How well do you know your UTM conventions?

UTMs (or Urchin Tracking Modules in case you were interested), allow us to see more detail in Google Analytics (GA) about how the user came to a site than GA provides by default.

Appending a URL with these additional pieces of information allows you to populate additional dimension in GA to better analyse the traffic’s performance.

Key pieces of information to specify are:


The source of the traffic – almost always the site it has come from, like Bing, Google, Linkedin etc


The type of traffic from this source – such as organic, social, referral or CPC (paid).


For paid traffic, to further distinguish and identify different campaigns.

But you can add many more, such as ‘creative’ for display activity, for example.

UTMs have two distinct purposes

The first is to tell GA what is the same about this campaign, so that you can aggregate data together based on any of the parameters. The second tells GA what is different about this campaign, so that you can split out and identify particular activity.

Things to bear in mind:

  • GA takes them all absolutely literally which means you have to be logical and consistent in their use in order that they group together when you want them to and don’t group together when you don’t want them to.
  • They are case sensitive so will not group ‘google / cpc’ together with ‘google / CPC’ or ‘google / Cpc’
  • Equally if you do not identify your activity uniquely enough (or fail to add UTM parameters at all) then it will group it all together and you cannot pick out the individual campaign performance.

GA also uses a set of rules associated with the Source and Medium of the traffic in order to group traffic into its default channels. If you don’t correctly apply UTMs to match these rules, then you run the risk of either your traffic being miscategorised into the wrong channel, or grouped into the dreaded “(other)” channel!

For more info from Google on the default channel rules – see here.

Taking the time before your start to work out a consistent naming convention that works for your business as well as Google Analytics is well worth it in order to avoid having to work around these issues forevermore afterwards.

When no convention is followed

Let’s take a look an example of what happens when no convention is followed – as a cautionary tale…

So looking at this example, how do you go about answering a simple question – How is the traffic from Facebook Ads performing?

For the lines which have been separated because of case sensitivity, sure you can add the total traffic together, but how about when it comes to calculated metrics such as bounce and exit rate? Manually calculating these every time is the reality of working around disaggregated data.  

However worse than this is that you cannot back-date changes to your UTMs to fix historical issues. The missing information where the medium either wasn’t tagged at all,  or only marked as social, is gone forever – you cannot go back and find that out. The only option is to make assumptions about it, or miss out on reporting on this data entirely.

The more consistently and correctly you apply UTM parameters to your marketing traffic, the more useful and valuable the insights you can derive from it are.  If you are ready to spend money on digital marketing, you must also be ready to report on the outcome of that spend, so using UTMs correctly is a must for all digital marketers and the businesses they serve.

To talk to us about UTM conventions, or to find out more about Croud, get in touch.

by Lucy Pharo
28 March 2019



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