7 Things to Know Before Building Your UTM Codes

How do you know your advertising campaigns are driving new leads and sales? How do you know which ones performed best? These are important questions, but finding answers isn’t always easy. Many marketers use UTM codes to evaluate campaign performance. But despite UTM’s popularity, we still get questions on how to set up UTM codes properly and ways to streamline the data collected. If you are new to UTM codes or you just want to simplify your campaign tracking, this blog post is for you. Find out what UTM codes are and how to get the most out of using them. Then, check out our list of seven best practices and our custom UTM builder to make creating error-free UTM codes a snap.


What is a UTM code? A UTM (Urchin Tracking Module) code, sometimes referred to as a “campaign link tag,” is a simple piece of code attached to a URL to track its marketing performance. How does it work? UTM codes allow you to identify several campaign elements within your link, including the source of the ad, ad medium (i.e., type of ad) and the campaign name. When a user clicks the link, Google Analytics tracks the data to help you see which campaigns or factors are performing best. However, it is important to know that UTM codes do not track post-impression data. (See more on this below.) Why should you bother using UTM codes? You can use UTM codes to track campaigns rather than creating custom landing pages for each campaign or vanity URL. This will save you tons of time in setting up and launching your campaigns.

Setting Up Your UTM Codes

Before you jump into building your own UTM codes, check out these seven tips to avoid headaches and error down the road.

  1. Plan Your Campaign: Decide how you want to organize campaign data before creating UTM codes since you can’t adjust the data once it’s in Google Analytics. Consider questions like
    • What is the URL you are going to convert?
    • Who would you like to put as the traffic source?
    • What types of media and ad sizes are you using?
  2. Identify Your Source, Medium and Campaign: Use creative click-through URL(s) when building your UTM codes. To ensure traffic sources are properly identified, list the party responsible for the traffic in the source parameter and something unique about the campaign in the campaign parameter. For example, you might list your source as “bing” and identify the campaign as your “holiday sale” promotion. The medium parameter is crucial for traffic categorization and attribution within Google Analytics, so be sure to only use Google’s predefined keywords for that (note: keywords are case-sensitive). Also, if you are using the Google Analytics 360 Suite, traffic from DoubleClick Bid Manager (DCM) is organized without the use of UTM codes.
    • Source: bing
    • Medium: display
    • Campaign: holiday sale
  3. Add Additional Parameters, if Necessary: The more granular you get, the harder it will be to see the big picture of how your campaign is performing. Include additional parameters, such as content (example: ad size) and campaign term (example: paid keywords), only if you need the extra granularity.
    • Campaign Term: luxury watches
    • Campaign Content: 300×600
  4. Use a Custom UTM Builder: To prevent errors, use an online UTM builder or manually check that the “?” is at the end of the original URL and the “&” is in between each parameter.
    • https://www.website.com?utm_source=bing&utm_ medium=display&utm_content=300×600&utm_ campaign=holiday%20sale&utm_term=luxury%20watches
  5. Bucket Your UTM Codes: Instead of breaking out every individual creative, consider creating UTM codes around a shared trait to reduce the total number of UTM codes required. For example, if you have three different 300×250 size ads (promoA, promoB, promoC) and three different creative versions for each ad (one green, one red, one blue) and all are pointing to the same destination, build UTM codes using a shared trait, such as:
    • 300×250, promo_,  or [color]
  6. Check Your UTM for PII: Do not include any Personally Identifiable Information (PII) in your UTM codes, such as your name or address
    • https://www.website.com?utm_source=bing&utm_ medium=display&utm_content=300×600&utm_ campaign=Andy%20Wright&utm_term=luxury%20watches
  7. Allow Manual Tagging, If Applicable: If you want custom UTM codes to take precedence over auto-tagging, you must change your preferences within the property settings of Google Analytics. But if you linked your Google AdWords account to Google Analytics and enabled auto-tagging, then you do not need UTMs for your AdWords creative. To change your settings, select the checkbox for:
    • Allow manual tagging (UTM values) to override auto-tagging (GCLID values) for AdWords and DoubleClick Search integration.


Remember, UTM codes don’t track post-impression data like some of your other media platforms. This means your Google Analytics data might not match perfectly back to other reports you may be looking at. So knowing how to interpret the data generated from UTM codes is important. For example, a media-buying platform will usually count two types of conversions: conversions that happened immediately following an ad click (post-click) and conversions that happened later on after only viewing an ad (post-impression). Google Analytics tracks the former (post-click), which means your conversions may look inconsistent between the two platforms due to differences in tracking and counting methodology. You may also see discrepancies in clicks due to page-load timings – if a user backs out of page before all separate media, serving and analytics platforms have the opportunity to count the click, it may result in the first-served platforms counting the clicks and the last-served platforms missing out. Cookie blockers, setup mistakes, last-click attribution methodologies, and other errors can also impact how different systems interpret whether or not an action took place. You need to understand what each platform can and can’t track to justify any gaps between reports. We’re here to help you make sense of all the data and maximize your insights to improve your marketing strategy. Let us help break it down so you can move from a state of analysis paralysis to a position of modern marketing bliss.