If you’re not using UTM codes, you’re not getting the whole picture when evaluating online campaign success.

Or, how about this: Just because one ad has the highest click through rate, doesn’t mean it’s performing the best. That’s gotta mean something.

So, what’s a UTM code then?

They look complicated but they’re really quite simple and they allow you to gather valuable data about how your ads affect user behaviours.  UTM codes are tracking markers added to URL’s that track your online campaigns based on specific parameters like your creative, medium and vendor. For each ad you’re running, you would create a specific URL that includes these UTM tags. So let’s say you have multiple ads out there, you can track each one based on where it’s running, what picture you used or what copy you used. This allows for full reports on what type of ad generated the most engagement, which ad generated the highest bounce rates and which ad led to conversions.

Common parameters include:

  • Campaign Source: utm_source; usually the site, such as Facebook or blog
  • Campaign Medium: utm_medium; how the link was published, such as a banner ad or tweet
  • Campaign Term: utm_term; to identify the paid keywords for search campaigns
  • Campaign Content: utm_content; used to differentiate ads
  • Campaign Name: utm_name; for ad campaign names, such as ‘FacebookNov2013? or ‘pizzabannerad’

(We know it looks scary, but don’t worry, there’s a UTM code builder available online, to make it even easier.) Here’s what it would look like if your ad was a Facebook Sponsored Story that's part of your Phase 3 campaign: http://www.google.com/?utm_source=Facebook&utm_medium=SponsoredStory&utm_campaign=Phase3

 Some examples

Let’s say you ran online ads on the local newspaper website, the Weather Network and on the CBC website, each with it’s own unique UTM tags. According to the vendor data, the newspaper site had the highest click through rate; but after consulting your Google Analytics, you can see that ad actually had the least amount of engagement. Or, let’s say you’re running ads with two different creative approaches, each with UTM tags. Your click through rates may show that one ad is performing better than the other, but again, when you go back to your Google Analytics, you can see most who clicked that ad left your site after 10s. They weren’t actually interested in your content, but they were simply attracted by something in the creative.

What’s the payoff?

Having this information enables you to make better decisions. The payoff comes when you can evaluate the success of different campaign elements, and decide if the media and creative you’ve chosen are working. And that is valuable data.