UTM Tracking Basics

The primary purpose of this document is to provide insight into what UTMs are, how these (UTM) parameters function and how to build them


4 min read

UTM Tracking Basics

The primary purpose of this document is to provide insight into what UTMs are, how these (UTM) parameters function, how to build them and how to get deeper insights into reporting with the combination of UTMs and custom (Google Tag Manager) event tracking.

Introduction: UTM (Urchin Tracking Module)


A tracking structure that functions by appending parameters (UTM ‘codes’) to the end of a URL that Google Analytics can read automatically


UTM fields like utm_source=email_newsletter can give deeper insight into reporting and actions taken by certain cohorts and or email marketing campaigns as a whole


UTMs are appended manually and automatically (by certain email marketing platforms). These parameters can be read by Google Analytics and thus, pivotable by other GA metrics. For instance, we could see other actions, such as downloads taken by users who came through the hypothetical UTM source of: utm_source=email_newsletter


When UTMs are deployed and built with consistency; they become an added layer of insight. UTM parameters are fields that are appended at the end of a URL. These fields can be read automatically by Google Analytics. UTMs are tied to the user’s browser cookie.

Therefore, the information in the UTM is carried with the user throughout their current and future web session (barring cookie expiration, cache wipe and new UTMs overriding existing ones). As such, this allows analyses to be done on certain cohorts, audiences, and platforms. Ie. business questions such as “are users more engaged on the website that come from organic search or that come from our curated newsletter?”

UTM Structure:

Example UTM:


There are five UTM fields that can be utilized. However for most web reporting standards, the first three are the ones that will and should be used the most.

  • Medium
  • Source
  • Campaign
  • Content
  • Term

Medium (required): utm_medium

Used to identify the channel origination of the link. What channel did the user receive this link from?


  • google
  • email
  • social

Source (required): utm_source

Subset of Medium at a more granular level. Used to identify the specific source of content, what site or platform did the user receive this link from?


  • facebook
  • twitter
  • mailchimp
  • salesforce

Campaign (required): (utm_campaign)

Used to identify a specific initiative.


  • spring_sale
  • product_sale
  • june_newsletter

Term: (utm_term)

Used to identify keywords in an ad (can be used for versioning of newsletter)


  • shoes
  • womens shoes
  • red shoes
  • sport shoes

Not commonly used outside of cost per click (cpc) advertising

Content: (utm_content)

Used to differentiate type of ads (can also be used for versioning of newsletter)


  • extended_text
  • display
  • auto_ad

Not commonly used outside of cost per click (cpc) advertising

Important Note:

There are no hard and fast rules for these parameters, except for medium and source. Medium and source be consistently used and enforced by the common ruleset. However, the other parameters can be independently defined on how to use them based on specific reporting and segmentation needs.

Building and Record Keeping

UTMs are unfortunately very manual to build. Unless links and content are utilizing a software or platform like Mailchimp or Hootsuite where UTMs can be automatically appended to all links.

I recommend keeping track of all UTMs that are built in a spreadsheet.


After the URLs are built, the links should be copied and pasted in the platform where you are sending the links out from. For instance, UTM links can be copied into tweets, newsletter content, facebook posts etc.

Hypothetical UTM Use-Case

I’m going to send a curated email to my top 100 customers from my personal gmail account. There’s a special offer on my website that I’m going to link my clients to, directly within my email. I want to know how well (or poorly) the personal email drove sales to this special offer as opposed to another messaging communication.

Create the UTM


Paste into my email

Using a hyperlink to ‘hide’ the UTMs: “Check out this special offer!”

View insights in Google Analytics

In GA, I will be able to see, by filtering by this campaign, if this specific messaging communication drove any sales.

UTMs & Custom Event Tracking

In combination with custom event tracking the power in UTMs is gaining a deeper level of insight into user behavior. To unlock this insight, custom events in Google Tag Manager can be set up to track specific behavior for specific audiences or initiatives. For example, did the June newsletter drive more downloads(event tracking) than the July newsletter, if so why and how can we improve the newsletter content to drive incremental growth?

Filtering by UTMs in Google Analytics is simple and easy. After UTMs are appended and a link is clicked - GA handles the rest (funneling, sorting and tying with other data). Any other action the user performs on the site, the UTM is carried with them.