During a marketing roundtable at Ascend, I asked the table a quick question: “How do you know if one of your practice’s marketing campaigns is actually working?”
I want you to ask yourself this question right now. Do you, for example, know if you’ve brought in any new patients because your practice actively posts on Facebook? If the answer is “no” or “I’m not sure,” then you probably aren’t using one of Google’s most powerful (not to mention free) tools: UTMs!
So, what are UTMs—and how do you use them? Keep reading to find out everything you need to know about this simple, yet powerful, way to track your marketing efforts.
In this article, I’ll explain:
- What a UTM is;
- How UTM parameters work;
- How to check UTM campaigns in Google Analytics (stick around—there will be a free Google Analytics template for you to use); and
- How to create UTMs (including suggestions on some easy tools to help you out).
What does “UTM” stand for?
Let’s get this out of the way upfront: UTM simply stands for Urchin Tracking Module. This method of tracking was created by an analytics tool called Urchin, which Google later acquired and turned into Google Analytics. Because Google is the market leader for search engines, it was quickly able to make UTMs the industry standard for data tracking on the web. (Pretty much all analytics tools, marketing software, and CRMs use UTMs now as well.) Now that you know what UTM means, you may be wondering how UTMs work. Well, I feel it’s better to show that than to explain it.
A UTM is simply a string of characters at the end of the URL for a webpage. Here’s an example:
Now, let’s break down the parameters of UTMs (they can contain up to five parameters). In the example above, the parameters are:
- Campaign Source: utm_source=facebook.com
- Campaign Medium: utm_medium=web
- Campaign Term: (not shown)
- Campaign Content: utm_content=articlename
- Campaign Name: utm_campaign=article
Here’s a description of each parameter:
Campaign Source: This provides information on where the traffic that clicked the link came from. In this case, utm_source=facebook.com. Through this UTM, you would know that anyone who clicked on the link came from Facebook. Other sources may include external websites or even emails. The main thing to remember is that this should be the source of the traffic!
Campaign Medium: This identifies the high-level marketing channel that the traffic comes from. It could be something like social media, Google Ads, or display ads. In the example above, “web” is the medium for the traffic. (Just remember that the source denotes the specific source of the traffic, and the medium denotes the type of source. For example, a source might be “webpt.com,” but the medium would be “web” or “website.”)
Campaign Term: This is generally used for tracking keywords in a Google Ads campaign. Think of this as a wild card space you can choose to use—or ignore, if you are not building a UTM for Google Ads.
Campaign Content: This is a free space to help identify your links. You could use this space to name the article you are sharing on Facebook (which I did in the example above), the variation of an ad, or any other unique factor that would help you identify the traffic that comes from this link. (Again, this is an optional field.)
Campaign Name: This helps (1) identify the marketing campaign you are running, and (2) keep all the data in one place for you to view. In the example above, the campaign is “article.” Thus, by looking at this parameter, you can easily view at a high level how all articles shared on Facebook are performing.
Out of these five parameters, Source, Medium, and Campaign Name are the only ones that are required. The rest are optional, but I highly recommend using them.
Why would I use UTMs?
UTMs serve to answer the following questions:
- Where is the traffic to my site coming from?
- How is it getting to me?
- Why is it coming to me?
- Is this traffic completing any key actions on my website?
To explain how UTMs answer these questions, let's walk through a hypothetical example: You post to Facebook an article on knee pain and physical therapy. If you do not UTM the link before posting to Facebook, you will have no idea how many people clicked on that link and visited your website—or whether any of those people ended up contacting your clinic to set up an appointment. If you UTM the link, though, you’ll be able to look into Google Analytics, find the campaign that was set up, and view the data unique to that post. (FYI: You will need to have Google Analytics goals set up to track whether your visitors are filling out a contact form. Comment below if you would like me to cover that topic next!)
How do I check UTM campaign data in Google Analytics?
Fairly easily! Just navigate to Google Analytics—you’ll need to have Google Analytics installed on your site before you use UTMs; if you need a guide on how to do that, check out this blog post—and click “Acquisition,” then “Campaigns,” and then “All Campaigns.” The campaigns you see in the middle window pane will match the UTMs you are using. (Quick tip: UTMs can take 24 hours to start showing data in Google Analytics. Once you start using one, wait a day or so before you check the data from the campaign.)
You can also view your data via a saved report template.
In fact, you can add a free custom-built report that I created here. Once you click the link, you’ll just need to select the account in Google Analytics that you want to add the report to. Once you do that, you can find this report under “Customization” and then “Custom Reports.” (The report name will be “WebPT UTM Report.”) A quick note on this report: I suggest editing it and including any Google Analytics goals you have already set up. This will make the report more actionable. (Let me know in the comment section if you have any questions on how to add goals to the report.)
How do I build UTMs?
Okay, now you know what a UTM is, the parameters needed, and how to check the resulting data. At this point, you’re probably asking yourself, “Is there an easy way to create UTMs for my company without having to remember where the ‘?’ goes or that I need to use ‘utm_source=’ to define the source in the URL?” The good news is that yes, there are tons of tools to help you quickly and easily build UTMs. The major ones are:
- Google UTM Builder;
- Google Sheets (I’ll show you how this works and provide a template to create bulk UTMs); and
- UTM.IO (a freemium solution).
All of these are amazing tools, but I’m going to cover the first two in this post. UTM.IO is a paid tool, and it will make your life much easier if you’re creating hundreds of UTMs on a weekly basis. Otherwise, the free tools will work great.
Google UTM Builder
This tool is super easy to use, and it’s likely the only tool you need. Simply go to the tool and enter information into the labeled sections. The URL—with UTM parameters included—appears at the bottom to copy and paste wherever you need it. (Pro tip: Use a URL shortener like Bitly to keep your URL from looking hideous to your visitors.)
This method works well for those who have a lot of UTMs to build for a bunch of different channels—all at once. For example, you may want to post the same article on all social channels—but track each one separately. (If you used the UTM builder above, creating a unique UTM for each channel would take you quite some time.) To make things a bit easier for those who need to build UTMs in bulk, I created the following Google Sheet. (Still, I can’t take credit for this Google Sheet’s formula creation; I have been using it for years, and I don’t remember where I originally snagged it from.)
You can view the template here. One quick note: You will need to copy the template to your own Google Drive in order to edit and use it.
How Do I Use the Template?
Easy! Simply copy and paste your URL into column A, set your source or sources in column B (I’ve preloaded this with all social channels), set your medium and campaign, and finally, add your content. You’ll then copy the URLs in column G and paste them into Bitly to shorten them—or directly place them into emails, posts, etc.
That’s it! UTMs really aren’t that difficult to get the hang of, and once you start seeing the data from specific sources, you’ll wonder how you ever lived without them! Never again will you be stumped when someone asks you if posting on social media is really worth it or if the email you sent last week did better than the one you sent this week. By using UTMs and the report template in Google Analytics, you’ll be able to proactively provide this information and start making smarter marketing decisions for your practice. Have questions or need more help getting started? Comment below, and I’ll do my best to help.
Sometimes referred to as A-A-Ron, Aaron Treguboff is the Organic Reach Lead at WebPT. He has five-plus years of experience in digital analytics, SEO, digital marketing, and social media.