7 Common Google Analytics UTM URL Tracking Mistakes To Avoid
11 Jan 2022
5 min read
What is a UTM, A.K.A. a Campaign URL?
UTM parameters are tracking markers that you can add to a URL pointed at your website to track where visitors come from in granular detail in Google Analytics. UTM stands for Urchin Tracking Module. Urchin was the original name of the analytics software acquired by Google that was ultimately integrated into Google Analytics. UTMs are particularly helpful for tracking visitors from social media posts, emails, PDFs, etc. For more information on what UTMs are and how they're used in social media check out Buffer's excellent UTM Guide. For more information and examples for each UTM parameter check out Google's Campaign URL Builder.
As long as the website you are linking to with UTM parameters has Google Analytics tracking code installed on it, it will record the UTM parameters when a visitor visits the website using the URL with UTM parameters included in the link they use to access the website. The only required parameter is the campaign source (utm_source), the rest of the UTM parameters are optional, although in almost all cases I would recommend using all of them except the campaign term (utm_term) parameter.
Common UTM Mistakes To Avoid
If you're running into problems tracking UTMs, hopefully this list of common UTM mistakes will help you find a solution. If your problem isn't addressed by any of these common UTM mistakes, feel free to share what you're struggling with in the comments and I'll do my best to try and help you out.
1) Multiple entries for the same link due to UTM inconsistencies
To avoid this mistake use the KUSS principle "Keep UTMs simple, stupid". I keep my UTMs simple by sticking exclusively to lowercase characters, numbers, hyphens for spaces and not using any other special characters. When you don't use the KUSS principle you end up with duplicates of the same UTM source, which results in this:
2) UTMs getting stripped from URL by redirects before hitting your site
If you link to a URL that isn't on the website you want to track, that then redirects to the site you do want to track without the UTMs they will not be recorded in Google Analytics, since the redirect has stripped the UTMs. In this scenario Google Analytics on the target site never loads a URL containing the parameters so nothing is recorded. Instead it would record the visit as a referral from the website containing the redirect with no additional tracking information.
Alternatively, if you link to a shortened URL that then redirects to the target website with the UTM parameters added to the end of the target website URL - as is the standard practice - then Google Analytics will see the URL containing the UTM parameters and record the additional tracking information as intended.
It is possible to track UTMs through one website and track the associated activity on another, but this requires a more complex setup with cross-domain tracking. If you're interested in doing so and have access to both websites you can make this work following Simo's guide to Troubleshooting Cross-Domain Tracking In Google Analytics utilizing Google Tag Manager, which makes it relatively easy if you know what you're doing.
3) Adding UTMs incorrectly to URLs with existing query strings
If you're at all unsure about the formatting of your UTM-enabled URL, just use Google's Campaign URL Builder to make sure there's nothing wrong with your URL's formatting - it only takes a minute and will give you peace of mind.
For example if you were linking to this URL with an existing query string:
If you tried to add a UTM like this it wouldn't work properly:
If you created the UTM using Google's Campaign URL Builder it would automatically fix the URL for you to the correctly functioning version above.
4) Not using a URL shortener
Not shortening your URLs to mask UTMs is bush league. At the very least use Google's URL shortener built into their Campaign URL Builder. If you want to go pro purchase a branded URL shortener domain and setup bitly to work with it. I've found Domainr to be a very helpful tool for identifying great branded URL shortener domains.
Rather than sloppily expose your full UTM URL like this:
The term UTM should only be used for paid search to note the keyword being targeted. When using Google AdWords you simply need to link your AdWords and Analytics accounts and use the auto-tagging feature. So in the vast majority of cases the term UTM should not ever be used and you should leave it blank when using Google's Campaign URL Builder, because you don't want non-keywords showing up as "keywords" misleading you in your keyword reports.
7) Expecting exact capitalization to matter in advanced segments using exactly matching conditions
When you create an advanced segment with the condition Source that exactly matches a source in all lowercase as follows:
The advanced segment ignores capitalization and includes campaign sources with and without capital letters as follows:
Other Common UTM Mistakes To Avoid?
If you have additional common UTM mistakes to avoid, please share them in the comments!
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I'm Andy Forsberg, a seasoned marketer (I prefer to refer to myself as a marketeer as I'm significantly more technical than the vast majority of typical marketers) and inbound marketing expert with a broad skill set covering Analytics, Front-End Development, paid search, paid social, and SEO. I've created tools used by thousands to track online trends and have a wealth of experience with various CMSs, CRMs, and other sales and marketing platforms, from administration to decision-making, implementation, and migration. I efficiently build, optimize, and monetize the digital realm for my clients and deliver them a solid ROI. I've been the head of marketing for several wildly successful B2B companies for nearly two decades. I've played a key role in launching the careers of and connecting a plethora of promising professionals early in their careers.