UTM Tracking Parameters, Part 1: Tracking Parameter Concepts Tutorial

3.2 Introduction

Hi, this is John Marshall. I'm one of the co-founders of Market Motive, and I want to welcome you to this video lesson in which we're going to explore the intricacies of UTM tracking parameters as used in Google Analytics specifically. The concept here applies to any web analytics tool. Web analytics tools in one form or another need to be able to track campaigns and they use tracking parameters sometimes called Campaign Tags in order to do that. And the examples that we're going to give here are specific to Google Analytics. But the principle of course applies in any tool, whatever you happen to be using.

3.3 Overview of Tracking Parameters

So let's start out with a little overview. What are UTM tracking parameters? They are simply a way for the Analytics tool to categorize where clicks are coming from when they come from a source outside the website. So you have people that are coming to your website, they're coming from all kinds of different places, they're coming from search, and they're coming from display ads, and they're coming from affiliate programs, and maybe just links from other sites. Social media, all these different things. The Analytics tool needs a way to categorize all of those clicks coming from those different sources and display it to the marketer so that the marketer knows where the traffic is coming from and you know, how much it costs and all of these wonderful things and these metrics that we get from our Analytics tool. And the prime way that the Analytics tool is able to do that is via these tracking parameters. And it's the tracking parameters which result in the kind of report that you're looking at right here, where we can see where the different sources are. And which one is the most popular. And which one's got the best conversion rate, and so on and so forth. So, the strict definition, UTM tracking parameters, is that it identifies an incoming click from a campaign. There are situations that we'll explore here where you've got traffic coming from other sources and sometimes those sources are not open to you to use UTM tracking parameters because you don't control the the URL in question. So, broadly speaking it's going to be from campaigns where you are deliberately undertaking certain efforts to get people to come to your website. A very important detail here, I'm going to be a little bit pedantic. If you spend any amount of time in online marketing and talking about this stuff, then pretty much everybody is going to say, oh, did you tag that URL. Oh, let's go and diagnose those tags in the URL. And, hey, I'm not sure about the URL tagging that we need to be doing on this new campaign. This kind of stuff comes up all the time. Strictly speaking, this thing that we put into the URL is not a tag, it's a parameter or it's an argument. And I apologize for everybody, I kind of can't shed my developer past here and I can't really call it a tag even though I know that lots of other people do. So in this discussion, I'm going to call it a parameter or an argument. And I recognize that most people call it a tag. I just don't do that, apologies. So another detail here with the UTM tracking parameters, all tracking parameters in general, this applies to any analytics tool you're using. Is going to allow you to attribute a conversion back to the campaign source. And that's really the essence of what happens here. Or when you get a sale, you're going to see, and we all know this, we've looked at this in the reports, who delivered that original click. And it is the tracking parameters in that original URL that will dictate who gets credit for that original click. And that happens whether the conversion takes place within the same session click, and very quickly they buy. Or if it's what we call a latent conversion, where time passes, several days or weeks, before the conversion happens. In both cases, it is the way that the parameters are set out in the URL that's going to dictate on that original click, that's going to dictate which campaign gets credit for that sale. And the prime reason to use tracking parameters is that it gives you very precise control over the categorization that takes place within your marketing. And that's sort of good and bad. It gives you this level of control that you really can use for good or for evil. You can end up creating a very nice elegant categorization of your marketing clicks. Makes it very easy for anybody to see why stuff is happening. Or you can create a huge mess for yourself. And I hope at the end of this video that we've given you enough tips to a nice elegant method for tracking the stuff and you don't end up with a huge mess. There's certainly more confusion around these tracking parameters than I think is really justified.

3.4 Example of Ad with Parameters

Let's take a look at what happens if I search, if I then click into the results. So the search, I'm choosing here to use Bing, just to mix things up a little bit. Obviously, I could go to Google, I could do this, and that would be all good stuff. But rather than do Google for both the search engine and then looking at the UTM tracking parameters in Google Analytics, I'll use the example of Bing just to prove that this UTM tracking stuff is important no matter where you'ree running your ads. So here we are, we do a search on Bing for coffee and I'm going to click on that second listing. So I click on my listing and what I would actually get in the browser is something as you see at the bottom of the screen, folgerscoffee.com, http://www.folgerscoffee.com, right? That's the beginning of the URL, and then we get this utm_source= blah medium-term campaign. Some other stuff going on in there, with some wacky percent signs, and then finally ID, there's a thing called PID, Bing_coffee. So what's going on here? This is very typical for one of these tracking URLs. It looks long and ugly and unwieldy and frankly a little bit scary and technical. Let's not get too worked up over it, let's just break apart the URL. And by the way, the referrer in this case would be bing.com/search?q=coffee. You'll see why in a moment or two why we want to mention what happens with the referrer, because that's going to play into how some of the other reports work. But just bear in mind that there is a referrer, and we've got the landing page URL with the tracking parameters.

3.5 Anatomy of URL with Parameters

So let's take a look at what comprises that URL and how the whole thing gets used. You've got the beginning part of the URL, which is going to be http://, or that might be https. And then you've got the domain name, www.folgerscoffee.com. Following that, you've got the page which, in this case, is just slash. We're going to the home page, the root page. So there's no other page in there or directory, it's just slash, and then you've got a question mark. Everything up to the slash is the page. The question mark then separates the page from the parameters to the page. So then you can see in orange we have a breakdown of the parameters. Just to make it easier to understand we've separated each parameter. We've removed the URL encoding. We've also removed the ampersand character that would separate each of these within the URL. Now, you can very clearly see that we've just got four parameters. Those parameters are going to get passed into GA, Google Analytics. It's going to understand those four parameters and its going to do it's special tricks with those, and we'll cover that in a second. There's often other things in the URL. It could be other parameters. It could be things that are special to the content management system. There's often a whole load of other stuff in the URL which you can ignore. Google Analytics is going to ignore it. You can't remove it from the URL. When you build your URLs you can't pull that stuff out, because then perhaps the website won't know which page you actually want to have viewed here. But just understand that there's other stuff in the URL which is neither going to help your tracking nor hinder your tracking. We'll just leave it alone. So that's what our parameters look like. Now, there's one exception to this UTM tracking stuff for Google Analytics. There's an exception to all of this, which is the case when you are using Google AdWords, and you have auto-tagging enabled. You typically need to tag or add parameters to all of your landing page URLs. As you know, the exception to that is when you're using anything in Google AdWords. And here, we can see a little representation of the admin screen for Google AdWords, and here's the auto-tagging option enabled. When that is enabled, AdWords does this with its URLs. Instead of giving us that utm_source, utm_medium and all that stuff, it instead dynamically injects one parameter which is gclid, and that is for Google click ID. And that gclid parameter will identify the campaign source that will later be used by Google Analytics. All right, so that's an exception, and that's great news. It means that for AdWords, if you're doing your analysis in Google Analytics you don't need to do any of this tagging stuff. It all happens automatically. In fact, you probably don't want to do this tagging stuff. As an important point, if you're using AdWords auto tagging, and you've got gclid appearing automatically in your URLs, then don't start doing UTM source and so on as well. It will make things a confused mess.

3.6 How GA Categorizes Traffic

[00:00:00] Okay, so how does GA actually use those different variables which appear in the URL? It follows a very straightforward mechanism to categorize them, and we're showing here one particular version of the GA user interface. This categorization stuff here is in constant flux, it changes every couple of months, so this is really just a guideline for you. [00:00:24] This is broadly speaking how it does this stuff. Probably you'll find that there are other categories in there like more fine grained ways of identifying social media and so on. Everything here still applies to that, these are just general guidelines for how GA works here. So, if there is no referrer or a blank referrer and you saw the example of the referrer earlier on and there are no utm_parameters, and no gclid. [00:00:51] In other words, we've got nothing in the referrer, and the destination URL contains no identifying parameters, then GA categorizes that as direct. And that can be a fairly big chunk of traffic. Every time somebody just wacks in the URL straight into the browser they're going to have this situation. [00:01:11] Or perhaps if the campaign tagging is not set up correctly because you got no utm_parameters, you'll see later on how that happens, you can end up with this blank referral situation. And that becomes categorized in GA as direct. Referrals is where the referrer is not a search engine and again there are no utm_parameters or no gclid. [00:01:36] And that's going to be anything that is a click from another website that is not search where there's no tracking parameters. So a good example of that would be if you get an article in the New York Times. It talks about your company, New York Times provides a link to your website. [00:01:55] That link is not going to have utm_parameters and it's not going to have gclid because you don't control the URL. You can't go to the New York Times and say hey, please add these tracking parameters to it. And it's also not a search engine, newyorktimes.com is not a search engine. [00:02:08] That's going to be a referral. The flip side of that is when it is a search engine, but there's no utm_parameters, no gclid, that's going to show up as organic search. And the good example of that is going to be just straightforward Bing or Google. Not clicking on a paid ad, but on one of the organic search listings. [00:02:28] There's going to be no utm_parameters in there, no gclid, it's going to show up in organic. Finally we've got page size, this obviously the flip side where you do have gclid, in fact this is going to be specific here to Google. You've got gclid, of course it's a search engine it's google.com, that's going to show up as page search. And then the last category is everything that has utm_parameters that is not one of those. So campaigns is everything with utm_parameters that is not a search engine. And that means campaigns is a pretty big category and its got a sophisticated set of subcategories which is all dependent on you and how you're going to put the stuff in there.

3.7 GA Documentation

The documentation for Google Analytics says that each of the sources is as follows. Each of the different parameters you can use should be used as follows. This is straight from the official Google Analytics documentation, you have five parameters. Any one of which you can use and each one you should use in different situations. We're going to cover this in more detail as to which ones you should use and why. But suffice to say that there are five parameters, they are very well defined by Google, you always want to use them in the defined way, and you do not have to use all five. In fact, you very rarely should use all five. I think that's a little detail that people often forget that, because you've got five parameters, that doesn't mean to say that you always want to use them. You can create a mess for yourself by insisting that you always use five of these things.

3.8 Best Practices for Parameters

Best practices, you want to put in only the level of detail that you need and no more. So, skip parameters, feel free to do so. It's super important that you are consistent, especially upper and lowercase. I'll give you examples as to why this creates a mess, in a little while, but it is very important that you are consistent and upper and lowercase, getting the spelling consistent within the names that you use, maintaining a meaningful list of how you're using stuff. Make sure that you train people in your company, other people in the marketing department, to be diligent about this, it is super important. If you create a campaign and you populate clicks from that campaign with mixed upper/lower case, you can never go back and fix it. Once you've got data incorrect NGA it is there forever. So it is very important that you are paying attention to this stuff when you build your URLs, rather than whence they're out there in the wild, because it's too late by that point. The order that the parameters appear on the URL doesn't matter, and leave the other parameters in the URL alone. There's often other parameters which are used by the content management system. Don't monkey with them, you risk breaking the page.

3.9 Thank You

So with that, I hope I have demystified Google Analytics URL tracking parameters. Thank you.

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