UTM Parameter Best Practices

by Robert Palumbo

What are UTM Parameters?

UTM parameters are identifiers that digital marketers can add to URLS to enable tracking for traffic sources, website visitors and attributing and modeling important events like conversions or sales. UTM parameters are typically used in digital campaign URLs to label the marketing channel and campaign that refers users to a website.

Marketers routinely use simple, spreadsheet-based, or automated UTM builder tools, like Google's Campaign URL Builder tool, to define and label the relevant UTM parameters to the appropriate URLs.

Why does Consistent UTM Tagging Matter?

UTM tagging is an important consideration to ensure data cleanliness and a reliable foundation for deeper analytics and modelling, like the Media Mix Modelling product at OutPoint. An inconsistent UTM tagging framework can significantly impact model and analytics results if they are not correctly adjusted.

In our experience building growth models across various businesses and industries, the largest source of incomplete and inconsistent data comes from mislabelled UTM parameters. A lack of consistency in UTM tagging makes it challenging to map ad spend to conversions and revenues.

Additionally, we strongly encourage adding UTMs to your campaigns if you are not already using UTM parameters. Recent privacy regulations, including ATT from Apple (iOS 14+), limit the ability of "out of the box" pixel reporting from ad platforms like Facebook, so a consistent UTM tracking framework can help reduce some blind spots.

There are five parameters you can add to your URLs. Each parameter must pair with a value that you assign. Each parameter-value pair then contains campaign-related information. Below is a qualitative framework for UTM tagging best practices:

  • utm_source: Label the ad platform that is sending traffic to your website, for example: google, facebook
  • utm_medium: Label the advertising or marketing medium or placement, for example: search, email, video
  • utm_campaign: Label the individual campaign name, for example: prospecting_productx, retargeting_producty
  • utm_term: Label ad groups, keywords or ad sets, for example: life_insurance_canada
  • utm_content: Label creative names, for example: bluesky1, bluesky2

Important notes:

  • UTMs are case-sensitive. Facebook   facebook   FaceBook
  • Data organization is essential to get a clean picture of performance. If you make a mistake with parameters, such as putting the utm_source under utm_term, it is challenging to fix historical data retroactively.

Consistency is Key

UTM parameters should be consistent between different platforms. Inconsistent naming can result in missing or unclean data, significantly impacting the analytics and modelling process.

Another issue comes from renaming UTM parameters mid-flight during a campaign. If this occurs, any conversions attributed to the old campaign name will stay the same, and we could see a set of conversions that belong to one campaign but are attributed to two or more campaigns. Thus, any renaming actions should be logged to adjust the attribution during data processing to ensure all relevant data is included during modelling.

Setting UTM Parameters in Facebook

Facebook Dynamic Parameters

Facebook recognizes the importance of UTM parameters in your ads and has added automated tooling to help ensure you set up consistent UTMs.

In Facebook, UTM parameters are set at the ad level. Here is how it works:

1) Go to Facebook Ads Manager. You can edit or create a campaign, go to the Ad level, then create a new ad or select an existing one.

2) Scroll down to destination and then click Build a URL Parameter

url destination

3) Enter the UTM parameters and URL you want to track:

url parameter

To ensure consistency, Facebook offers Dynamic Parameters that benefit from auto-populating values based on the information you already set, rather than having you type them out manually.

For example, if you want to auto-populate your campaign name for the utm_campaign parameter in order to track a particular campaign, you would click the box next to “Campaign Name” and select the option. At OutPoint, consistent utm_campaign naming is one of the essential UTM parameters for effective campaign-level modeling.

Setting UTM Parameters in Google Ads

Setting consistent UTM parameters in Google Adwords is even easier than Facebook's tooling. For Google Analytics or other data tools to report details about UTM content from your Google Ads campaigns, you must do one of the following:

  • Enable auto-tagging. Auto-tagging automatically imports Google Ads data into your back-end Analytics tooling. Auto-tagging is the recommended approach and ensures that you capture the most consistent Google Ads data.
  • Manually tag all your Google URLs with tracking variables. It would help if you did this when you want to have a specific custom UTM parameter setup and ensure consistency across all channels.

Conclusion

By adding consistent UTM parameters to the ad platform campaign URLs, your brand can track information about those campaigns' overall efficacy and understand which campaigns are more effective.

At OutPoint, we will typically use UTM-based click attribution as a starting point for modeling. However, click-based attribution often only tells part of the story and may suffer from some biases when trying to understand the economic lift of various media. Instead, our models rely on inferred "cause and effect" lift vs. click-based attribution alone. OutPoint's media mix modeling (MMM) product can capture the value of economic lift from less-attributable media such as Influencers, TV, and Radio, which do not always provide impression or click data at a per-user level.

While MMM as a general methodology does not require granular UTM click data, OutPoint's models will in many cases incorporate first & last click data as an input for improving modelled inference around cause and effect, in addition to indirect lifts like brand lift or email lift. You can learn more about how OutPoint works here.

Your cart
    Checkout