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The WHY and the HOW of UTM Codes for SEO

 4/22/2021 12:00:00 AM
Views: 16,214
10 Minutes, 16 Second
 Written By John Marx
Tags:Google Analytics, Google Analytics, SEO, SEO

The WHY and the HOW of UTM Codes for SEO

History of UTM Codes

UTM codes stand for Urchin Tracking Monitor and was created by Urchin Software in 2002. Their purpose was to give marketers insight into the marketing campaigns they were running to show if there was a good return on investment (ROI) of a given marketing campaign. UTM codes quickly grew in popularity after Urchin Software was acquired by Google for use in Google Analytics and later in Google Ads (formally Google AdWords).

With the use of UTM codes you are able to truly see where your marketing dollars spent are working. This change is huge to a business used to the old marketing of spending money, having employees ask where they heard of X, and hoping that information gets relayed for marketing purposes. With UTM codes you can have some pretty accurate methods of how people are reaching you. They also can be used beyond just paid ads to see what links are helping you grow your business. We’re going to not only dig into what UTM codes are but how you can use them and how to create them (easily with tools from Google).

Why Use UTM Codes

If you care about marketing and knowing if you are getting a return on your investment (ROI) then you need to be using UTM codes! If you don't care about your money or tracking what works/doesn't work then don't use UTM codes. It truly is that simple. It takes work to do but the work done can create some truly great results to help you grow your business.

With so many channels for marketing from search engines, to other websites, to social media the question of who is coming to your website is only one of the key questions to ask.  Yes, it’s good people are coming. It’s even better if they convert and become customers (that’s what we all want). It’s also good to know where they are coming from so that you know if your organic campaigns or paid campaigns are performing the best for you. You may find that your organic campaigns are performing better than your paid marketing campaigns. This is where UTM codes come into play and help you make sound, educated, and informed decisions to grow your business.

UTM codes are simple parameters you add to your website URL (e.g. https://www.businessyeti.com is an untouched URL). An example of a longer URL would be https://www.businessyeti.com/?utm_source=Facebook&utm_medium=cpc&utm_campaign= Plan+Services+July&utm_term=Valparaiso+web+design&utm_content=bluelink. To generate this UTM URL we went to Google who gives you this magical “secret sauce” or “pixie dust” for you. After a while you may find that you can create this information without the tool. We use the tool as it makes certain we don't miss a step. They want you to use it as they know, like all good companies, that knowledge is power and the more knowledge you have the more you will use marketing (and they hope Google Ads).

A quick few notes about UTM codes

  • Note 1: In the creation process you will notice after the .com and slash (/) that there is a question mark (?). This is the start of the parameters. If you already have parameters in your URL you will need to add the UTM codes after your parameters and not use a ? but a ampersand (&).
  • Note 2Wherever you need a “space” you should use a + sign. For example, to use running shoes you would type in running+shoes.
  • You don’t have to use all of the parameters. The more you use the more granular and accurate your information will be. You do not have to use all of them. We strongly recommend you use enough to get you actionable results.
  • Note 3: As with any marketing campaign consistency is the key. Take the time and create a structure that works well for your business and communicate that to everyone that needs to know.
  • As an example: https://www.businessyeti.com/?utm_source=LinkedIn would be the minimum you would have as it gives you the source, in this example, as LinkedIn. For any of the values you don’t have to use “real names”. You can use items where it applies to internal systems. As an example, you could use source as ABC123 instead of Facebook. The key is making it so that it works with your business processes.

UTM Code breakdown

Campaign Source

Our example: utm_source=Facebook

The source is where the information is coming from. This is often Google, Facebook, LinkedIn, Newsletter, Twitter, website, etc. This lets you know at a high level where everything is coming from.

Campaign Medium

Our example: utm_medium=cpc

How is this being used. CPC stands for cost-per-click. The other used command is email. You can use whatever you want but remember to have some consistency. We often use the following mediums when we are marketing:

  • blog - A blog article
  • advertisement - An advertisement
  • cpc – Cost per Click
  • email – For regular email
  • external - An external website
  • magazine – For your ads running in magazine sites
  • newsletter – For newsletter campaigns
  • newspaper – For ads running on a newspaper site
  • newssource – For ad campaigns running on a news source
  • video – For links we include in videos

Note 1: Although we have mediums such as magazine and newspaper you do not want to have a user type in these URL’s. You use these on links people would click, not type in.

Note 2: When having a link in a newspaper, magazine, etc. that someone would type use a URL Shortener (more on this later) so that your visitors don't have a long URL to type.

Campaign Name

Our example: urm_campaign=Plan+Services+July

What is the name of the campaign. If you are running ads for specific services or products this is what you will use.

Campaign Term

Our example: utm_term=Valparaiso+web+design

The term is the keyword phrase that you are using for a specific URL. If you are running the same ad for multiple keyword phrases you should have different URL’s for each of the phrases.

Campaign Content

Our example: utm_content=bluelink

Often when you run a campaign you will do what is called A/B testing. With A/B testing you break it into sub-categories (or campaigns). This allows you to have bluelink, redlink, or textlink if you were running three campaigns. The first with a blue button, then a red button, and one that just had a text link. By doing A/B testing you can see what is truly working and what isn’t working.

Often in a newsletter we will use all the same information and change the utm_content to match the link in the newsletter. Rather than using the same URL for every link we will use utm_content=link1, utm_content=link2, etc. where link1 or link2 are descriptive to where they are within the newsletter.

Note: A great way of using the campaign content parameter is to include the post ID or page name that you are using if you are linking to a blog.

Why UTM codes matter

Whether you are marketing the business yourself or someone is doing it for you when it comes push to shove you are a marketer. Marketers need to know what is driving traffic to your site. You need the data to prove it and that data needs to be as accurate and understandable as possible.

UTM code tips and tricks (Take these tips to HEART and HOME!)

  • Even if you have no desire to use UTM codes today the sooner you start using them the sooner you will have the results available for use. This means that if a year from now you want to start using them you will already have some reporting information available to you. 
  • Keep it simple! Don’t over think and don’t under think. Have just the amount of information you need to be successful.
  • Establish naming conventions prior to beginning
  • If you want to track a UTM that is long in an “physical” billboard, magazine, or newspaper use a URL shortener like https://goo.gl/ or https://bitly.com/. They will make the URL shorter while giving you the ability to track in real-world scenarios. Using a URL shortener correctly you can later change the URL for a different campaign and re-using an existing short URL.
  • Use UTM codes wherever you can. Places I use them are in my email signature so that I know it is coming from my signature. Taking it a step forward you can break it down by employee as well to know where that information comes from. You can also use it as part of a referral process to know that someone is sharing you URL.
  • All too often we see companies that do Google Ads, Bing Ads, Facebook campaigns without thinking. This is like cooking spaghetti, throwing it at the wall and seeing what sticks. This is the worst thing any business can do. I hate to say this but when you have no plan the only thing you have "planned for" is to FAIL. Take an extra week (or two) and create a plan. This covers where to market, what the objectives are, what is "success", how you will adjust to things not working (e.g. how are you going to adapt -- being agile). 
  •  The next is after you start your campaign that you do not change it or adapt (e.g. agile above).Digital technology will either help you succeed or help you waste your money. Going the old way of I build it and they will come is certain failure for your business. Whether you do print or digital you cannot do a long "thinking process". You need to be prepared, well thought out, and move. Don't sit on your ass waiting to make certain it is "perfect". If it is print you do need to take more time as once it's printed it can't be changed. Digital can. Digital is also cheaper when done correctly.

UTM Code Generator

Google has created a UTM code generator and it's entirely free. This Google campaign builder can be found at https://ga-dev-tools.appspot.com/campaign-url-builder/. This takes all the work out of generating your UTM code and makes certain that it complies with all of the UTM code standards.

URL Shorteners

Imagine having a URL that is super long like the one below:


This URL on a newspaper or magazine ad/article is just insanely long and asking for someone to mistype or even just say it's not worth their time. Now with a URL shortener like bit.ly you can take that same URL and change it to:


If you're like me, and most people, the second one is a lot more palatable to type. You do have to type it "Exact" but it's still a lot easier to type in.

Google Analytics

Now that you're sold on the use of UTM codes you need to be able to pull some reports to find out how they are performing for you. This is where you're Google Analytics account comes into play.

Note: If you don't have a Google Analytics account you will want to create one (they're free!!!!) and add the Google Analytics code to your website.

Once logged into your Google Analytics account you will click on Acquisition, expand All Traffic, and then click on Source/Medium to see where your visitors are coming from. Your UTM code items will show up here along with any other source. In our example, we have the source as Blog and the medium as Email. The information doesn't appear in real-time but normally will appear within 30 minutes of the link being clicked. Often it is faster but don't expect real-time results.


Any marketing campaign you do whether it be print or digital should use UTM codes so that you can gauge the effectiveness and return of your marketing campaign. Often it is good to use everywhere that you want to track the success of a campaign.