April 07, 2021 in Tips by

If you’re like me, you’re in Google Analytics every day! It’s an essential part of any online marketing campaign. Then someone introduces you to the URL Builder, and you realize that it could be even better!

Google Analytics Campaign URL Builder can help you:

Does this interest you? Great! Let’s begin!

Hold on. Often, I’ve found that people get excited about the URL Builder and jump right in. This can create some problems if you don’t plan things accordingly. Let’s pause for a moment and get organized. This way, the URL Builder will be even more valuable! Here are some common issues to work out!

Consistency is Key

The goal here is to be able to see all your data in one report. To do that, we need to make sure our tagging is consistent. Pay attention to these things:

If you take the time to keep your data consistent, you’ll find the Google Analytics reports much easier to use. That means you’ll use them more!

Make Labels Helpful

Full disclosure: I’m taking these from an old post from LunaMetrics (that’s no longer available). They’re still a great idea, so I wanted to share them with you here.

When considering what to tag your URLs, think about how they will be most helpful to you later. The best way to do this is to make sure your tags each answer questions:

The best way to explain this is by analogy. For instance, let’s say you’re manually tagging your Microsoft Ads campaign (because you don’t yet realize Microsoft will do it for you). If that’s the case, you will use the following tags:

This makes sense, I hope. How would we apply this to an email campaign- such as manually tagging links in a Constant Contact email?

The following two options for UTM tracking are optional:

Do you see how helpful this could be?

Plan Ahead

Don’t just consider what you’re doing today. Think about how you might do it in the future.

For example, I frequently speak at conferences. I hate to disappoint you, but I don’t just do that to help share knowledge. I hope to grow my business. That’s why, at the end of my presentation, I create a trackable URL using Google’s URL builder. Since the UTM codes can be overwhelming (and easy to confuse), I simplify this with a redirect. For instance, I might create a URL ending in the conference’s name (/wordcamp) that simply redirects to a landing page using the UTM codes. Since I know one of my growth strategies is to do this regularly, I use a standard UTM code format:

For the next conference, I only need to change the source (to the name of the next meeting) and the campaign to the date. If I keep things consistent, then I can always sort my GA data by medium to see the impact of all my “speaking” engagements.

Another way of doing this is to consider all offline efforts together. For instance, I have pens and business cards. I have set up redirecting UTM codes for these that set:

While we’re talking about planning, I’ll bring up something I discovered recently. If you use Cloudflare to serve and protect your website, you limit the number of characters in your URLs. I found this after I sent an auto-tagged email campaign. Unfortunately, people could not view a page on my website because the tracking URL was too long. It just served a blank page! I learned that I needed to plan and make sure my tracking parameters weren’t too long. They should be descriptive but concise. Pay heed!

Understand the Limitations

Let’s pause a moment to consider what’s going on with the UTM codes we add. If Google Analytics finds a URL with a UTM code in it, it overrides the session attribution data to whatever you’ve set it to say.

There are a couple of things to consider here.

Never use UTM codes in internal links within a website. If you do, you’ll not only inflate the number of sessions (because sessions will start over), but you’ll also lose the source of the traffic to your website (instead, you’ll see the session attributed to the new source/medium).

One time I saw an over-eager marketer attempt to track how people were interacting with a menu on a site, using UTM codes. While I appreciate their desire to see which items in a menu people wanted to use- and which they were not using- the UTM codes were the wrong way to do this! Every time someone clicked on a link in the menu, the session started over! Sure, they knew someone used that item in the menu, but they inflated their sessions (making it look like they had more visits than they had). They also lost the original source of traffic (losing the ability to attribute goals to the original source/medium). They should have used event tracking or A-B tests (like Google Optimize) to do this. Please don’t repeat their mistake.

Another thing to consider (and this is the SEO in me worrying about this) is your pages’ canonicity. Be sure you have proper canonical tags set on each page of your website. This prevents Google from indexing URLs with tracking parameters (which would falsely attribute organic search traffic to the indexed URL with tracking parameters). It also contains duplicate content issues (where people can view the same content but from different pages). When you have two different URLs with the same content, you allow Google to decide which URL to enter into its index- and sometimes Google chooses the wrong URL. Besides that, it dilutes your link equity between two different URLs, not allowing each to “rank” well. In other words, before you start using UTM codes on your site, be sure your canonical tags are correct. If you can’t use canonical tags on your site, you can exclude UTM codes from within Google Search Console (but be careful).

Document everything

To help keep your UTM codes consistent, helpful and to help you plan ahead, you should document everything. This will help you remember what you’ve used in the past, so make sure you keep using the same ideas in the future. Here are some tips to help:

Tangent: so much of good marketing is about being organized. Take time to document everything, and I promise you’ll see better marketing performance later!

Test everything

I’ve seen it before. Learn from my mistakes: be sure to test your URLs before you launch your campaign. There’s no telling how your server, CDN, CMS, or something else might handle these URLs. At the same time, it is disappointing that this will temporarily inflate your data (these test visits will show up in your GA account). That’s better than launching a campaign that is untrackable at all. Or worse: people can’t even see your webpage after visiting your tracked URL.

Also, make sure you’re not passing through redirects with your tracking URL. Specifically, make sure you’re adding your tracking code to the canonical URL that resolves to the page’s final version after all redirects. That doesn’t seem to be clear, so here are some things to watch out for:

Test your site out and see what the URL resolves to without the UTM code before adding your UTM codes. Some sites might remove parameters (which is the technical term for your UTM codes) through redirects.

By the way- if a page on your website can be viewed with or without any of these variations, generating the same page, you might have a canonicalization problem that could be hurting your SEO efforts. Fix that, too.

Conclusion: UTM Codes are Powerful if done right

I hope all these rules (and mistakes I’ve made) don’t discourage you from using UTM codes in your marketing efforts. I love UTM codes. If you’ve made it this far, you see the potential as well. Learn from my experience, however, and make sure you set them up correctly. If you do, you’ll have the following advantages:

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