the last two parameters differ – utm_term and utm_content:
If you only run ads on Google and only use Google Analytics, you can place your tags in any order. Google recognizes them regardless of which tag you have at the beginning and which one at the end.
Three methods to create tags
All of them are simple and accessible, each has its own pros and cons.
Method 1: Add tags manually
This is the most accessible, but not the most convenient way. You can add tags to links, for example, through Google Sheets or an Excel spreadsheet, as in the example in the previous section. Of course, no one will forbid you to abandon the tables as well, but this way you increase the risk of making a mistake due to which logically identical tags will differ in various campaigns.
Method 2. Automatically add tags in the advertising account
This function is available in almost any advertising system.
Independent formation of the tag tail. Or you can manually add a tag to each link at the initial stage of creating an ad. This can be done in the “Link Tags” section – you need to select the “Do not add tags” radio button.
Method 3. Use online tag generators
A Google search will reveal a dozen, or even more, such generators – all free. You will also soon be able to use the UTM tag generator from AdHeart.
Why do we need UTM tags?
It is necessary to use UTM tags in all advertising campaigns, because the purpose of advertising is not just to show creatives to the audience, but to achieve business and marketing goals. For this purpose you need to analyze the traffic, see which ads make business money.
Tags should highlight each advertising channel, campaign and creative in the analytics system. De facto, dealing with tags is a mandatory hard skill for every specialist working with traffic: from an SMM specialist and targetologist to a marketer and strategist.
Three recommendations for working with tags
1. Tags are case sensitive. Fb, FB and fb are different tags, and the analytics system counts them separately. I recommend entering all tags in lowercase (small) letters.
2. Use only Latin characters. Yes, technically you can use the Cyrillic alphabet, but its characters will be encoded, and in the analytics system they may not be read correctly, simply clogging the report with incomprehensible characters.
3. Among symbols, use only underscores, hyphens and vertical bars: “_”, “-”, “|”. Do not use spaces, quotation marks, or technical characters such as the ampersand “&” or question mark. This will definitely break the logic of the tags.