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UTM Parameters: Definition, Importance In SEO & Best Practices

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UTM parameters are a key part of gathering data in modern marketing campaigns.

Doing well in search engine optimization has never been more important, but without data, it’s hard to know you’re making the right choice.

Here’s everything you should know about UTM parameters, including what they are and how to use them.

An Overview of UTM Parameters

UTM parameters are helpful, but what are they, and how do they work?

What Is a UTM Parameter?

Urchin Tracking Module parameters are five specific bits of code that you can add to URLs to help track the performance of online marketing campaigns.

The name comes from a discontinued predecessor to Google Analytics called Urchin, and its name has remained the same ever since.

Difference Between a UTM Parameter and a Pixel

A pixel tracks a particular action or event on a website, such as visiting a page or completing a form.

A UTM parameter mainly tracks visitors arriving at your website from different sources.

Most people use both when improving their SEO for WordPress sites and other websites on the internet.

How Does a UTM Parameter Work?

UTM parameters record up to five pieces of information across different categories that you can use to track the source of a marketing campaign

For example, if you’re doing some marketing on Twitter, you would put Twitter as the Source UTM.

What Is the Purpose of a UTM Parameter?

The purpose of UTM parameters is to help measure the effectiveness of marketing campaigns that bring people to websites.

This measurement allows you to judge things like which campaigns are most profitable.

Over time, using this information can help you refine your marketing tactics and significantly improve advertising performance.

Different Types of UTM Parameters

There are five types of UTM parameters.

You can add other trackers to URLs if you want, but these are the main five that let you track links with Google Analytics and similar software. Source, Medium, and Campaign are universal and required by Google Analytics, while Content and Term are optional.

1. utm_source

The Source parameter indicates the specific website that’s getting you this traffic.

Sources can include blogs, social media, search engines, news sites, and similar places on the internet.

2. utm_medium

The Medium parameter explains the type of advertising you’re getting.

Mediums can be things like paid links on social networks, email, or organic link copying.

3. utm_campaign

The Campaign parameter lets you give a specific name to the advertising campaign.

Campaign is arguably the most essential parameter, as it lets you identify promotions, people, or events.

The Campaign UTM is what lets you tell the difference between older and newer content, too.

4. utm_content

The Content parameter lets you track different ads within the same campaign.

For example, you may have banner ads, video ads, and text ads running on the same site, so this lets you record them and tell the difference in what people are clicking on.

5. utm_term

The Term parameter allows you to track keywords and phrases you may want to record.

For example, if you’re placing paid ads for a keyword, you can track that with this parameter.

Example of a UTM Parameter

Putting these together, we can see how they perform in a campaign.

For example, you might create the following as a link for Twitter advertising.

In this URL, we see that it’s a paid video advertisement placed on Twitter, focusing on SEO as part of a Christmas marketing campaign.

Do UTM Parameters Affect SEO?

UTM parameters indirectly affect SEO.

They don’t improve search rankings by themselves, but they do provide information that can help you improve marketing performance.

Data is the heart of marketing, so if you’re trying to decide how to improve SEO on your site, UTM parameters are a good starting point.

Why Are UTM Parameters Important for SEO and Revenue?

UTM parameters provide valuable information you can use to drive marketing decisions.

The ultimate goal of search engine optimization is in the name – it’s all about optimizing your website and your content for better performance.

As part of this, companies want to test different types of advertisements to see what resonates best with the audience.

Even half a percentage point of difference in marketing effectiveness could be a lot of revenue.

UTM parameters help track this to let you determine what’s performing well.

Is UTM Parameter Necessary?

Strictly speaking, no.

It’s possible to make ads without UTM parameters and run marketing campaigns without worrying about this.

However, Google Analytics likes seeing them because they provide a lot of valuable information.

These are a standard component of modern marketing campaigns, so while not required, you should use them anyway.

How Long Does It Take for UTM Parameters to Work?

UTM parameters start working as soon as users start clicking on your ads.

However, by definition, you can’t know the performance of a marketing campaign until it’s over.

Process of Setting up UTM Parameters

Setting up UTM parameters has two parts: defining your parameters, then adding them to your marketing campaigns.

vector graphic showing an illustration of UTM parameters on the screen of a computer

Process of Setting up UTM Parameters

Here are the steps for defining the parameters.

Step 1: Write Down Your Campaigns

Start by collecting information about the advertising campaigns you plan to run.

This includes what types of ads you’re making (banner, video, etc.), where you plan to put them, and what advertising campaigns they’re part of.

Record this information for each ad.

Step 2: Determine Which UTM Parameters To Use

Always use the Source, Medium, and Campaign parameters.

Google Analytics expects all three.

Content and Term are only relevant if you’re placing paid ads on other sites.

Step 3: Create a Standard Naming Convention

Having a naming convention for your parameters makes it easy to change things as necessary.

This is particularly relevant for your campaign names, as these can change more than any other parameter.

For example, you may add seasons, months, or years to a campaign name to help you track differences.

Step 4: Create Documentation

Once you have all of your information, create documentation for your company that defines your UTM parameters and specifies which to use for each campaign.

Write this so that someone who knows nothing about it can still do it correctly.

Having documentation available can help circumvent problems before they begin.

For example, if you get sick and can’t work for a few weeks, having instructions available will ensure there isn’t a gap in data gathering because your temporary replacement didn’t know to add the parameters.

How To Set Up UTM Parameters

Here’s what to know for setting up the parameters in each campaign.

Step 1: Define Your Ad

Once you create an ad, define it with UTM parameters according to the documentation you made in the previous section.

This includes applying the right campaign name, checking the source, and so on.

Step 2: Place Your Ad

Place your ad on the service you’re using for your marketing campaign.

The link placement could be through platforms like Google Ads or Facebook, but it could also be through submitting guest posts to blogs or any other advertising method that allows clicking.

Step 3: Verify Your URL

Make sure to double-check your URL before you post the ad.

If you’re using the wrong parameters for the ad, you could generate bad information about the campaign.

That defeats the purpose of gathering data, so it’s critical to avoid this.

Step 4: Collect Information

Once you’re done placing the ad, you can wait for the data to come in as the campaign runs.

Go ahead and work on other projects, but check back regularly to see how things are going.

Make sure to record this information after each project, adding any additional commentary that’s relevant to the campaign.

Over time, this will develop into a robust guide for your advertising.

UTM Parameters Best Practices

Here are some best practices to follow when creating and using UTM parameters.

1. Be Consistent

Follow a style guide for creating your UTM parameters.

Having any inconsistencies can throw off your data collection and make confusing results.

Keep everything lowercase (the codes are case-sensitive), use underscores instead of spaces, and keep things short.

That said, make sure your parameters are clear enough to understand.

If you use a name like campaign_3, that’s harder to interpret than spring_break_2021.

Companies tend to have many marketing campaigns over time, so having a consistently understandable way of naming things is critical to your overall performance.

2. Don’t Use UTM Parameters for Internal Links

UTM parameters are for ads coming to your site, but not for links between pages on your site.

Having these parameters on internal links can throw off your data collection.

Don’t worry: Google Analytics already does well at tracking information between pages on your site, so you don’t need the parameters there anyway.

3. Check Reports Regularly

While it’s tempting to wait a month or so before checking the results, errors happen when making UTM codes.

They’re far less prevalent when you have a style guide and stick to it, but assuming you’ll never make a mistake is unrealistic.

Checking reports regularly can help you catch errors early and stop them from distorting your data.

UTM Parameter Tools To Save Time and Money

Here are some tools for using UTM parameters more effectively.

What Is a UTM Parameter Tool?

UTM parameter tools are software and websites that either create parameters for you, track their performance in ad campaigns, or both.

Using a tool makes it easier to get the right parameters for every campaign.

Our Favorite UTM Parameters Tools

Here are three of our favorite tools.

1. Website Analytics Tools

Tools for website analytics cover a broad spectrum of software.

Google Analytics is one of the largest and most powerful, but frankly, it can be hard to use to its full potential without a lot of training. Information overload is a real problem.

Other software can simplify information from Google Analytics and display it in a more user-friendly way.

2. UTM Validator

A UTM validator can verify your links and make sure they’re working correctly.

Google Analytics demands precision, and since validating a link only takes seconds, it’s worth it to include this as part of your workflow for creating ads.

However, remember that UTM validators can only ensure the link itself works.

They do not check to see that you put the correct campaign, source, or medium, so you need to check that yourself when verifying the ad.

3. Campaign URL Builder

Using the same builder for all of your campaigns makes it even easier to be consistent.

Google’s URL builder is the best here, offering official integration and support.

Other Related SEO Terms To Know

Here are some other important terms to know about your WordPress SEO.

  • URL: A URL is the specific address of a website on the internet. UTM parameters work through links that take you from one URL to another.
  • Benchmarking: Benchmarking is a technique for comparing websites to each other. This can help you assess relative performance and look for areas to improve in.
  • A/B Testing: A/B testing is a process of sending users to different web pages to help find out which are more appealing to them. Consistent A/B testing is a key part of advanced SEO.

Frequently Asked Questions

Here are some common questions people have about UTM parameters.

Why are UTM parameters so valuable?

UTM parameters are valuable because they provide data that you can use to make decisions about future marketing options.

They can help you narrow down details like font choice, banner style, and user preferences to increase your conversion rate and return on investment.

Can I use numbers in UTM parameters?

Yes, you can use numbers in UTM parameters.

Many companies do this for their campaign names, either for a year (summer_2022) or a number in a sequence (video_campaign_4).

Wrapping Up

UTM parameters are theoretically optional, but if you’re serious about maximizing the performance of marketing campaigns, they’re an extraordinarily valuable tool.

While they have no immediate and obvious effect on campaigns, using the information they gather to make informed marketing decisions can ultimately have a huge impact on profits.

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