Using UTM Tags To Correctly Identify Traffic Sources In Google Analytics

UTM tags are helpful for identifying where traffic comes from, especially if the traffic comes via a banner ad or other source without referrer data. UTM tags should not be used for direct HTML links, as they pass referrer data automatically to Google Analytics. Instead, UTM tags should be used for PPC, ad campaigns, email campaigns and other links that don’t pass referrer data.

What is a UTM tag?

According to, “a UTM tag is a tracking marker appended to a URL, and is recognized by Google Analytics as a dimension, just like average time on site, for example. UTM stands for Urchin Tracking Module. [In 2005], Google purchased Urchin and rebranded it Google Analytics.”

Here is an example URL with UTM tags:

Common parameters include:

  • Campaign Source: utm_source; usually the site, such as Facebook or blog
  • Campaign Medium: (utm_medium; how the link was published, such as a banner ad or tweet
  • Campaign Term: (utm_term; to identify the paid keywords for search campaigns
  • Campaign Content: (utm_content; use to differentiate ads
  • Campaign Name: (utm_name; for ad campaign names, such as ‘FacebookMay2012’ or ‘sedanbannerad’

UTM tags can be used in almost any type of marketing campaign, from PPC advertising to social sharing. However, if a user copy and pastes a link with UTM tags and uses it in a different medium (e.g. Copying a hyperlink from an email newsletter and sharing it via Twitter), the link’s original UTM tags may be maintained.

Additionally, UTM tags don’t have to be used in Google Adwords campaigns – just enable auto-tagging of links.

Use Pre-Shortened Links

When URLs will be shared in a user-facing environment (email, social, etc), pre-shorten links that contain UTM tags. This is fairly easy in social media sharing platforms like Sendible, TweetDeck, and HootSuite, where the links can be shortened automatically – directly from the sharing screen. In some cases, Twitter will also shorten links automatically as well. Shortened links create more character space on Twitter and are less likely to be modified by users.

While shortening does not prevent users from sharing pre-shortened links in a different medium, it will help keep UTM tags intact and may prevent users from removing them before sharing the link on their own social media profiles, thus keeping the original origin of the link intact.

Automatically Generate UTM Tags

While pre-shortened links for social media and other mediums may have to be generated manually before they are posted, some social sharing platforms, like Twitterfeed, will automatically add UTM tags to RSS feed links when they are posted to Facebook and Twitter. Additionally, many social sharing widgets will automatically either shorten links or have a separate analytics dashboard to show how and where links were shared.

Use Squeeze Pages or Microsites

For large marketing campaigns that promote a specific event, product, or sale, creating a separate squeeze page or microsite can help further determine its individual success. For example, if a microsite is created and the link is only shared via Facebook and/or Twitter, a company may better be able to see how their content is being shared via social media versus using their original website.

While squeeze pages and microsites usually take a significantly longer time to develop, they may be a good option for large annual or occasional campaigns, such as Kellogg’s promoting the 2012 Olympians or Victoria’s Secret Semi-Annual Sale.

The Reliability of Referral Reports

UTM tags are useful for analyzing specific individualized campaigns, keyword analysis, and advertising, but marketers should not forget about the in-depth Referral Reporting that is already available via Google Analytics.

The revised Google Analytics now includes a ‘Secondary Dimension’ option, which allows users to view many parameters about traffic referrals, including keyword and landing page. It can also include traffic demographics, such as browser, country, and language.

Google Analytics - Secondary Dimension

The secondary dimensions are added as a column in the report view under Traffic Sources: Sources: Referrals in the Standard Reporting view.

The revised Google Analytics also now includes a Social section under Traffic Sources. Once a user sets up goals, they can track what Google calls “the social relationship”, which includes:

  • Sources & Pages: Identify networks & communities where people engage with your content.
  • Conversions: Measure the value of social by tracking your goals, conversions and ecommerce transactions.
  • Social Plugins: Measure your on-site user engagement.
  • Social Visitors Flow: Compare traffic volumes and visitor traffic patterns through your site.

These new report parameters allow SEOs to take a deeper look at where traffic is coming from, how it is being shared online through a variety of different mediums, and the keywords that are used to get there. As Google Analytics continues to evolve with live traffic statistics and deeper source origin, marketers will be able to further customize their online marketing to make it as successful as possible.

Free UTM URL Builders:


  1. says

    I couldn’t find a single article about UTM tags that wasn’t full of head-splitting jargon and confusing explanations. This is just what I need – thanks Adam!

  2. says

    Hi Adam,

    Great insights!

    I’m about to launch a new ppc campaign for an ecommerce site, the UTM tag is gonna be help to identify the traffic source and make measure of the effective campaign easier, and thanks for the URL builder.

  3. Grant says


    Thanks for the article. Very helpful.

    What I’m trying to find out, though, is this: I have a generic opt-in form that appears in the sidebar of all my WordPress pages. I have an OnClick event attached to the form’s button. I want to pass the document.referrer value as the event’s Label value. The rest of the event’s values get passed successfully, but the referrer value always ends up empty. I can’t seem to find out how to pass that referrer value via an event.

    Any ideas? Thanks for any help you could provide.


  4. says


    The only reason (apart from weird firewall or proxy settings on the client-side) why the document.referrer would be empty is if the visitor enters the page directly e.g. via bookmark or browser address bar.

    So if it’s always empty, there’s something wrong with your event syntax.

    Google Analytics:
    onClick=”_gaq.push([‘_trackEvent’, ‘Form’, ‘Submit’, document.referrer]);”

    Universal Analytics:
    onClick=”ga(‘send’, ‘event’, ‘Form’, ‘Submit’, document.referrer);”

    Best regards,

    Simo Ahava

  5. says

    Thanks for your reply, Simo. I was using Universal Analytics and the exact syntax you showed in your reply…but still no referrer info sent as part of the event.

    However, I then successfully used Google Tag Manager, and I now realize that I don’t have to send the referrer info since it’s available when I go to Behavior > Events > Top Events > Primary Dimension > Other > Content > Page.



    • says

      Hi Charly, yes you can set up a tag is there is a specific post or tweet that you want to track. Whether it fits in a campaign with other activity or is a standalone item with decide how you set your tag up.

      So for example if I was wanting to track from Facebook or Twitter, for a specific post I could set:
      Campaign Name: This is my overall name, e.g. WidgetLaunch022014 for my blog post about a widget launch
      Campaign Medium: How was it delivered, via social or banner ad
      Campaign Source: This is where I would flag the specific source – so Facebook or Twitter

      Hope this answers your question – but shout if it’s not clear!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *