It’s a common practice for marketers to utilize UTM parameters for tracking visitors. It provides an easy way to define additional information about a particular website visitor, all by adding a few parameters to a link.
In this article, we’ll discuss what UTM parameters are and how they should (and should not) be used.
What is a UTM Parameter?
Urchin Tracking Module (UTM) parameters are a specific set of URL parameters that marketers can use for tracking their campaigns. By utilizing UTM parameters, a marketing team can track their campaigns across multiple different traffic sources, purely based on the URL that was visited.
For example, let’s take a look at the following URL:
In the example above, a visitor clicking on the link will be taken to https://example.com/my-page as usual, but analytics tools will gain useful information about where the visitor has come from.
The 5 standard UTM parameters are the following:
- utm_source: The most basic and only required UTM parameter. It determines where the visitor came from. (Examples: Twitter, newsletter, example.com, some_custom_place, etc.)
- utm_medium: The type of content that the visitor is coming from. (Examples: social, email, cpc, etc.)
- utm_campaign: The marketing campaign or promotion that was used. (Examples: summer_sale_2020, black_friday, holiday_newsletter, etc.)
- utm_term: This parameter is less commonly used, but can be useful to identify search terms that brought a visitor to a particular page.
- utm_content: Allows you to drill down to a specific element on the source site that was clicked. (Examples: banner_ad, inline_link, footer_widget, etc.)
How to Use UTM Parameters
When a UTM parameter is passed in a URL, many analytics tools will automatically make use of it and associate the traffic with the values in the URL. From there, it just gets processed like usual.
If you’re using an analytics tool that supports UTM parameters, such as Google Analytics or Adobe Analytics, all you’ll need to do is append UTM parameters to your URL. Since these tools operate on the client side, everything is handled inside the visitor’s browser. This means that aside from embedding the standard analytics snippet, no server-side changes are necessary.
Avoid Using UTM Parameters Server-Side
You might be thinking “could I display different content on my site using UTM parameters and kill 2 birds with 1 stone?”. Although you could, you shouldn’t. Doing so can be problematic.
The biggest reason why you should never user UTM parameters on the server side is because it can have adverse effects on page caching.
A good practice (and one used at Pagely) is to strip the parameters out when determining if a page should be served from cache. This means that regardless of what UTM parameters are set in the URL (or even at all), the page is treated the same. Since analytics tools like Google Analytics run on the client side, the UTM parameters are still properly attributing the traffic.
For more information on how UTM variables are cached, see our UTM Variables and Caching article.