The Internet is built upon Links. And today, links are a great Marketing resource because it sells a business 24/7, you just have to know how to use it wisely. It’s actually free and it makes a company grow. Learn how to build smart links for your business and you’ll build an International Empire. But here’s a question: HOW do you know which links are giving you a strong ROI? How? No company wants to spend money on PR and marketing without having a precise, surgical feedback of its own marketing campaigns. Right? Because, well, investing your employee’s time, the company’s money and all that lies in between on something totally untrackable is just a blind investment. A Poker game. And such investments may be stealing your time and money if there’s no metric whatsoever.
That’s why you must track your links.
After all, why spread links around the world if you have trouble answering basic marketing questions (data-based questions), such as:
- What social link areas are bringing more leads to my landing page?
- What links on my newsletters gave me more customers this month?
- Which of my 5 banner ads sold more of this particular product?
- How often customers/partners click on my email signature?
Those are powerful metrics you should have in your Analytics reports because they can make your marketing strategy more effective overnight, save you tons of money and show you new marketing channels that worth exploring to give your business fast growth, after all, most of the times no one is watching or worrying about the specifics.
But you wouldn’t renew an advertising contract for 6 more months with a partner website that is not bringing you any leads/money, would you? I bet you wouldn’t. You’re a very smart person.
So I made this article to help you realize if you’re either wasting money OR investing it wisely in your marketing campaigns. I’ll give you practical, sharp information on how to track all of your links using a famous resource (among marketers) from Google analytics: The UTM parameters.
And relax, I’ll make all technical things A LOT easier for you to understand.
Promise. Making things easier is one of my 4.500 skills.
Now let’s begin.
WHAT IN THE WORLD IS A UTM PARAMETER?
The UTM parameter stands for Urchin Tracking Module and it is part of the famous tool we all call Google Analytics. These parameters were originally created by the Urchin Web Analytics company, which Google purchased back in 2005 just to transform it into Google Analytics afterward. Google released it to the public as an additional tracking resource for marketers to use, so all of us could have more control over our traffic and on each of our advertising URLs.
And the good news is that it’s quite simple to use.
Basically, a normal URL will be something like this:
But A UTM parameter string attached to the same URL would look like this:
Now let me quickly elaborate and explain what these parameters are.
The parameters are actually 5 but only 3 are mandatory (required) in order for tracking to work:
- [REQUIRED] The Campaign Source (utm_source) — Used to identify the source of your traffic such as: search engine, newsletter, facebook, partner website etc. It is WHERE the user found your link. SOURCE = WHERE IS THE LINK.
- [REQUIRED] The Campaign Medium (utm_medium) — Used to identify the medium the link was used upon, such as: email, CPC, banner, article etc. In essence, it’s HOW you linked the traffic source to your own website. MEDIUM = HOW YOU LINKED.
- [REQUIRED] The Campaign Name (utm_campaign) — Used to identify a specific product promotion or a different type of campaign such as a “holiday sale” or “black Friday”, for instance. For every UTM parameter string you incorporate in your original URL, you must use this parameter to identify what campaign are you tracking. You can have a “Black Friday” campaign across multiple mediums such as Email and Banner Ads for example, but it is all THE SAME campaign. Get it? This is how you know which sources and medium worked the best for that specific marketing campaign. CAMPAIGN = WHAT ARE YOU PROMOTING.
- [OPTIONAL] The Campaign Term (utm_term) — Used as additional tracking for paid search to identify keywords for your ad. You can skip this for Google AdWords if you have connected your AdWords and Analytics accounts and use the auto-tagging feature instead.
- [OPTIONAL] The Campaign Content (utm_content) — Optional parameter — Used for additional details for A/B testing and content-targeted ads. This is helpful for those cases on which you’re testing multiple ways to deliver your link and you want to validate which way works the best for that particular case. It’s very useful for validating if a 300px banner Ad got better results than an 800px banner, for example. But depending on how you use the previous parameters, this is not always necessary.
Alright. Easy to understand, right?
You can either build these trackable URLs yourself or you can use Google’s URL Builder Tool to do it.
Now we’re going to talk how to apply it to our everyday marketing. But before we dive into all those link tracking contexts, first, I want to warn you about something very important.
THE REALITY OF MISLEADING DATA
A Quick Warning: Not all tracked data with UTM parameters are correct. Yes, you read it right, but let me elaborate. Look, we all know everybody shares links online these days whether we are talking about the elderly or millennials. Therefore, there’s SOCIAL BEHAVIOR involved in link sharing, right?
Ok. Now follow my lead for a second.
So YOU share all these links filled with UTM parameters in a very organized way.
You tag all URLs and distribute them correctly, one for each type of medium, source and campaign.
That’s good. Good boy.
HOW will users actually share these links? What can be their behavior when doing this? Can someone find your Facebook-customized link on Facebook, grab it, and share it on his Twitter account? Oh yes. Can a friend of that person grab that link from Twitter and share it AGAIN on Linkedin? Yes again.
See where this is going, right?
So a trackable link will consider its own parameters as the ULTIMATE truth for building your Google Analytics reports, and not the actual place on which it was clicked by the user. And that’s a bit of a twisted problem if DATA PRECISION is what you want, as you may imagine.
So remember this before we continue:
Problematic, isn’t it?
So in practice, whenever you publish a set of links in your marketing channels there are two sides of the same coin that you must consider before assuming you data is correct:
Such a mess. Now imagine your reports. Picture yourself going crazy after seeing some absurd amounts of traffic data from Facebook, but knowing for sure that it doesn’t make any sense. Well, this case may have happened to you.
So although this is only social media data and it’s not considering banner ads on websites, for instance, there’s enough proof to give us ground for not believing 100% in UTM parameters as the final solution for measuring content marketing ROI. Keep that in mind.
Because the truth must be told, guys.
We don’t want you to deceive any of your customers with false/misleading data nor making promises you can’t deliver just because you can’t understand what’s going on. So there’s margin for error here, as you can see for yourself.
But is there any solution for solving this issue? Well, Fresh URL has some advantages to fight this subject, but due to the possibility of people sharing a link on private social media such as Whats App or Messenger, it will in the end count as DIRECT TRAFFIC, after all. It’s just a partial fix because you end up with Dark Traffic, my friend.
Bad news given, now let’s go to the good news.
Here’s what you need to know to master UTM parameters.
THE BEST PRACTICES FOR USING UTM PARAMETERS
As everything else in a marketer’s life, tagging your advertising URLs also have a few best practices that can make traffic identification look much more intuitive. And you should like intuitive data. It’s easier to throw at people’s face when there’s a heated discussion (relax, just kidding). But I recommend you to follow these best practices below to make your life a bit easier.
The best practices are:
- #1. Create a naming convention for your UTM parameters — Define a naming pattern and stick to it in order to understand all your reports as soon as you read them. The 1º naming convention you should follow is preferring DASHES over UNDERSCORES because Google likes them better on URLs. Percentages and plus signs are also other rules you should define for any of your URLs too. Percentages are used for representing spaces inside Google Analytics, by the way. The 2º naming convention worth having is using only lowercase letters in all URLs. Since GA (Google Analytics) is actually a computer program that you can access online, it treats parm values such as “Email News” and “email news” differently due to its programming nature which will break your reports into pieces leaving you with some nice and pretty misleading data. And the 3º naming convention is making your URLs as readable as possible to the point that ANY human being above 5 years old could read it and understand it completely (ok, not c-o-m-p-l-e-t-e-l-y but you got the point). This is useful especially if you have the habit of hiring interns to take care of tagging URLs and other report-related tasks for you.
- #2. Track and manage your UTM reports using a Spreadsheet — After you have done a few marketing campaigns you’ll realize that organizing them all into one place is an obvious procedure to take. That way you can remember your past URLs and all campaign parameters, your team has a central place to go to for building URLs and it helps you stay consistent with your tagging rules. A necessary step when you start going after the “macro view” of your Marketing efforts.
Was that clear?
And there’s more. For more ROBUST businesses there’s also the available choice to INTEGRATE the UTM system (in this case Google Analytics) to a CRM system such as Sales Force or Netsuite (learn more exactly here).
It’s a highly useful approach to take because it can help your sales team a lot since it gives them more context about the customer, giving them ability to instantly answer important questions such as “Where exactly in our funnel the prospect became a Lead to us?” or “What email did the prospect responded to?” which can dramatically increase the odds of a salesperson closing a deal, after all, a stalker marketer is a good salesperson.
The problem is that customers don’t like to admit it.
But they’ll respect your level of expertise for sure.
Salesperson: “You subscribed to our system via Facebook, right?”
Customer: “No. A friend of mine shared your link with me via Whats app”
So watch it how you roll.
Why do you think I always ask users via form where did they find me?
But alright. Since everything is a lot clearer now about UTM parameters, let’s talk about some practical advice to see how we can actually use UTM parameters in our daily marketing campaigns because that’s what you’re here for.
A FRIENDLY NOTE: All Marketers (including myself) highly recommend you to shorten your URL AFTER you added UTM parameters to it. Use tools such as Bitly and don’t worry about the tracking capabilities once you shrunk a URL because Google Analytics reads the original URL before building or feeding any data to reports. This helps you maintain your conversion rates high (because people love shorter links) and also keep Google happy (John Mueller stated that Google also prefers to show short URLs over lengthy ones)
HOW TO TRACK YOUR SOCIAL MEDIA LINKS WITH UTM PARAMETERS
Every business owner nowadays knows that social media is a powerful marketing channel because the amount of “free traffic” you can get from there is enormous. Great. But most of them don’t have a CLUE of the ROI they’re getting from their social media efforts, meaning, which links from which social networks and from which areas are bringing more traffic and leads to the business.
So to make this a prettier scenario from the marketing perspective, this is what you can do:
- #1. CREATE CATEGORIES FOR ALL LINKS OF THAT SOCIAL NETWORK — OK, let’s take Twitter as an example to explain this because it is easier. With it you have 4 different link categories: A Tweet, A Promoted Tweet, A Profile/Bio description and a Website field. So for tracking purposes, all 4 options can be tagged differently because they all indicate a different context and level of interest towards your promotional links. Right? If someone clicked on a link in your bio it means they went to your profile to check you out, which is a totally different level of engagement comparing to a Promoted Tweet. So for EVERY social network you use, build the categories list so you don’t leave any specific data on the table. Separate and categorize all link areas from a social network.
- #2. PLACE ALL LINKS IN THE COLUMN CATEGORY OF A SPREADSHEET — This is something worth doing just for organization purposes. You grab all linking opportunities you found on that social network and populate the spreadsheet with them (I’ll show you a print below). This will allow you track if a landing page is getting more traffic from published posts or from profile/bio links, for example, after you have merged both URLs (your URL + UTM parameter for that link area). Furthermore, you’ll also have enough data to assume which areas of a certain social network works the best for increasing traffic.
- #3. TAG ALL LINKS — Tag all links according to each link area category.
Very easy, right?
Well, but let’s simplify even more with a practical example:
This is a link to YOUR WEBSITE which will be shared in your tweets.
A PROMOTED TWEET
This is a link to your website which will be shared via promoted tweets (paid).
A PROFILE DESCRIPTION
This is a link to your website which will be constantly shared in your bio description.
OBSERVATION: Just another warning. Having your website’s link in your bio description demands much less PR effort as opposed to normal tweets because your link stays there in your bio all day long whilst tweets have a VERY short life span. On the other hand, you’ll probably reach people with promoted tweets and tweets instead of your bio description unless loads of traffic visit your twitter profile. So what I want you to notice here, is that you should also take into account how much traffic you’re getting from each area before assuming that a specific area is better than another for bringing traffic. That way you don’t misinterpret data. Context is everything.
OK! Now get back here for a second.
Question: What would be like if the chosen social network would be Facebook instead of Twitter?
Well, you would have to build a bigger category list before tagging anything, that’s all.
Something quite similar to this below:
FACEBOOK LINK CATEGORIES
- Normal Posts
- Promoted Posts
- Group Posts
- About Tab
- Services Tab
- Page CTA
And the list continues…
Then, after finishing that boring link category list, you will be ready to specify the sources (utm_source) with stronger precision by defining a naming pattern for each Social Network’s link area. If you’re still lost, then here’s a simple image of what I want your mind to understand with the last 2 minutes of reading:
Get the point?
I specify the link area and depending on the area I can already define the utm_medium parameter because, usually, we have one link in certain areas.
And it’s important to realize a few basic points when building such list:
- 1. A link category can break itself into several other “sources”
- 2. Every social network is usually different once you dig deep on link areas
Let’s take PAGE CTA (call-to-action) from Facebook, as an example.
See below how it can break itself into different utm_source values:
If you take each option from the list above there are ways to insert a link into a few of them, such as the “Send a Message” for example. Let’s assume that you have set an autoreply message that is sent every time someone messages you via Facebook Page, then inside THAT autoreply message, you can put a signature link into it as well. Get it? And sure, in order for it to work better using a shortened URL, use messages such as this one below:
Thanks for contacting [YOURCOMPANY] :)”
We’ll answer you within 3 hours.
If you have urgency, use these channels below:
Phone: +1 330 450 930
Instant Contact: http://bit.ly/2bnoK30″
Easy, right? So for every single social network you have, lift up your sleeves and categorize ALL link areas available for link promotion, then determine your utm_source values based on each area for establishing a solid pattern then throw it all inside a spreadsheet. And please remember that certain link areas may have more than one “slots” available for placing links, like the About section of a Facebook Page for example.
The more specific you are, the easier it is for understanding your social marketing reach.
Ok, now let’s continue.
HOW TO TRACK YOUR RSS FEEDS WITH UTM PARAMETERS
For those who also promote their content via RSS feeds like bloggers, entrepreneurs, agencies etc, having the ability to track each one of your pieces of content is another good data to have as a support to aid future marketing decisions. True Entrepreneurs and Business Owners read a lot and watching this kind of traffic a bit closer, can tell you important stuff about who’s coming to your website. And after the arrival of great apps/tools such as Feedly.com (which I personally use and recommend) RSS feeds got a little popular again, even after long talks about its imminent death.
So take a good look below on how Conversion Sciences track their RSS feeds:
PS: I HIGHLY recommend you the blogs on the left. There’s way more I follow but the print can’t embrace all of them.
Ok, now let’s deconstruct the URL above:
- UTM_SOURCE = feedpress.me (where did the user came from?)
- UTM_MEDIUM = feed (how the content was linked?)
- UTM_CAMPAIGN = Feed:ConversionScientist (what are we promoting?)
PS: A “:” is a HTML entity code that stands for a “:”.
With that information above, they can track how much traffic they’re getting from their RSS feeds instantly, just by looking at data. But…wait. There’s one more thing to pay attention here. Have you realized that they aren’t being very specific on the source itself (the article)? There’s no information on which article they’re getting traffic from, just the RSS channel itself.
HOW MANY articles did they leave available to the audience on the RSS feed?
Answer: ONE. Just one article. So this is how Conversion Science chose to track their data. If you follow their work, you’ll notice that they are always testing things, which is something I TOTALLY like to do myself as well.
But back to the subject at hand. To summarize it, all Conversion Science will have to do behind the scenes will be to FILTER their analytics to show which days the RSS feeds produced more traffic and crossover that information with the dates their blog posts got published, and stayed “alive” as the single article in the RSS feed.
So if one article was published, let’s say, on June 10th and the next article only came out on June 15th then all RSS traffic will be attributed to that single article, which was a marketing channel between June 10th and June 14th.
And since we can’t see all their RSS campaigns and what exactly they’re doing, we don’t know if they are making 6-month tests using 1 article in their RSS feeds in comparison with 3 articles, for example. They can crossover both 6-month data afterward just to reach to conclusions like “It is best to let just one article alive in the RSS feed for this, this and this reason”.
Anyway, but HOW do you actually do that in practice?
Well, assuming you own a WordPress blog then these ways is how you can add UTM parameters to your RSS URLs:
- Customize your .PHP Files manually (read this, this and this)
- Install a third-party plugin that allows you to edit your RSS (I don’t see any plugin worthy of recommendation in this case, feel free to contribute)
Those 2 are the main ways to do it that I know of, so just read the links I shared and you’ll be okay. And if coding is not your thing and you don’t want to add any more plugins to your website to prevent it from getting too “heavy/slow”, hence, ruining user experience, then hire a programmer to do the manual work for you.
He’ll definitely solve this step for you in 1 hour. Seriously.
Because he’ll only have to implement a UTM string to your current RSS code template OR install a plugin for you and both options will be minimal work for him (if you have bought a professional WP theme with organized code).
Ok, now let’s approach banners and emails to finish this.
As you may imagine by now, putting together a few UTM parameters to enhance your tracking data can also be applied to banner ads as well. So let’s approach this directly without much “fluffy talk”.
Here are a few ways to do it:
BANNER 300px V.1.0
BANNER 300px V.2.0
So for those who make heavy bets on banner Ads, here’s a board of banner variety you may consider tracking along with its particular impressions for each size:
After reading everything so far the rest starts to get a bit easier, right? Now here’s an important advice: Banners are something you MUST track properly because its last published statistics are not friendly at all, this is why you need to optimize its conversions as much as possible. Don’t believe me? Then take a look at the statistics Hubspot published about banners:
DISPLAY AND BANNER ADS
- 1º. Display ad viewability rates did not budge between 2013 and 2014
- 2º. The average clickthrough rate of display ads across all formats is 0.06%
- 3º. Ad blocking grew by 41% globally in the last 12 months
- 4º. There are now 198 million active ad block users around the world.
- 5º. A 2013 study revealed that 28% of respondents admitted to hiding their activities from advertisers
- 6º. A study revealed that only 2.8% of participants thought that ads on website were relevant
- 7º. A January 2014 study found that 18- to 34-year-olds were far more likely to ignore online ads, such as banners and those on social media and search engines, than they were traditional TV, radio and newspaper ads
- 8º. About 50% of clicks on mobile ads are accidental
- 9º. 54% of users don’t click banner ads because they don’t trust them
- 10º. 33% of internet users find display ads completely intolerable
Original Source: Hubspot
After reading the stats above, you can realize why it makes sense to track your banners with UTM parameters to have more control of your marketing data. With those stats, you can’t afford losing money. Money doesn’t grow on trees.
EMAILS & NEWSLETTERS
Regarding email we have 2 options to track: Direct email and Newsletters. Direct emails are those we send to customers, friends and sometimes, when prospecting cold people. And newsletters you already know what that is (right?).
So what could you track using UTM parameters in a Direct Email?
Simple. Email signatures. And for those who, like me, enjoy using a big, nice image as an email signature it is nice to know if it’s working and converting to a visit to your website or not. After all, it’s a powerful backlink.
You can send someone a cold email and put unique data into it. Anything comes to mind? That’s right. Some special UTM parameters values to track that single email just to check if that person you pitched clicked in your email signature. It’s highly useful when you’re pitching someone important, like a CEO from another company for example.
UNIQUE EMAIL SIGNATURE – CEO PITCH
You take that above, merge it with your original URL and create a link from your email signature, attaching it to the image like the one below:
So if you’re attacking certain prospects periodically then you can discover even THE ROUTINE of a person or how she responds to emails, what hours are better to reach her etc. Powerful, isn’t it? Now imagine what google knows about you, my friend.
Ok, back to Newsletters.
Here’s what you could oossibly track in practice:
In such newsletters like the one above where you have several clicking points that lead to different URLs/Products, almost everything worth tracking because if you grab that sort of data, you can point which images have more conversions for example. Because one simple image can have a more powerful impact or you can also have a more persuasive copy in one of your links inside your newsletter.
But let’s populate that email just so you have an idea what to do:
NEW ITALIAN FLAVOR COLLECTION
WE OFFER — FURNITURE
WE OFFER — ACESSORIES
WE OFFER — STORAGE
WE OFFER — DINING
WE OFFER — LIGHTING
WE OFFER — RUGHS/PILLOWS
WE OFFER — BED/BATH
WE OFFER — OFFICE
FOR ALL YOUR DINING PLEASURES — SHOP NOW
CONTINENTAL STOVE — BUY NOW
GLASS TABLE — BUY NOW
SACKBAG SOFA — BUY NOW
WOODEN DESK — BUY NOW
DOWNLOAD PDF — BUTTON
Easy easy easy…
Now let’s go a bit faster because I believe you may be tired of reading this article:
1º — Source is newsletter #150. That way you can compare link disposition with newsletter #149 for example, which can give you the ability to tell which places that particular product received more clicks.
2º — Medium is a Link block or a standalone link. That way you can see right off the bat which places of THAT particular newsletter template also gives you more clicks. Sure, you must take into consideration the copy and image being used as well.
3º — Campaign is the promoted product. That way you can also check if users/readers are more interested in the product itself, without caring about where they have to click to buy (among several other things).
And that was just ONE example because your options are endless once you master link tracking via UTM parameters. It’s indeed a very very VERY powerful resource once you know how to use it with precision. Having the ability to go into that level of detail, can transform sales. And sales can transform the future of a business.
THE FINAL WARNING
There’s one more thing. We are surrounded of BAD PEOPLE in the business world and sometimes some monkeys will try to bring your business down and all your marketing efforts to the ground for no reason at all. Seriously. So keep this point in mind:
Besides this marketing resource being prone to error due to Social Behavior, you’ll also have to deal with this additional, fun, business detail as well.
We entrepreneurs/marketers/businessmen study hard to evolve, learn new tools, strategies, tactics, and techniques just to bring THE BEST service/product to our customers and monkeys think it is fun to alter UTM values just for fun. Yes, it happens. They don’t measure the consequences. They may be causing a Marketing Director problems in a meeting with a customer, for instance. And that’s just ONE hypothesis.
So….what’s the solution for fighting this?
Well, check out what Buzzfeed does:
They encode it. They encode their parameters.
That way if someone alters it, new categories will pop up in their traffic reports which they’ll know that it means someone sneaky tried to mess up with particular marketing data. So in order to shield yourself from this sort of problem, you can encode your values with tools such as a Base64 Encoder/Decoder.
Have a nice tracking.
That’s all for now, folks.
PS: Any comments are welcome if you want to add something special 🙂