A UTM primer

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Do you know where all your traffic is coming from? Sure, you know a percentage is from social media, but which platform? Which article? If you are using paid ads, which campaigns are sending the most traffic, and which ones are the most profitable? It turns out a lot of these answers can be found by implementing UTM parameters.

What are UTM parameters?
Google’s Urchin Tracking Modules (UTMs) help publishers keep track of where your traffic is coming from.

From a technology perspective, UTM parameters are just URL query string parameters. They˜re not implemented any differently in the query string. The difference is that Google Analytics[1] standardized on and supports UTM parameters by default. This means that if you use UTM parameters, Google Analytics automatically tracks them and allows reporting by these dimensions.

Here is an example of what UTM parameters look like in a URL:


Like any normal query string parameter, they appear after the question mark ?, and they start with their name, followed by an equal sign, and the value for the parameter.

There are five different UTM parameters available: utm_source, utm_medium, utm_campaign, utm_term, and utm_content.

There are differing opinions on the intended use for each UTM parameter, but the general practice is:

UTM Parameter Description Examples
utm_source Specifies the search engine or traffic source. utm_source=newsletter
utm_medium Specifies the medium or method of the traffic, like Cost Per Click (CPC), social, email, etc. utm_medium=email
utm_campaign If you are tracking paid traffic,  this parameter specifies campaign name. If unpaid, it specifies some natural descriptor or group name of traffic. utm_campaign=holiday-specials
utm_term For paid traffic, this parameter identifies any keywords that matched on your ads. utm_term=decorations
utm_content Use this for additional details regarding the ad’s content or placement on the page. For example, if ad placement is being A/B tested at the top and bottom of a page. This parameter can also be used to identify the ad creative[7] used for paid traffic, like putting in human readable text instead of relying on a cryptic Google creativeid. utm_content=top-nav

How do you make UTM parameters?
If you only need to make a few URLs with UTM parameters, Google’s URL builder tool makes it incredibly simple to create.If you want to track many different values for parameters (for instance if you had a lot of social media campaigns running), then it is often more efficient to use a spreadsheet to concatenate columns together to build the URLs. It is good practice to ensure that the auto-generated URLs are tested before they are released into the wild; a typo like a missing & could mean UTMs are not tracked properly, and that can be very¦ disappointing once things are live.

How does Freestar work with UTM parameters?
Freestar recognizes that as a publisher[8] with lots of traffic, you live and breathe in data. Data tells you what you need to keep doing well from a marketing/traffic point of view, and what is simply not working. For this reason, Freestar’s Analytics solution supports the five standard UTM parameters. UTM parameter reporting can be combined with virtually any of the (over 30) dimensions and metrics in our system, including viewability[5], key values, and Session RPM.

Many of our clients own multiple sites and do cross-promotion between their sites via house ads. If you use UTM parameters in the destination URL for the house ads, Freestar Analytics shows you exactly how many users are engaging with the house ads. Furthermore, it also details how these users behave once they’ve browsed to the new site, and how much ad revenue is generated from the cross-site promotion.

Our clients also use social marketing, like Facebook and Twitter, to drive more users to their site by appending UTM parameters to your posts, you are able to see precisely how much revenue was realized as a result of each specific social post.

Freestar handles UTM parameters by remembering them for the entire length of the user’s session, so ad impressions surfaced on subsequent pages are still attributed back to the original UTM parameters.

What should you avoid when using UTM parameters?

  1. Tagging internal links. We do not recommend using UTM parameters for internal links. For example, a website owner might want to track clicks on specific links on a specific page. While possible, there are potential complications that could affect reporting. For example, if the user came to the website initially with one set of UTM Parameters, and then another is added later on in the same session, which one takes precedence? Or does double counting start happening with parameters at that point? It can get messy either way.Freestar addresses this potential issue with something we call page segments (no, not your CPU memory page segments). Keep an eye out for our upcoming blog post on Page Segments.
  2. Using both upper and lower case characters for the same value. Some systems are case sensitive. Others are not. We recommend using only lowercase characters (uppercase characters just looking like a lot of YELLING), to ensure systems don’t treat the same parameter values differently.

UTM parameters can provide an extensive amount of data regarding where your users are coming from, and surface a lot of insights into how marketing and site growth strategies are performing. Freestar Analytics track and report on UTM parameters seamlessly, another way we are empowering digital publishers and maximizing revenue.

1. Google Analytics. This is Google’s traffic tracking and analytics tool that gives publishers insight into traffic origins, popular pages on their website and much more.
2. Accelerated Mobile Pages [AMP] ( amp ) Accelerated Mobile Pages is a project supported by Google to provide web publishers with a way to serve web page very quickly for mobile devices.
3. Cost Per Mille/Thousand [CPM] ( cpm ) Cost per mille, or thousand (mille = thousand in Latin). A pricing model in which advertisers pay for every 1000 impressions of their advertisement served. This is the standard basic pricing model for online advertising. See also CPC and CPA.
4. Cost Per Click [CPC] ( cpc ) Cost per click. A payment model in which advertisers pay each time a user clicks on their advertisement.
5. viewability. Viewability relates to the amount of time a user saw an ad.

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