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What’s a UTM parameter, and why should I use one?

What’s a UTM parameter, and why should I use one?

UTM. It sounds like a clinical condition, doesn’t it? In some ways, it can be. But the truth is, using UTMs as part of your social media marketing campaign ensures things run smoothly. 

In the social media world, UTM stands for Urchin Tracking Module. Originally developed by the Urchin Software Corporation, it was eventually sold to Google in 2005. Today, we know it as an important data tracking tool within Google Analytics. 

“Simply put, UTM parameters are five tags you can add to the end of the URLs of your marketing or promotional efforts,” explains Marjorie Munroe. “When your appended URL is then visited, it allows analytics software to track information, such as how visitors are coming to your site and if they’re interacting with any content associated with a campaign.”

Adding a UTM tag doesn’t change your content. Instead, it allows the analytics tool to identify and interpret basic information about those who visit your post. 

At the end of the URL, a UTM looks something like this: 

/?utm_source=twitter&utm_medium=post&utm_campaign=daily-post

This is the pathway the URL uses to direct your data to the intended campaign target source. And you can name the campaign anything you need to easily identify your content. 

If you want a stronger, more influential online marketing presence, using UTM parameters provides strategic answers to common social media traffic mysteries. Here’s how: 

Who is your audience? 

This encounter is the basis of how the UTM functions. It answers the question of who clicked on the tagged URL and then sends that information to Google Analytics for tracking. This tool is a great indicator with just a few limitations. For example, you only have one chance to track user behavior. “If they leave the page you’ve attached the UTM to, it will stop tracking them,” explains Megan Ross, director of SEO and analytics at Osmond Marketing. “UTMs are only good for one page. You’d have to add additional UTMs to keep tracking people once they leave the page.” 

It’s also affected by human nature. Studies show that 82 percent of users share content by copying the URL and pasting it somewhere else. So it’s likely your content that was tagged for Facebook, for example, can be shared on LinkedIn or tweeted without your knowledge. 

“UTM parameters are stubborn entities that stick to your links, even when you switch to different networks and mediums,” says marketing expert Neil Patel. “That means if a visitor picked your link (tagged with a UTM) from Twitter to share on Facebook, it would still count as a share from Twitter.”

Once you recognize those limits, UTM parameters offer strategic data about your target audience. 

 

Which source is connecting best with your target audience? 

By creating a unique UTM for each social channel, Google Analytics can track the pattern of that tagged URL. For example, here’s how the UTM would look if you were tracking for Facebook: 

/?utm_source=facebook&utm_medium=post&utm_campaign=certs

 

What content is creating the most traffic? 

To better identify what topics are attracting users, you can name the UTM campaign. For example, if we want to track content that shared information about obtaining licenses and certifications, we can add a related title to the UTM. Let’s look at our example again: 

/?utm_source=facebook&utm_medium=post&utm_campaign=certs

Although this isn’t required, adding specific campaign names is an easy way to track what topics perform best with your target audience. Sounds like the perfect strategy, right?

It’s true that using UTM parameters to track your social traffic offers fantastic benefits to better understand your audience. But UTMs are merely indicators. And it’s important to recognize the limitations of this tool that may affect the true performance of your content.

UTM parameters are easy to use and remain an ideal indicator of how your content connects with your target audience, the social platforms they access, and the topics they like to read about.