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Web Analytics: The Importance of Using UTM Parameters

Knowing how effective your online marketing campaigns are is a key requirement of any web analytics tool. With Google Analytics, unless you append campaign tracking parameters (UTM tags) on your destination page URLs, your Google Analytics reports will not contain the rich data sets you need to optimize marketing spend, let alone the metrics you’ll need to generate actionable insights that maximize measurable ROI. Here’s an example scenario outlining why campaign tracking parameters are so important.

You’re about to promote a new killer product you recently developed. The product already has a dedicated landing page on your website with a unique URL. You send 100,000 emails out to your subscriber database promoting the new product. You A/B test by splitting your subscribers into two groups: 50,000 emails contain one image of your product, 50,000 a different image. The results look promising: you’ve driven 10,000 people to your landing page and you now want to know which image drove the most traffic. With performance metrics from each email in hand, you intend to use the insights garnered to launch a social media advertising campaign on Facebook.

Unfortunately, because the landing page URLs in each email were the same, that’s not going to be possible. Your Google Analytics account only captured aggregate data for the total number of visitors from your email blast. You neglected to append campaign tracking parameters to the destination URLs in your emails, information essential to your ability to assess relative performance. Consequently, your efforts to use the data for a Facebook advertising campaign will require additional A/B testing via email.

It’s one thing not to capture the data you need to do effective marketing; another matter entirely when the data you do capture is unreliable because it’s polluted. Failure to append UTM parameters in your marketing campaigns means that visitor attribution data in your Google Analytics account will be inaccurate at best; worthless at worst when it comes to the all-important task of generating actionable insights that maximize measurable ROI (what we web analysts crave).
Here’s an example that illustrates the problems you’ll encounter. You just launched a paid search (PPC) campaign on the Yahoo/Bing network promoting your new product. The destination page URLs in your PPC ads only referenced your landing page URL. You neglected to append campaign tracking parameters in the URLs of the PPC ads driving traffic to your site.
How will Google categorize the traffic you get from the Yahoo/Bing network in your Google Analytics reports? Google will, of course, know that traffic reached your site but with no UTM tags in your destination page URLs will erroneously categorize the traffic as ‘organic’ (not ‘ppc’) in your Google Analytics reports. Needless to say, effectively analyzing what worked and didn’t work is next to impossible.

Google Analytics UTM

Now that we understand why UTM parameters are so important in tracking marketing campaigns in Google Analytics, in my next post, we’ll discuss how to use Google’s URL Builder Tool to add UTM parameters to your online marketing initiatives.