Data Collection

How to use the (UTM) Campaign URL Builder

The Campaign URL Builder for Google Analytics is a free tool. It lets you build URLs by appending certain parameters to your existing landing page URLs. In turn, this lets you track inbound traffic from marketing campaigns in Google Analytics on a detailed level. Ultimately, you’re better equipped to analyse the performance of campaigns. And you’re able to do so on a per marketing channel basis.

Let’s say you’re running a Winter 2016 Sale. You promote it on Facebook and in your email newsletter. By using the Campaign URL Builder, you’re able to track visits, behavior and conversions related to that campaign. And you’re able to examine it on marketing channel as well and see how the campaign is performing on Facebook vs. the newsletter.

Why you should use the Campaign URL Builder

Basically, you should use Campaign URLs whenever you’re actively driving traffic to your website from external sources. Now, ad platforms such as Adwords and DoubleClick Bid Manager will automatically create Campaign URLs for incoming traffic. But many other ad platforms will not.

So using Campaign URLs is important for campaign analysis. How will you analyse the performance and ROAS (Return On Ad Spend) if you’re unable to identify incoming traffic for your campaigns? Well, that’s what Campaign URLs let you do. They let you identify traffic and attribute it to certain campaigns and promotions. When you’re able to do that, it becomes possible and easier to segment and analyze the traffic.

In addition, you will also be able to analyze performance across different traffic mediums. So, if you’re Winter 2016 Sale campaign is promoted via affiliate networks, with a Facebook CPC campaign and on display banners bought on CPM, you’re able to analyze the performance by medium (i.e. affiliate vs. cpc vs. cpm).

What are UTM parameters?

UTM parameters are query parameters. It’s small strings of text that you append to your landing page URLs effectively creating a new link. The parameters contain information such as:

  1. source (e.g. Facebook, Google, Newsletter etc.)
  2. medium (the type of traffic; e.g. cpc, email, affiliate)
  3. campaign name (e.g. Winter 2016 Sale)

Whenever people click a link with UTM parameters and land on your site, Google Analytics recognizes those parameters and assigns them to the session.

Each parameter is called a UTM parameter because it’s prepended with “utm_”. (Well, it’s also called UTM because it’s short for Urchin Tracking Monitor – part of the original software, Google Analytics is based on). Let’s say you have a landing page:

http://example.com/landing-page/

Then a Campaign URL with UTM parameters will look like this:

http://example.com/landing-page/?utm_source=facebook&utm_medium=cpc&utm_campaign=Winter%202016%20Sale

Now, when people click that link, Google Analytics instantly translates the values in each UTM parameter to something readable in Google Analytics. In practice, you’re actively telling Google Analytics what values to use in the Source, Medium and Campaign dimensions. This means, that you can view those dimensions in your standard reports like so:

Campaign URL Builder: Report

How to create UTM links with the Campaign URL Builder

The Campaign URL Builder is really easy to use. It’s just a step-by-step form where you enter your campaign information. The most difficult thing is to know what to enter. Firstly, some fields are optional and should not always be used. Secondly, what you enter in some fields (specially in the Campaign Medium field) have a direct effect in the Channels report.

The tool itself looks like this:

Google Analytics Campaign URL Builder

Now, for some people, these fields might be self explanatory. You people don’t need to read this post. Everyone else, take a look at the following steps that outlines some best practices for Campaign URLs:

#1 Website URL

What landing page are you creating a link for? This should be the full URL of that landing page including the protocol (http or https), the domain name (example.com) and the page path (e.g. /landing-page/). Using our previous example, the value should be:

http://example.com/landing-page/

#2 Campaign Source

Where are you placing the link? In a newsletter? On a third-party website? The value of the campaign source should reflect where the traffic is coming from. This also means that you should create individual links for different sources. Even if it’s for the same campaign.

When you intend to place the link on a website, it’s good practice to simply enter the domain name; e.g. otherwebsite.com.

If the link is for a newsletter, there are a few things to consider. Firstly, if it’s your own newsletter, decide how to name it. Perhaps it’s sufficient to just enter newsletter. But in some cases, you might have different lists with different recipients. If that’s the case, consider using the list name as well.

Let’s say you have two different email subscriber lists: One list for existing customers, and another list for leads who have not previously bought anything from you. If creating a link for the first list, you could enter newsletter - existing customers and for the second you could enter newsletter - leads.

#3 Campaign Medium

While this field is optional, it’s great practice to fill it in. The medium describes the type of traffic coming from the link. So without this information, you’re not able to analyze the performance on medium type.

It’s important to know that the Google Analytics Channel report use the Medium to decide how traffic is categorized. But the Channel report only categorizes traffic in the predefined default channels using some specific rules. If Analytics fails to recognize the the medium, Analytics simply categorizes the traffic as Other.

As such, the best practice is to use medium values that follow the default channel groupings in Google Analytics. The table below shows what mediums are “valid” in order to let Google Analytics recognize and categorize the traffic correctly:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/UTM_parameters

Channel Valid medium values (case sensitive)
Social social
social-network
social-media
sm
social network
social media
Email email
Affiliates affiliate
Referral referral
Paid Search cpc
ppc
paidsearch
Other Advertising cpv
cpa
cpp
content-text
Display display
cpm
banner

One thing to note here: Notice how cpc as a medium is categorized as Paid Search traffic? Well, it’s not wrong as such since most paid search traffic (think Google Adwords) is cpc traffic. But so is a lot of other traffic. Take Facebook ads for instance; it’s very common to buy Facebook ads on a cpc basis. And this is exactly why you’ll often see Facebook as a Paid Search source in the Channel report (because the medium is set to cpc).

There are several ways to avoid that. Either create or edit the channel definitions in the Google Analytics interface. Or set the medium to something else. For Facebook ads, a valid medium would also be display, since most Facebook ads are in effect display ads.

#4 Campaign Name

The Campaign Name should describe your campaign/promotion. Most campaigns have a general theme such as “Spring Sale”, “Black Friday”, “20% off Everything” and so on. So the only thing you really need to remember is to make the name descriptive of the campaign.

Apart from that, include a year, month or week in the campaign name. This makes it easier to recognize the promotion when looking through your Analytics reports. It also ensures some kind of uniqueness to the campaign name in case you run the same campaign multiple times over time. And it’s easy to search for campaigns in Analytics that started in a specific year or month.

So a “Black Friday” campaign could be named 2016 11 Black Friday (meaning campaign started in November 2016). Likewise, a “20% off Everything” campaign could be named 2016 10 20% off Everything meaning the campaign started in October 2016.

#5 Campaign Term

The Campaign Term is only required if you’re creating a link for an ad in Paid Search. Now, Google Adwords uses something called auto-tagging. Auto-tagging does what it says: It sets all the UTM parameters automatically. However, in some cases you might need to disable auto-tagging. And in other cases, you’re doing paid search campaigns on other search engines (Bing, Yandex, Baidu etc.).

In those cases, you should fill in the Campaign Term with the actual keyword that you’re buying. So if user searches for “running shoes” and views your ad, then the campaign term should be running shoes.

#6 Campaign Content

The Campaign Content is mostly used for two different purposes. Either for A/B testing ads or for differentiating otherwise identical campaign links that point to the same link from different places.

For instance, you might have a display banner placed on a website that leads to a landing page. If you wanted to experiment with another call to action text in a duplicate of that banner, you would use the Campaign Content to differentiate the two banners. So in the original banner, your call to action text might read “Buy now” and in the second banner, the text might read “Check it out”.

In that case, you would create two identical campaign links, but differentiate the Campaign Content field. For the first banner, the Campaign Content would be Buy now, and for the second banner, the Campaign Content would be Check it out.

Another usage for Campaign Content is when sending out email newsletters. In newsletters, it’s common to have several different links pointing to the same page. For instance, you might have a clickable logo and text link in the header – both linking to your homepage. If you’d like to distinguish traffic from those two links from each other in Analytics, you’d use the Campaign Content parameter. For the logo, the value could be logo, and for the header link, the value could be text_header.

Start using the Campaign URL Builder

To get started with the Campaign URL Builder is easy. Just do it. The tool is free and using it will improve your data collection and your ability to analyze your traffic performance.

6 thoughts on “How to use the (UTM) Campaign URL Builder

  1. Hi Philipp,

    Great article. Not tracking campaigns is like driving without a map (or GPS nowadays).

    The Google Analytics URL Builder is useful but often I ended up with chaotic campaign reports in Google Analytics – especially when working with interns or in a team where everyone used various values for the UTM parameters. I created a simple free tool that fixes the issue simply by selecting given UTM values from a dropdown rather than entering them in a free text field. This enforces one to use and apply a strict naming resulting in a more clean and structured campaign report. You can check it out at http://www.linkdolphin.com.

    I would love to hear feedback and opinions whether it’s also useful for you and others …

    Thanks so much,

    Philip

    1. Hi Philip,

      Thanks, I appreciate the feedback.

      I often create this type of “UTM Builder” for my clients with custom fields for source, medium and campaign – and possibly more of the “advanced” settings.

      A couple of notes for Link Dolphin:

      – Try and add error messages on submit – I can enter URLs without protocol (http), but when submitting, nothing happens
      – For the source type “Website”, I usually prefer to use the domain name of the actual referring website. This lets me better evaluate incoming links
      – Consider replacing white spaces in the campaign name with plus signs (+) to keep spaces in GA reports as well
      – You’re showing possible medium types called “offline”, “tv” and “print” – but there are not really any source types for them – but I guess the “Other” option for source would be used then (but it’s not self explanatory

      Otherwise, great tool!

  2. Great article!! I didn’t quite understand #5 campaign term. A campaign would have more than 1 keyword, what do you do in this case?

    Thanks

    1. Hi Gary,

      Thanks for the feedback :)

      First, the Campaign Term is for paid search campaigns. Very often, you will not have to manually set utm parameters for paid search, since both Adwords and Bing Ads can do it for you – basically, they will grab the keyword automatically and set it.

      If you for some reason need to set it manually for a phrase search (e.g. “how to set utm parameters”, you should simply enter the whole phrase.

      I hope that answers the question?

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