Advancing communications measurement and evaluation

If You’re Not Using UTM Codes to Measure Web Traffic, You Probably Should Be

You’ve probably heard by now—and may be getting sick of hearing it—but it’s planning season for communicators.

Many communicators are taking this time to review their campaigns from the last year and are preparing for 2018.

The fourth quarter is an excellent time to decide on new communication and measurement tactics to employ in the coming year.

Although they’re not exactly new, UTM parameters offer valuable data about communications campaigns.

You’ve probably at least heard of them, but if you’re not using them, you could be missing out on some important insight.

What are UTM parameters?

UTM stands for urchin tracking module, and these parameters, also called codes, are additions to links that facilitate better tracking and attribution of website traffic.

Five different categories can be added to a URL to give it identifying information:

  • Source: Identifies the origin of traffic referrals, such as Twitter or your weekly newsletter.
  • Medium: The type of link that referred the traffic, including email, cost per click, and social.
  • Term: Identifies search terms used.
  • Content: A term that classifies the item that was clicked on to bring the user to the site, such as “banner” to identify a clicked banner ad.
  • Campaign: The specific promotion or campaign the link is associated with.

Links can be easily created with the help of Google’s Campaign URL Builders. Users simply need to copy and paste the original URL and enter the desired information into each field. The URL Builder pieces the information together, allowing communicators to copy and paste the completed link onto social media, in emails, and anywhere else you may be sharing content.

The information tracked by these links gets funneled into your Google Analytics account, allowing users to create and track custom campaigns.

These codes give communicators insight about the behavior of the users who click on them.

If your company blog has just published a new post, for example, you could just share the original link to every social network, but that would leave you wondering how many people clicked on it, which sources drove the most traffic, and whether or not those viewers converted.

With UTM codes, however, each link you share can contain the information to provide all of this insight and more.

If I were to share a link from a recently published Measurement Standard post on Twitter, for example, the link would look like this:

http://www.themeasurementstandard.com/2017/11/pr-measurements-big-obstacle-expanding-awareness/?utm_source=twitter&utm_medium=social&utm_campaign=TheMeasurementStandard&utm_content=awareness

This link records and funnels to Google Analytics that the traffic originated on a social network, specifically Twitter. The content tag “awareness” allows us to see how much of the site’s traffic was driven by this specific piece of content.

Why are they useful?

PR professionals and communicators always look for better, easier ways to measure and prove the value of their work, but with a variety of barriers, including lack of budget, minimal training, and limited time, implementing measurement can be complicated.

UTM parameters offer one avenue for reliable, free measurement. The links pair with Google Analytics, another free measurement resource, to prove verifiable evidence of the value of communicators’ work.

Once you’ve built UTM codes and shared them, navigate to your Google Analytics account to access the data recorded. Within your account, click on Attribution in the main menu on the left side of the screen. From here, click on: Campaigns>All Campaigns. This will bring you to the main table, containing data from every campaign, including those associated with UTM codes you’ve created and shared.

In particular, this default chart provides information on acquisition, including the number of sessions and new users, behavior, such as time spent on the page and bounce rate, and conversions.

Clicking on a specific campaign drills into different dimensions of the data, namely the source/medium and/or the content responsible for driving the traffic of each campaign.

Additionally, setting up goals within Google Analytics in conjunction with UTM parameters provides greater insight into how communications efforts contribute to business goals.

Goals track conversions, such as downloaded content or signing up for a newsletter. This information then gets funneled into the default chart under the “All Campaigns” tab.

With these goals set up, professionals have proof that a user who originated by clicking on a UTM code and reading their content went on to convert into a lead, providing verifiable evidence that part of a communication plan contributed to an actual business objective.

Implementing and maximizing the potential of these links contributes to a stronger measurement program that proves how PR programs achieve business goals.

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