What is a UTM Parameter?

A UTM parameter is a "piece of history" about a user. It lets you know where they came from before they got to your website. So if you know where users are coming from you also know which sources are driving traffic. Furthermore, if you know what sources are driving traffic you know which sources are driving the most results. 

What you probably searched for was "What is a UTM parameter?", but that really doesn't help you. See an example of a UTM below. Are you satisfied? Probably not! So the rest of this guide is dedicated to helping you understand why UTMs are so useful to marketers and analysts. 


Let's use a real-world example as an analogy to demonstrate why UTM's can be so effective as a tool in your marketing and analytics arsenal. In this example, we will use a lemonade stand. Our fictional lemonade stand is run by Lenny. This isn't Lenny's first time on the block so he has invested in his small business to drive more results. 

Lenny isn't just waiting for people to drive by in his subdivision. He has invested a few different marketing channels:

  • Local newspaper - $125
  • Posted Signs and Flyers - $50
  • Neighborhood Booklet - $100

Lenny had a successful week making $1,000 in revenue whereas other kids in nearby neighborhoods are only making $50 or $100 per week because they don't market the way Lenny does. However, for Lenny, this isn't enough. His goal is $2,000 per week because he has big plans. So he realizes that his marketing channels are driving more foot traffic, but he isn't sure which ones are working. 

This poses his main dilemma for further investment; which channel(s) should I continue to re-invest in? Lenny doesn't know which customers saw the newspaper ad, the flyers or his neighborhood booklet ad. Lenny is to busy making lemonade for his customers to spend the time to ask how they found about his lemonade stand. If only he knew where these customers came from then he could be more effective with his marketing budget. 

In the world of digital marketing this exactly why we use UTM parameters. So we can always attribute success to a specific source.

how to Structure UTM Parameters

By now you should know that UTM's are a mechanism for parsing traffic sources. We use different parameters within a UTM link to differentiate the details of where a user came from. For example, if we look at different parameters available for the UTM framework it looks like this:

  • Campaign Source - The high-level referrer. (Social, SEM, Affiliate, etc.)
  • Campaign Medium - The specific marketing channel the link lives in.
  • Campaign Name - The associated name, initiative, product or promotion.
  • Campaign Term - The specific detailed term for search engine marketing or you can use this as a general extra detail.
  • Campaign Content - Another specific detailed parameter to differentiate even further if necessary. 
The best strategy when it comes to structuring your UTM parameters is to treat them as levels of hierarchy. This will allow you to aggregate up and also drill down on the specifics of your performance.

Hierarchy Level 1 - Source

Let's say you wanted to quickly pull a report on how well your overall marketing spend was performing. How would you do that? Well, if you use your UTM's consistently and properly you should be able to pull a quick source report in Google Analytics or your tool of choice to see:


Hierarchy Level 2 - Medium

Now you see that the highest performing source for your marketing sources is social media. Then you want to ask the next question of, well which specific mediums within social are driving these results? Now you can click on the social media source and pull a medium report. You then realize that over the past several months all this effort you dedicated on your team to Twitter hasn't been successful within your social media strategy and somehow Pinterest has exploded. 

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Hierarchy Level 3 - Campaign Name

Naturally after seeing Pinterest is the main driver in traffic for your social media growth you want to dig deeper and find out specifically what is it in Pinterest that we posted that is driving these big results. At this point, you can run a campaign report on Social Media as the source and Pinterest as the medium. In this case, you notice that the spring infographic sale was a big hit and went viral on Pinterest for your audience. This drove a lot of traffic to your website. 

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Hierarchy Level 4 - Term

For our Pinterest Infographic example, there are no further levels of the hierarchy being tracked so the term and the content levels are left empty. However, if you had a Google Adwords campaign running and you wanted to track and drill into the keyword level this would be a great avenue for you to do so with. That is just one example though. Any campaign you run that needs more detail can be populated under the term parameter. 

Hierarchy Level 5 - Content

The content parameter is another parameter that a lot of people don't use. It is definitely optional however just like the term parameter if there is ever a time where you need to add more clarity or another level of the hierarchy to your campaign you can use the content parameter to do so. I'll share one example that has worked well in the past for various marketers. 

One way to use this parameter is to serve up other meta properties about what your users were interacting with before they found you so you can aggregate performance at a more abstract level. So let's say you were running a big marketing initiative on the topic of a new set of features that were launching within your product. Let's say these features included these fictitious names - "Planner", "Budget Master", "ROI Insights", etc. Now your marketing initiative was across multiple sources, mediums and specific campaigns. Each one of these parameters was focusing on one feature at a time as the main value proposition and you wanted to see specifically which feature that was being marketed regardless of the source, channel, or campaign was the feature that was driving traffic. Using the content parameter you could easily do this.

To your surprise after running hundreds of test campaigns across your various mediums and sources you have found that the main feature that users are coming in for when marketed is the ROI Insights. This can help your business get a better understanding in a methodical way of understanding what value in particular your potenital ciustomers are looking for is. 


How to Build UTM Parameters and Free UTM Tool Builder

GrowthHop offers a UTM tool builder located here that you can download for free to help you systematically structure your UTMs and keep track of them. Follow the steps below to create your UTM links.

Step 1 - Define which sources you'd like to track. 

Step 2 - Define which mediums you'd like to track.

Step 3 - Define which campaigns you plan on running or creating.

Step 4 - Define any additional terms or content parameters you'd like to track.

Step 5 - Go to the content organizer tab and select from the drop-down list you have created to populate your UTM links and you are done!

How to Setup Naming Conventions for UTM Parameters

Most people ask what should I specifically label my UTM's as? The answer to this question may surprise you because the answer is there isn't one best way to structure your UTM's! The most important principle you need to understand is consistency. These parameters (source, medium, etc.) are general catch-all recommendations. The most important thing is how consistent and clear is your UTM structure. As long as you consistently use the right naming conventions that you have previously defined as your protocols and keep track of the UTM's you create you will be in good shape.