The Definitive Guide to UTM Tagging in Ecommerce

Posted by Rita Braga Martins 14 Jul 15

shutterstock_159925478As an ecommerce marketer, your job is likely to include planning and executing regular newsletters, promotional campaigns, new product releases, brand advertising, and so on.

Chances are you’ll also be working with a limited budget, which you’ll have to manage wisely, allocating funds to different channels to get the best possible return on investment. And you’ll have to be able to monitor and assess each of these campaigns and channels in terms of revenue, engagement, and ultimately conversions.

You may also wish to test out new channels - maybe a shopping app, a video channel or a temporary partnership with another seller - and then measure their performance. How many new leads and customers were acquired? How many lost customers were reactivated? How much revenue did these channels generate against what I have spent?

The success of your digital marketing activities is heavily dependent on the ability to correctly analyse your online data.  And to accurately analyse every marketing campaign you launch and every channel you’re using, you must ensure that you are in fact tracking all your visitors and customers, and that you are attributing them to the right source.

So how do you tag your campaigns? Where should you start? We’ve put together a handy infographic, accompanied by an in-depth guide below it to get you going. It will cover:

  • Why it is important to track your campaigns
  • How to tag your campaigns using UTM tags
  • Best practice in UTM tagging
  • Important information you should be aware of

(click the infographic to expand)

INFOGRAPHICS_UTM_9-1

Why is tracking important?

Being able to accurately track your campaigns lies at the heart of an effective ecommerce marketing strategy. It provides online retailers with a number of benefits:

Consistent reporting

Done correctly, tracking enables you to consistently assess channel quality over time and to continuously optimise resources.

For example, it may turn out that for product launches your email channel works best at generating high value purchases from your existing customers, but for time-limited promotions your social media ads are more effective in attracting new ones.

Accurate attribution

Imagine the following are all the marketing campaigns in place this month for your online store:

  • Monthly regular newsletter (email)

  • Special promotion: 20% off summer collection (one-off mass email + Adwords campaign + social media)

  • Welcome email for new subscribers, part of your on-going CLM strategy (triggered email)

If you wanted to analyse, for example, the performance of each of your emails, the only way you would be able to track this is if you tagged each of these different marketing campaigns correctly.

Similarly, cross-channel tracking is essential: every channel used in a campaign should be tagged individually - you not only want to know how many customers you acquired from ie. your special promotional campaign, but also which channel was effective at converting them (was it the email they received? Or did they see it on Facebook? Or did they click from your ad in Google?). Also, some channels might prove better for specific acquisition efforts, or retention tactics.

Data-driven decision-making

Ultimately, the ability to look at all your channels either separately or combined in an accurate manner will allow you to make data-driven decisions - find out which channels are worth the investment and work best for each of your marketing campaigns. 

How to build a campaign with link tagging

To tag a marketing campaign, you need to create a link with specific parameters that will later allow you to analyse all activity concerning that campaign.

Using Google Analytics’ URL builder, you can create a unique tracking link which consists of a URL address followed by a question mark ‘?’ and your campaign variables - the UTM tags.

UTM (or Urchin Tag Management) is the standard Google Analytics link tagging process, in which you add specific campaign parameters (in the form of tags) to the links that users click on to get to your site (and this will overwrite the default categorisation that would normally be assigned to the incoming traffic).

So when a visitor arrives at your store with a UTM-tagged URL, those UTM parameters will be appended to the landing page and saved in a cookie, so all the activity during that session will be attributed to those UTM values.

UTM Parameters

There are five parameters you can add to your URLs, and each must be paired with a value that you assign. Each pair will then contain campaign-identifying information:

  • Campaign Source (utm_source)
    Used to identify the referrer, usually the name of a campaign-type grouping, eg. utm_source=newsletter

    (other examples: promo, welcome, popup_signup)

  • Campaign Medium (utm_medium)
    Used to identify the type of marketing, eg. utm_medium=email

    (other examples: organic, CPC, banner, referral, social, etc.)

  • Campaign Name (utm_campaign)
    Used to identify a specific product promotion or campaign, e.g. utm_campaign=april15

    Campaign name can be a theme, a season or a segment information - it should be unique but simple and easy to identify.

    (other examples: promo20, christmas14)

  • Campaign Term (utm_term)
    Used for PPC campaigns, to note the keywords for an ad, eg.  utm_term=summer+sandals

  • Campaign Content (utm_content)
    Used for A/B testing to differentiate ads or links that point to the same URL, e.g. utm_content=logolink or utm_content=textlink
    If you have two call-to-action links within the same email message, you can use utm_content and set different values for each so you can tell which version is more effective.

This is what a generic URL with UTM tags looks like:

www.yourstore.com/?utm_source=newsletter&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=april15

The three campaigns mentioned above as an example would be tagged as follows:

 

Monthly Newsletter

(one-off email)

Special promotion:  20% off sandals

(email, paid ads, social media)*

Welcome Email - part of CLM strategy

(triggered email)

Campaign Name utm_campaign=april15 utm_campaign=sandalpromo20 utm_campaign=CLMwelcome
Campaign Source utm_source=newsletter utm_source=promo utm_source=popup_signup
Campaign Medium utm_medium=email

utm_medium=email

utm_medium=cpc

utm_medium=social

utm_medium=email

*a link for each channel must be created

Best practice in UTM tagging

We have gathered some useful dos and don’ts with UTM tagging:

  • UTM tags must not be used for internal links (eg. navigation bar) as it will override the original visit source and prevent an accurate tracking - remember, campaign tagging is meant for external links that lead back to your site!

  • Be consistent when naming and tagging your campaigns. The campaign name should be identical for all sources so you can explore campaign, source, and content performance.

  • UTM tags are case-sensitive in GA, so ‘Email’ will be recorded as a different source to ‘email’.

  • Be aware of spacing and special characters - no spaces should be used in URLs or UTM tags, and nor characters like ‘?’ and ‘&’ which have special meaning and shouldn’t be used either. As an alternative you can use ‘+’ and ‘_’.

             e.g. utm_campaign=house+garden or utm_campaign=house_garden

  • If there is a question mark ‘?’ already in the URL (example 2 below), there is no need to add it again before the UTM parameters - only the first UTM tag needs a ‘?’ before, and all the others should be separated with a ‘&’. Here are the two different situations:

Example 1 (without a ‘?’ in the URL):
Final campaign link with UTM tags:

Example 2 (with ‘?’ in the URL):
Final campaign link with UTM tags:

  • Use only the variables you need, but you should always have Campaign Source, Campaign Medium and Campaign Name.

  • If you’re going to use email as a medium, don’t also use it as a source!

  • There is no limit to the number of characters you can use in UTM parameters, but we recommend keeping it short and meaningful.

  • Don’t include personal information that can be associated to an individual (names or email addresses).

 

In case you decide to manually create your tracking codes, here are some guidelines:

  • Add up to five parameters in any order to your URL

  • Include the slash “/” before the question mark (if you don’t, it will automatically be added)

  • Separate parameters from the URL with a question mark “?” (bearing in mind that if the URL already has a ‘?’ then you should not add a second one), and separate each parameter-value pair with an ampersand “&”.

  • Each parameter must be paired with a value that you assign, separated by an equals sign “=“.

Important information you should be aware of

  • UTM tags will not affect your SEO, as tags are ignored by search engines.

  • Paid search (Adwords particularly) and organic search are tracked differently:

    • traffic from Adwords appends a gclid term to the URL - this works similarly to UTM tagging (although you can create your own tags in Adwords, we do not recommend this as Adwords automatically creates the link for each campaign).

    • traffic from organic search is recognised as having come from a search engine from the http referrer string (so long as the search engine is in the list recognised by Google) and then the search query (q=<search keyphrase> in Google) is used to populate keyword-tracking in Google Analytics (except where the search is on https, in which case the keyword is overwritten with 'not provided’).

  • Be aware of specific settings of your Email Service Provider (ESP) that may affect your tagging. Some email softwares append their own UTM parameters in the end (eg. utm_medium=email) which will override the UTM tags you set in your links (the last tag overwrites the first), so the visit will be tracked by the ESP’s tags .

Shortening/Hiding campaign tags

Tagged URLs can look long and messy.

The good news is there are options to hide this tracking information and make your tagged URLs look clean.

Tools like Wistia’s Fresh URL will automatically remove the UTM tags from a URL to be displayed in the address bar, right after the browser has had a chance to register the campaign data (and ensuring that the tracking is not lost).

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I hope this post encourages you to start tagging your marketing campaigns more effectively. If you have any questions feel free to drop us a comment below!

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Topics: Ecommerce marketing resources

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