Situation Report

Track Links With Google URL Builder

So… you’re wrapping up all your holiday advertisements this week. You’ve got traffic coming in from Adwords, Facebook, email blasts, Twitter and more. You’re getting great results, your ROI is through the roof and you’re almost on to celebrating. Sadly, when it’s time to analyze trends and individual campaign performance next week you notice a serious problem: You have no idea which ads or sources to attribute fiscal success because you didn’t build links correctly, or at all.

Bummer. That sucks.

But you can redeem your future self. Here’s how:

In order to properly build your links, several tags should be appended to the end of all URLs you wish to track. We’ll use http://vuurr.com/ as an example URL representing a holiday campaign on Facebook.

Before you start, add a ? (question mark) to the end of your base URL and remember to place an & (ampersand) between each utm_tag. Also, all URL building should be written in lowercase:

    utm_source tells Analytics which source the link is coming from. In this example, it’s “facebook,” but it could also be adwords, bing, nytimes, /blog or wherever you embed your link. EX: http://vuurr.com/?utm_source=facebook
    utm_medium tells Analytics what kind of source (a.k.a. medium) the link represents. Adwords, Facebook, Bing and the like are “cpc.” If you’re putting a link in your email, you’d append “email,” in Pinterest you might append “photo,” etc. The example URL builds as follows: http://vuurr.com/?utm_source=facebook&utm_medium=cpc
    utm_campaign is an easy one – it describes your campaign. Because our example is a holiday discount campaign, you’d attribute “discount” (or “holiday_discount” but I prefer to be succinct when possible). If you were sending out an email, you may attribute this to the date it was sent or the discount in the email. For our example: http://vuurr.com/?utm_source=facebook&utm_medium=cpc&utm_campaign=discount
    utm_term is generally only appended to PPC campaigns because it represents the keywords used in the ad (or the adgroup name). However, sometimes I use it just as another modifier for the ad. If you need to use two words, combine them with a + (plus sign), like “holiday+shopping.” In our example, the campaign term is “holiday,” since it’s a holiday ad, making the link now look like this: http://vuurr.com/?utm_source=facebook&utm_medium=cpc&utm_campaign=discount&utm_term=holiday
    utm_content is best used when you’re split testing ad copy. You can either append a description of what you’re testing in the ad or you can number them. If your content tag has more than one word, make it one word in the URL, like “=bluebutton” instead of “=blue button.” I usually just number ads, so if this is the second ad for this campaign or adgroup, the example link would now finish: http://vuurr.com/?utm_source=facebook&utm_medium=cpc&utm_campaign=discount&utm_term=holiday&utm_content=2

You don’t need to use all the utm_tags; your data will attribute to the correct dimensions in Google Analytics to the extent you describe it. When traffic starts to come in and site metrics are recorded, go to Traffic Sources > Campaigns and/or Traffic Sources > Search > Paid to view your incoming campaign links. Switch between “Source/Medium,” “Source,” etc. to see your link building hard at work and compare source performance and future opportunity.

Building correct links allows you to properly and accurately analyze which sources in your marketing strategy are working best and which are ineffective; thus, saving you time, money and resources while you fuel the fires that make you money.

If you have the patience for automatic URL building forms, Google Support has a good one! Keep in mind this URL builder from Google only works for Google. If you’re using a link tracker other than Google, they may use a different _tag.

About Emily Timm

Emily Timm is a Marketing Project Manager and copywriter, editor at Vuurr. She manages projects for both our marketing brain and development hand. Even though her day revolves around connecting clients with the services that make them happiest, Emily focuses on PPC optimization and email funnel management, specifically ad copy and split testing. Outside of Vuurr, she loves hiking, biking and cooking. Emily received her Master’s and Bachelor’s in Journalism and Mass Communication from Arizona State University.

Remarks

  1. Hey Emily! I’m going through the Analytics certification modules, and they keep pushing you to use the automatic URL builder (instead manually adding the tags) so that you can see reports on lots of different criteria/dimensions. Your article is making it sound like you can still do detailed reporting if you add the tags manually. Can you clarify that for me? I’m wondering if Google is just pushing their own crap (as usual) or if there really are downsides to doing it manually.

    • Shaina! Thanks for the note.

      To your first question, you can absolutely append all these utm_tags manually. You don’t need any automatic builders; just follow the pattern.

      To your concern over Google’s URL builder, no, there is no downside. When you look at the webpage, you’ll see that Google simply separates all the options into separate form fields. You can fill out however many tags you want and Google will just append the needed tags. Super easy. I cannot be sure of the other modules that are pushing you to use their URL builders, but I am sure Google does not add anything harmful to your links.

  2. What effect do utms have on SEO, if any? (ie: if you are using utms to track traffic from a blog, would it affect the back-link?)

    • Preston,
      Typically none however I’ve heard people cry duplicate content issues… I haven’t really seen that in the past but if you’re worried about it use rel=canonical tags on the pages in question and you can set to ignore those query strings in both Google Webmaster Tools and Bing Webmaster Tools.

  3. If using one link I wish to track the various sources, then what should I type in the Campaign source?
    (E.g. if I use 1 link for postings on facebook, linkedin, meetups etc., and wish to track the number of visitors from each source, then for the same, what goes into the “source” section of the URL builder?

    • Generally, the utm_source tag describes the place you are posting the link (Facebook, LinkedIn, MeetUp, etc.) and, thus, would change with every link you post on these sources.

      For example, if you wanted to market a statistic to your followers/users across multiple platforms and then link back to your homepage (for simplicity sake, I’ll use Vuurr’s homepage), vuurr.com, you would delegate the UTM tags accordingly for a Facebook status:

      utm_source=facebook
      utm_medium=social
      utm_campaign=marketing+stat

      All together, the link you would put in your Facebook status would look like:
      vuurr.com?utm_source=facebook&utm_medium=social&utm_campaign=marketing+stat

      Since you’re want to post this on various sites (as you suggested in your comment), your utm_source tag would change to match the corresponding “source” as it’s literally called in Google Analytics, or more simply website…

      For LinkedIn:
      vuurr.com?utm_source=linkedin&utm_medium=social&utm_campaign=marketing+stat

      For MeetUp:
      vuurr.com?utm_source=meetup&utm_medium=social&utm_campaign=marketing+stat

      To add one more example to show how the tag pattern looks, here’s how the link might look if you were sending the link in a MailChimp email:
      vuurr.com?utm_source=mailchimp&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=marketing+stat