Even the marketing team with the best intentions can make terrible mistakes and sabotage your company.
And the worst thing is that, sometimes, no one on the team has the right knowledge to realize that this is happening!
How is it possible?
The answer often lies in the quality of the tracking system implemented by the marketing team.
As we know, it is essential to allocate the marketing budget towards the most effective activities and channels that generate clicks and convert visitors into leads and paying customers.
We can find out what works and what doesn’t by tracking user clicks on content.
Only in this way will we be able to reliably know what the users really like and are interested in.
However, creating an effective tracking system is not an easy feat. At the heart of a good tracking system is a good use of UTM links.
In this article, we will discuss the most common mistakes made by marketing teams that can sabotage tracking data and lead to incorrect attribution when using UTM links.
What are UTM links?
Let’s start with understanding what UTM links are and how they work.
A UTM (Urchin Tracking Module) link is a type of URL that includes special parameters that allow website owners and marketers to track the effectiveness of their marketing campaigns and understand how users are interacting with their website.
By using UTM links, marketers can measure the success of different marketing channels and campaigns, and make data-driven decisions to optimize their strategies.
UTM links are then an integral part of any marketing campaign, but their flexibility makes them easily broken, which can compromise attribution and render tracking ineffective.
It’s actually really, really easy to make a mistake when writing a UTM link, and this occurrence is quite common in marketing teams.
When UTM links are utilized correctly, a marketing campaign can be accurately tracked from its platform to the assets being shared, allowing for informed decision-making.
Without proper UTM tracking, a marketing campaign can become disjointed and ineffective, resulting in missed opportunities for engagement with potential customers.
That’s why it’s fundamental that leaders of a marketing team know everything there’s to know about tracking to be able to ensure that the team is consistently producing high-quality content and marketing assets while distributing them across relevant platforms.
The UTM parameters
Effective UTM tracking requires adherence to a standardized operating procedure (SOP) that extends beyond just the use of links alone.
It involves utilizing a spreadsheet or third-party tool to generate and collect all UTM links that will be shared, as well as validating their formatting to ensure compatibility with Google Analytics.
Even when all the UTM links are written in the right way, the lack of a SOP can still lead to the failure of the tracking system.
That’s why firstly, to develop a working tracking system, we have to get to know the UTM parameters at the core of UTM links.
These three parameters are mandatory for accurate tracking.
It is also possible to use utm_content and utm_term, since they can provide valuable insights into traffic sources and performance.
However, as of May 2023, GA4 does not report on UTM content and UTM term.
Despite this limitation, marketers should still incorporate them into their tracking efforts, as it is likely that GA4 will eventually support reporting on these parameters.
It’s only by following a standardized procedure and utilizing all available UTM parameters, that it’s possible to gather more comprehensive insights into their campaigns.
Sidenote: I warmly recommend you look around for alternatives to GA4. Unfortunately, GA4 is not as user-friendly as UA, and too many metrics are missing from reporting.
A common mistake
Before discussing the different kinds of UTM links and the mistakes related to them, we have to learn how to avoid a very common mistake when writing URLs.
Let’s take a look at this URL:
In this example, we can see a URL that includes all the UTM parameters, as it should.
However, this URL will never work because of the presence of two question marks, since URLs can contain only one question mark at a time.
Despite this rule, some URL builders continue to make this mistake, creating useless UTM links.
Instead, parameters should be appended to a link using the & symbol, not a question mark, as in this case:
Let’s move to the parameters, starting with utm_campaign.
This parameter is crucial to understanding which campaigns are working and bringing clients in.
Because of this, it’d be a good idea to write the name of the campaign in the parameter.
However, a common issue arises when team members use different variations of the campaign name as parameter values, which can lead to fragmented data in Google Analytics.
To avoid this, a standard operating procedure should be established to ensure everyone agrees on the campaign name and designates a responsible person to monitor its use.
Utilizing a spreadsheet to track links and their creators can help identify and address errors.
Once the campaign name is finalized, the next step is to determine the platform on which the assets will be shared, such as LinkedIn or Facebook for example.
However, it is essential to note that once the platform name is agreed upon and set as a utm_source parameter value, it cannot be changed.
UTM parameters are case sensitive and for Google Analytics “Facebook” is different from “facebook”.
Inconsistencies in the case or naming of UTM parameter values across different team members can lead to fragmented data.
It is imperative for all team members to adhere to the same naming conventions.
The utm_medium parameter specifies the channel or platform through which a user arrived at your website.
However, it is not as simple as just choosing any arbitrary value, as Google has compiled a comprehensive list of values that are acceptable to use, and using any other value will cause your attribution to be dropped entirely.
To ensure that your team is using the correct values for the medium parameter, it is essential to have a standard operating procedure in place that lists the appropriate conventions.
Additionally, it is critical to correctly match the source and medium parameters to avoid incorrect attribution.
For example, LinkedIn can be both social and PPC, but it cannot be organic or direct.
A best practice to reduce the risk of human error is to create a spreadsheet with a dropdown menu of the approved values for the medium parameter.
The utm_content parameter is a crucial aspect of any marketing campaign as it allows for the identification of the specific post or email that drove the visit.
This parameter essentially answers the question of how to distinguish one post or email from another, and it can be accomplished by assigning unique numbers or labels to each individual piece of content.
They can be as simple as post1, post2, post3 or more complex.
However, given the huge number of single posts and emails that can be used in a single campaign, it is essential to establish a consistent and clearly defined convention for identifying them, and everyone on the team must adhere to this convention to ensure accurate attribution.
utm_term can be a great tool when used in the right way.
Originally designed to track the performance of keywords, it’s also highly useful in identifying the most effective call-to-action (CTA) for a particular campaign.
To accomplish this, it’s important to first reach an agreement with the marketing team on a set of CTAs that they will consistently use, even across different campaigns.
By using these CTAs consistently over time, you can track their performance across multiple campaigns and identify the one that generates the most clicks.
UTM term comes in handy also when there is more than one CTA within a single piece of content.
For instance, if an email contains three links, all with the UTM content of email three, you can use different UTM terms for each link to differentiate between the CTAs.
By doing so, you can dig deeper into a single post or email and gain a more detailed understanding of what part of it is resonating with your audience and driving the most engagement.
Putting together your SOP
As it should now be clear, to effectively use the UTM tracking system it is important to establish a standard operating procedure (SOP) for the marketing team.
Summarizing, this should include:
- defining the source and medium pair;
- agreeing on unique campaign names;
- finding naming conventions for UTM content;
- identifying the calls to action (CTAs).
To ensure accuracy and consistency, all values should be in a lowercase format (since the parameters are case-sensitive), and symbols should be avoided except for underscores and dashes.
It is highly recommended to use a spreadsheet to generate and log your UTM links.
In the spreadsheet, the team can agree on predefined values for all the UTM parameters and then use dropdown lists to build the UTM links, thus avoiding typing errors and ensuring adherence to the established naming conventions.
Do you need help?
If in the meantime, you wish to check whether the URLs you already use are good or not, you can do it using a special tool I developed at utmvalidator.com.
To use it, simply paste your link into the input box and click on the validate button. If all the checks are passed, then you are good to go.
If there are errors, such as using incorrect capitalization in the medium parameter, the tool will alert you and provide an explanation of the allowed mediums for Google Analytics.
It will also remind you to use consistent lowercase and uppercase letters in the UTM parameters.
But remember: the most important thing is focusing on developing your SOP!
Establishing a thorough SOP for UTM tracking may seem like a daunting task, but it is essential for maintaining organized and efficient campaign data.
If you need help with this, simply visit leadsandconversion.com/start and book a call with me.