UTM Parameters in Google Analytics 4: Decoded!

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Introduction

What does UTM mean and what are UTM parameters?

UTM stands for Urchin Tracking Module. UTM parameters are snippets of text added to the end of a URL to help marketers track the performance of online marketing campaigns across traffic sources and publishing media.

 

In Google Analytics 4, currently, data can be collected for 6 UTM parameters, enhancing our understanding of the performance of various traffic sources and marketing campaigns. These parameters are instrumental in dissecting and analysing how different elements contribute to the success of online strategies, allowing for more informed decisions based on detailed insights into traffic and user engagement.

UTM Parameters used in Google Analytics 4

 

1) Source (utm_source)

Identifies the origin of your traffic, such as a search engine, newsletter, or other referring site.

Now, if you’re running ads on Google and Bing, using utm_source=google and utm_source=bing, helps differentiate traffic coming from each search engine.

 

GA4 Dimension: Session Source

 

2) Medium (utm_medium)

It specifies the medium through which the traffic arrived, such as email, CPC (cost-per-click), social, or referral.

To track the performance of different marketing mediums, you might use utm_medium=email for an email campaign, utm_medium=cpc for paid search ads, and utm_medium=social for social media posts.

 

GA4 Dimension: Session Medium


3) Campaign (utm_campaign)

Used to identify a specific product promotion or strategic campaign.

For example, tracking a winter sale across various channels, you could use utm_campaign=winter_sale. This allows you to aggregate all user interactions related to this specific campaign.

 

GA4 Dimension: Campaign Name

 

4) Campaign ID (utm_campaign_id) 

This parameter is often used in advanced tracking setups to assign a unique identifier to each campaign.

It’s particularly useful for integrating with CRM systems or when you need to track campaigns across multiple analytics platforms. For example, utm_campaign_id=12345 can directly correlate campaign data in GA with internal reporting tools.

 

GA4 Dimension: Session Campaign ID

 

5) Content (utm_content)

This parameter is used to differentiate similar content, or links within the same ad.

If you have two call-to-action links in the same email, you can use utm_content=header_link and utm_content=footer_link to test which position garners more clicks.

 

GA4 Dimension: Ad Content

 

6) Term (utm_term)

Mainly used for paid searches to track which keyword terms triggered your ad.

These can be used for a Google Ads campaign targeting multiple keywords, you could use utm_term=+digital +marketing to identify traffic coming from those specific search queries.

 

GA4 Dimension: Search Term

Keep in mind : The Naming Conventions!

 

1) Use Lowercase Letters

Analytics platforms, including Google Analytics, are case-sensitive. To avoid discrepancies (e.g., “Email” vs. “email” treated as separate channels), use lowercase for all UTM parameters.

 

2) Avoid Spaces

Spaces can break URLs or lead to parsing issues. Use underscores (_), hyphens (-), or plus signs (+) instead. Example: utm_campaign=winter_sale instead of winter sale.

 

3) Be Descriptive yet Concise

Parameters should indicate their purpose without being overly long, making it easier to understand the source, medium, and campaign at a glance.

 

4) Use Consistent Naming for Similar Campaigns

Maintain consistency in naming similar campaigns over time to simplify comparison and analysis. For example, use a consistent prefix or suffix for all campaigns of a type, like email_newsletter_jan, email_newsletter_feb, etc.

 

5) Standardise Date Formats

If dates are included in UTM parameters, use a consistent format across all campaigns, such as YYYYMMDD. This makes it easier to sort and analyse campaigns chronologically.

 

6) Specify and Stick to a Medium Taxonomy

Define a clear set of mediums (e.g., cpc, social, email) and use them consistently to ensure accurate medium segmentation in analytics.

 

7) Use Meaningful Campaign Names

Campaign names should be intuitive and provide instant insight into the campaign’s purpose, e.g., winter_sale_march2024 is clear and informative.

 

8) Avoid Special Characters

Some characters can interfere with URL encoding or be reserved in web standards. Stick to alphanumeric characters and simple delimiters like hyphens or underscores.

 

9) Implement a Versioning System for Testing

If you’re A/B testing or iterating on campaign designs, include versioning in your UTM parameters to differentiate between test versions, e.g., utm_content=banner_image_v1

 

The reporting attribution mode in GA4 plays a pivotal role in how conversion credit is calculated and presented in GA4 reports and linked Firebase projects. By default, GA4 utilizes the cross-channel data-driven model as the reporting attribution mode, leveraging advanced algorithms to analyze conversion paths and allocate credit accordingly. However, users have the flexibility to customize the reporting attribution mode based on their specific requirements and preferences. This customization allows businesses to tailor their data analysis processes to align with their unique objectives and priorities, ensuring that they derive maximum value from their GA4 data.

What is the Reporting Attribution Model in GA4?

 

Example Scenario:

For a Facebook campaign promoting a Winter Sale offer service by myjackets.com in March 2024, UTMs might be structured like this:

 

Source: utm_source=facebook

Medium: utm_medium=cpc

Campaign: utm_campaign=winter_sale_march2024

Campaign Id: utm_campaign_id=12345

Content: utm_content=banner_image

 

So, the final URL would look like this.

How to use GA4 Campaign URL Builder

 

The GA4 Campaign URL Builder is a tool that helps you add UTM parameters to URLs for tracking the effectiveness of your online marketing campaigns in Google Analytics. 


Here’s the link to GA4 Campaign Builder.

 

Step 1: Start by entering the URL of the page you want visitors to land on. This should be the full website address where you want to direct traffic, such as the landing page for your campaign.


Step 2: Next, you’ll fill in the fields for the various UTM parameters. Not all fields are mandatory, but the more information you provide, the more detailed your tracking can be.

Step 3: Once you’ve filled in the necessary information, the tool will automatically generate a new URL with the UTM parameters appended to it. This URL is what you’ll use in your marketing campaigns.

 

Step 4: Now you can copy the generated URL and use it as the link in your emails, social media posts, ads, or any other marketing materials where you want to track the performance.

Now let’s use the above example of myjackets.com and create a URL with all the UTM parameters for their winter sale Facebook campaign.

Traffic Acquisition Reports in GA4

 

GA4 categorises traffic using the “session_default_channel_grouping” dimension within its reports, which is part of the “Traffic acquisition” report. This dimension automatically assigns traffic to channels based on the source and medium parameters.

Mentioned below are some of the default channel groupings: 

 

1) Direct: Traffic where the source is direct, and the medium is (none) or not set. This includes users who enter your site URL directly into their browser or use a bookmark.

 

2) Organic Search: Sessions from search engines that are not marked as paid. This is typically when the medium matches organic.

 

3) Paid Search: Traffic from search engine marketing where the medium includes terms like cpc, ppc, paidsearch, and so on, indicating paid efforts.

 

4) Social: Traffic identified from social networks. GA4 has an improved identification mechanism for social platforms, categorising traffic as social when the source matches known social media platforms.

 

5) Email: Sessions resulting from email marketing efforts where the medium is tagged as email.

 

6) Referral: Traffic that comes from another website that is not a social network or search engine, where the medium is referral.

 

7) Affiliates: Traffic from affiliate marketing efforts, typically tagged with a medium of affiliate.

 

8) Display: Traffic from display advertising, such as banners or ads served through Google Display Network, with mediums like display or cpm.

 

9) (Other): Traffic that does not fit into the other categories, often due to custom tagging or unspecified sources/mediums. It’s used for traffic that has been tagged with UTM parameters but does not fit into any of the standard channel definitions provided by GA4.

 

10) (Unassigned): Traffic where the source and medium have not been specified or recognized. This categorization occurs when the system cannot attribute a session to any of the predefined or custom channel groupings due to missing or incomplete UTM parameters.

Use Case Example

 

Imagine running a multi-channel marketing campaign for your e-commerce site, including paid search, social media ads, and email newsletters. In GA4, you can track the performance of each channel:

 

Paid Search: Tag URLs with utm_medium=cpc and utm_source=google. GA4 categorises this traffic under “Paid Search”, allowing you to analyse the effectiveness of your paid search campaigns in driving sales.

 

Social Media: Use utm_medium=social and utm_source=facebook (or another platform). Traffic from these campaigns will appear under the “Social” channel in GA4, helping you evaluate social media’s role in promoting specific products.

 

Email Campaign: With URLs tagged as utm_medium=email, you can track how email newsletters contribute to traffic and conversions, categorised under the “Email” channel.

 

This approach in GA4 enables a comprehensive view of how each channel performs, guiding you to optimise your marketing strategy for better ROI.

Conclusion

 

Understanding and utilising UTM parameters in GA4 offers an unparalleled advantage in the digital marketing arena. By meticulously tagging URLs with UTM parameters, marketers can gain deep insights into the effectiveness of various campaigns across multiple channels, including paid search, social media, and email marketing etc. This granular tracking enables a precise analysis of traffic sources, engagement levels, and conversion paths, thereby allowing for more informed decisions and strategic adjustments.

FAQs

 

  • What are the limitations of UTM parameters in GA4?
    UTM parameters in GA4 are limited by their need for manual tagging, which can lead to inconsistencies and human errors, affecting data accuracy. The effectiveness of UTM tracking is confined to controllable digital mediums, excluding untagged organic and referral traffic from detailed insights. Ensuring consistent implementation across diverse campaigns and teams presents a significant challenge, impacting the reliability of campaign performance analysis.


  • What are some of the mistakes to avoid while selecting UTM parameter values?

    When selecting UTM parameter values, it’s crucial to maintain consistent naming conventions to avoid data fragmentation. Avoid using spaces or special characters that might break URLs, and keep tags concise to minimise errors. Failing to consider case sensitivity can lead to analytics misinterpretations, and including sensitive or identifiable information in UTM parameters should be avoided for privacy reasons.

About Author

Aditya is a Web analytics professional with experience in the Overall journey of a digital business from frontend development to creating digital marketing campaigns and implementing complex tracking on the website through GTM including server side mechanisms. He has a vast expertise with the analytics tools such as GTM and GA4 and thus is able to give insights about what all is happening in the user journey. He has conducted many CRO and Analytics Audits, extracting actionable insights from large data sets and thus providing strategic recommendations for improving conversions and user experience.

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