Rock Trembath

UTM Parameters: What they are and how to use them in Google Analytics (GA 4 )

Nearly 40 million sites use Google Analytics to measure their marketing. And while Google Analytics directly links to Google ads, you will need to track your other campaign channels via their built in utm parameter system.

This video provides a quick overview of utm tracking in GA4. Learn what it is, why it’s called that and how to use this tracking method for all your offsite campaign messaging.  

Video Transcript

[00:00:00] In this video, I’m going to show you how to track your campaign traffic using Google Analytics 4 via the UTM parameters. Now, if that sounds like a bunch of mumbo jumbo, keep watching and it won’t.

This video is an introduction to URL parameters and how to use them to track your campaigns in GA4. If you’re an intermediate or experienced marketer, this might not be new information for you.

What is campaign tracking?

When I say campaign tracking, I mean the ability to see where traffic is coming from and the subsequent actions users take after coming via that click or marketing channel. By doing a little planning before your campaign runs, you can easily see your traffic inside of the standard GA4 reports like these two campaigns right here, as well as build custom reports to see more detailed data about the traffic that came from your marketing efforts.

How to track campaigns with utm parameters

The easiest way to track the incoming traffic in GA4 is to use the built in [00:01:00] URL parameters. If you’re not familiar with coding or how webpages are served, a URL parameter may also be called a query parameter or a query string. It is text that is added to the end of your page URL that Google Analytics knows to interpret into your campaign reporting.

What is a Query Parameter?

Query parameters are common across many programming languages and are used by applications to pass data between pages or to other systems. Since you’ve already set up Google Analytics on your website, it is pre configured to accept data via UTM parameters that help it to track campaigns. Now you may be wondering why GA4 would use UTM as the parameter to track its campaigns.

Why are they called UTM parameters?

Google Analytics was originally based on a software purchased by Google in 2005 called Urchin. So the UTM is a hangover from that original software that’s become so widespread that they just left it as [00:02:00] is so as to not break anything in the tracking links that are already out there.

As an elder millennial, I remember when Google bought Urchin, and that means I’m old. So please take a minute to like this video and subscribe to my channel as I need an audience to share these old back in my day stories with.

Despite all of the technology that we have, this type of reporting is quite rudimentary, let’s quickly take a look at how this works. A user clicks a link to your website and it has UTM parameters appended to the URL. The web server responds and the page is loaded. Once the page is loaded, GA4 collects the UTM data from the page and sends it to the GA server. As I mentioned, Google is pre configured to understand what these terms mean and file them to reports that you can access within the interface.

Standard utm Parameters in GA 4

So let’s take a look at the standard UTM parameters that GA four accepts.

There’s the utm_id, [00:03:00] the utm_source, the utm_medium, which is a required field for the data to be processed. The utm_campaign, which should be a unique name for the marketing initiative. Now this can be as simple or as complicated as you want, and I will put together another video explaining some best practices for naming your campaigns.

You can also pass the source platform, so if you have a campaign going across Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, TikTok, etc. You can split the traffic within the overall campaign.

You can also include the keywords. So for search campaigns, you’re passing forward what the user typed in to get more insights on how that keyword performed with subsequent actions. You can also pass the utm_content, which gives you a place to give yourself some information about the ad that was clicked.

Now, it could describe the color of the button, the person in the photo, the text of the ad. These are all up to you to figure out and [00:04:00] define. Another option is to pass forward the ID of the ad so that you know exactly what creative drove the actions on your site.

Notice all of these parameters have an underscore connecting the words. And as a best practice, you do not want to have spaces in any of these parameters. So if your campaign name is my campaign name, use an underscore or a dash to connect the words so that you don’t run into issues with your URL rendering properly.

Using Google Ads with Google Analytics

It’s also worth noting that if you’re running Google Ads or YouTube Ads and you connect your Google Ads account to your GA4 account, these properties will automatically be passed. You can set your GA4 property to overwrite those automatic names, but I don’t recommend it.

This approach is best to use with non Google properties like social media or email, PR, etc. It’s also worth noting that you do [00:05:00] not want to use these parameters when linking within your website. So if I was on and I clicked the button and it went to rocktrembath slash about, I would not want to pass UTM parameters. I would use a different method to track if that button was clicked.

So as to not accidentally double count a single user.

Now, to pass this data, you do need to use the exact parameters, or it won’t work.

UTM Tracking Builder

To minimize the room for error Google has put together this tool that helps you build a campaign URL. You can also just Google “UTM URL Builder” When you arrive at the page, make sure that GA4 is selected on the toggle, as Universal Analytics is no longer supported. In the top field, you’ll put in the URL of your website, under source, you’ll put just that.

So let’s say I’m going to include this link in an email to my subscribers. So here, I would put [00:06:00] email. It could also be Google or Facebook. Really, it depends on where you’re sending the traffic from.

Under medium, I’m just going to put link. And under campaign name, I’ll call it Welcome Series 001, now if this was a search ad, I could put the term in here, or if it was a display ad, I might want to pass the keyword that triggered the ad to be shown, and as I mentioned before, the content could be the ID of the creative.

But since this is just a simple email link, I’m going to leave it with just those three values. Now to use it, I’m just going to scroll down to the bottom here and copy the link.

Shortening your UTM Link with

If you’re a bit. ly user, you can click here to shorten it and log into your bit. ly account and it will shorten your UTM ready link. Down at the bottom here, you have references as to how Google suggests you use each of these fields to track your campaigns.

Don’t forget to test your tracking links!

I always recommend just testing the URL that you’ve built to make [00:07:00] sure that it does not break the page as some systems when passed additional parameters will do weird things. So always make sure to test your campaign links and make sure that they’re working.

Seeing your Campaign Traffic in GA 4

To see the data from that page load. I can go to my GA for account and you’ll see here users by First source you can click the button and choose campaign and in my case, it’s still showing direct Now the reason is the first time I visited my site was not via a campaign. If it is the first time you’ve loaded that page, then the campaign name and source will show here.

Otherwise, you need to wait till the end of the day when GA processes the data.

Once the day is rolled over and the data has been processed, you should be able to see your campaign data by going Acquisition, User Acquisition, And it’ll bring up this page, which shows at a high level what channels brought new users to your site.

To drill into the specifics, you can click this drop down and choose the [00:08:00] first user source, medium, or campaign. And then you will see the names of your campaigns show up in the list.

Now, every user has a first campaign, as well as a session campaign. Each user can only have one first campaign, but each session or return visit can have its own campaign.

The User Acquisition Report

So here under user acquisition, you see these users came via a campaign the first time. If you’re interested just in the traffic and not the first time visit, you can choose traffic acquisition.

And similar to the other page, it will start with the default channel group. And again, you can go and drill into the specific campaign for each session. You’ll see in some cases it’s not set, in some it’s a referral. You can also add a second dimension by clicking this plus button and choosing the session medium source keyword or any other UTM parameter that you have used.

So as you can see here, someone came from campaign two with the medium bad example. Someone came from [00:09:00] Facebook and the medium was post. This will be populated with as many campaign source mediums as you’ve used in your campaigns within the time period selected up here.

Notes on Campaign Naming

You do need to be careful to make sure you’re using the same campaign name, sources, and mediums across your different campaigns and channels so that when you do go to use your reports it’s easier to view and filter.

Another thing to keep in mind is parameter based reporting and GA4 in general really is just directional reporting.

By that I mean you’re not capturing every single visitor. In fact, with all of the privacy settings being brought into email and browsers, it’s not uncommon to see as much as 20 25 percent loss in the attribution of these campaigns.

So when I say it’s directional data, I mean, it shows you the general trend, but it should not be trusted for granular reporting, which brings me to my next point.

Consider storing the UTM parameters [00:10:00] in the back end of your system if possible. Now, this tends to be more for applications that have been custom built, but when a user signs up, it makes sense to store these values and append them to their user profiles. so that you have another way of matching your ad spend and your marketing initiatives to the actual results in your product.

Also ga4 is a work in progress. So if you have Specific or more custom tasks that need to be done. I highly suggest you look at connecting your GA four data to BigQuery, but that is at least one, probably two, maybe even five additional videos.

So I bring it up mostly for you to understand that you will need custom reports and BigQuery usage to really get a detailed understanding of what’s happened from each of your campaigns.

Now there is a lot of jargon when trying to explain this stuff So I hope I’ve managed to get it across in [00:11:00] a way that is simple and easy to understand So you can start tracking your campaigns in GA4.

If you learned something or found this video interesting please like the video subscribe to my channel so that I can continue to see a graph that goes up and to the right thanks for watching and I hope you have a great day.

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