UNB Marketing Blog
Tips and tricks from your university marketers

UTM Tracking Codes What are they and why do they matter

Author: Marketing

Posted on Sep 29, 2016

Category: Analytics

If you’re a regular Google Analytics user, you’ve probably heard of UTM Tracking codes. (sidenote: if you’re not a regular Google Analytics user, you might find it more helpful to start with our first analytics blog post: Top 3 tips for getting started!) But what are these things and what do they really do?

Imagine how nice it would be to be able to tell which of your marketing efforts (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, email, etc.) was driving the most sessions to your website. What about knowing that even though Facebook generates twice as many sessions, Twitter users are staying four times longer? Or that visitors clicking through on emails have a bounce rate that’s half the average bounce rate of your website? Or that Facebook visitors are filling out your contact form three times as often as any other tactic? If you’ve got a limited promotional budget (who doesn’t?!) and an endless number of promotional possibilities (yes!) then wouldn’t this data be invaluable for deciding where to spend your money?

Well, by using UTM tracking codes you’ll be able to measure all of these things!

Why are they called that?

Let’s start by getting that annoying name out of the way. UTM stands for “Urchin Traffic Module” and was the name of one of the products that Google purchased that eventually became Google Analytics and the name is still used. That is all you ever need to know about the name UTM. Moving on! How do they work? Tracking parameters go onto the end of a URL for your website and they provide information back to Google Analytics without affecting where the URL points you.

Example: https://www.unb.ca



both lead to the exact same place. The UNB homepage (try it!).

For these purposes, everything on a link that follows the ? is only for feeding information back to Google Analytics for tracking and ultimately reporting.

What are the key components?

There are 3 parameters that you should always use when tracking a link: campaign, medium and source.

Campaign: This is the broadest parameter. You’re going to be able to see all of the traffic driven by this campaign before drilling down further into medium and source. Often times these align with your marketing efforts - do you do concentrated efforts for 3 events per year that you’re trying to track? Then maybe the campaign names you use are eventa, eventb, eventc.

Medium: The in-between parameter. A suggestion here might be that you use “social” as the medium for all your social tactics, and get more specific on which ones in the source parameter. Or use “email” here and then get more specific in source.

Source: The most specific parameter. This is the most level of detail you’re going to be able to get to.

Putting it into practice

Let’s go back and look at my example above: //www.unb.ca/?utm_source=utmpost&utm_medium=blog&utm_campaign=internalanalytics

I’ve put a tracking code on that link because I want to be able to measure whether analytics resources that I’m developing are driving engagement (you should try clicking on it!). Let’s start at the end of the URL:


I’ve called my campaign “internal analytics”. This will be standard for anything I do that points back to our website relating to my work promoting analytics. It’s named something that won’t likely be used by someone else (remember we all share the same Google Analytics account!) and I won’t use for any other campaigns. I don’t need to break it down further.

Next, if you look at the link you can see I called my medium “blog”


Simple and straightforward! The link you’ve found is on our blog and I want to be able to see the total traffic I’ve driven from the blog and how it behaves. But I’m even more specific in source:


Here I’m using something that indicates the topic of the specific post. This is because I have more than one blog post about analytics (and plan to have even more!). It will help me to distinguish which generated the most activity if I end up using links on multiple posts.

Defining your parameters

The only rule here is really consistency. You can call your campaign, medium and source whatever you want to, but the point is that you need to use the same ones and regularly. Keep a spreadsheet to track what you’ve used so that you don’t forget. And note that these are CASE SENSITIVE! If I used a campaign name “internalanalytics” and “InternalAnalytics” they show up as 2 different campaigns! Keep it simple and don’t use capital letters!

Once you’re ready to try building your own link, the easiest place to start is using Google's URL builder.

Looking for more information? This is not something that is mastered overnight! Hopefully this has given you a good starting overview on how these tracking codes can be used. The UNB Analytics Club tackles this topic and more, helping to provide guidance and training as well as share results. Join that, gain access to Google Analytics and more analytics fun by emailing digital@unb.ca.