Jan 21, 2015

Social Media Tracking Tutorial [Part 1: How UTM Parameters Work]

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Social media is the easiest, cheapest way of promoting your business. Using platforms like Twitter,Facebook, or LinkedIn, when done right, may give you better marketing results than an expensive commercial during a prime-time show on a very popular cable network. But how does one measure the effectiveness of their Internet campaign?

Under The Mattress

Enter UTM (Urchin Tracking Module) parameters. Basically, if you see a link like


everything after the question mark is a parameter. These tell the server details about your request, like which images do you want to search for. UTM parameters are used for different things, though. The common user won’t even notice their significance – remember how sometimes you’ve seen a very loong link just to a website homepage – those were probably UTM parameters.

Finding the Sauce

The Urchin Tracking Module revolves around five pieces of information – three of them are required, two optional. Let’s have a rundown, shall we?

  • Required fields:
    • utm_source: pretty self-explanatory. The name of the site where the user is coming from. Examples: facebook, twitter, etc.
    • utm_medium: basically the medium you’re using for supplying the link. Can be a banner, image on a site, forum post, etc.
    • utm_campaign: the social media campaign the link belongs to – like launching of a new product, hr recruiting…
  • Optional fields:
    • utm_term: used for tracking things like search keywords
    • utm_content: most commonly used to provide extra information about the content of the sharing campaign

How To Use

Now that we have the structure down, let’s get down to the most important thing: when and how to use them.

With the versatility the service provides, you can use it for virtually any online campaign you want. Facebook posts, fanpages, your home website, twitter, even newsletter emails. It’s all a matter of finding a smart way of filling in the parameters so as not to get confused later. Oh, by the way –UTM parameters are case sensitive – that means facebook and Facebook aren’t the same thing.

One instance when you DON’T want to use link tracking, is your own website. Internal campaigns are cool, but they are mostly for already registered users. There’s no need to inflate your visit counter for links that are already on your website. After all, what you really want, is to find out how people find your website. Tracking the user’s journey through the pages themselves is a different task, one I’ll cover later in the series.

Time for an example, then.

Let’s say you have a newsletter email for the launch of a new product called “Doge”. In it, you put a 200x300 banner linking to a product page on your website. Your link would have to look something like this:


If you find that confusing, Google has a URL builder that can help you.

Now, that’s a pretty long URL. In this case, since it’s an email, it won’t really matter, especially if the url is under an image, but if you’d like to put it in a tweet, you’d go over the 140 character limit with the link alone. That’s not good, because now you have no room for any messages or hashtags.

Off With The Params!

Luckily, there are ways of getting around that. There are services like bit.ly that allow you to shorten any link while keeping UTM parameters.

But how to organize the data? Tune in next time to find out.