UTM Links: How do you know your ad campaign is effective?

When you put together an ad campaign, how do you know which elements are working for you? For example, if you are having a summer sale and you point customers back to your website, how do you know which ad campaign pieces are working for you? How do you know if your newspaper ad is working compared to your Facebook ad? If you are only linking back to your website with a plain URL, it will be hard to tell. You will be able to see a spike in traffic in your Google Analytics, but you will not be able to see if it is from a poster, postcard, or billboard. But there is a way. It is called a UTM link.

UTM Links

If you frequent the internet, you will have run across UTM link. UTM links include some additional variables at the end of your URL. These additional variables help you determine how someone found and accessed your link. Let me show you an example with my website.

If I wanted you to click on a link to my website, I would use the link http://tubarks.org. However, I would not know if you found and use the link from a newspaper advertisement, a postcard, a billboard, or from a sign on the side of a car. I, therefore, have to make each link unique. This is where UTMs come into play.

Using the same URL, I will now alter it to reflect my summer sale, ad campaign #1:

Newspaper ad – http://tubarks.org/?utm_source=PostJournal&utm_medium=ad&utm_campaign=Summer_Sale&utm_content=ad1

A UTM has a number of parts

  • http://tubarks.org/ – the base URL
  • ?utm_source=PostJournal – This is the source. Use the name of the location of the ad. In this case, it is in the newspaper called the Post Journal. If you are planning to advertise in multiple newspapers, just change the name of the paper in the link. Remember, you cannot use spaces.
  • &utm_medium=ad – This shows how the link appears in the advertisement. It could be social for social media, email for an email link, banner for a banner ad, etc. Since this example is an advertisement in a newspaper, I am calling it an ad.
  • &utm_campaign=Summer_Sale – This section is where you identify your campaign. It helps you zero in on a specific campaign. If you have a Friday sale each Friday, you could name each campaign: FridayJune9, FridayJune16, FridayJune23, etc.
  • &utm_content=ad1 – This helps to differentiate between ads if you have multiple ads.

Examples of ad links

Each of these ads will go to the same URL but will be reflected differently in my Google analytics. In an article by Dan McGaw, there is a great example of three possible UTM links. “In this example, we have three potential areas where people can click: the logo, the hero image and the blue call to action button.”

Building Ad Campaign Links

When building a UTM link, I recommend doing it in two phases: create the link and shorten the link with bit.ly, if you are simply going to list your link. While you can create your link by hand, I actually recommend that you use tools to build your links. Here are three tools I recommend:

Let me show you how each works.

Google Campaign URL Builder


Google Campaign URL Builder

Google Campaign URL Builder

Google Campaign URL Builder is very easy to use. You simply go to the URL and paste in your base URL. In the appropriate fields, enter your source, medium, campaign, and content. The resulting URL will be displayed. I recommend that you copy this URL and then shorten it with bit.ly. Google has a shortener; however, it does not allow you to modify it.

Effin Amazing UTM Builder


Effin Amazing UTM Builder

Effin Amazing UTM Builder

Effin Amazing UTM Builder is an extension for Google Chrome. You click on the extension when you are on the page you want customers to navigate to. The base URL will automatically appear in the appropriate field. You then need to enter your source, medium, campaign, and content. You can then click on the Copy button to copy the URL into your clipboard. One of the features I really like is the presets. You can save different ad campaigns for later recall. This tool also has a connection with Bit.ly; however, I prefer to paste them directly into bit.ly so that I can modify them.

Google Sheets

You can also use a Google Sheet or Microsoft Excel Spreadsheet to build your URLs. I picked this idea up from Bear Ideas. Basically, you would create a column in your sheet to record each element and then concatenate them together to build you UTM link. I recommend that you visit “Improve Your Data with Campaign Tracking URLs” to see it in action. The article provides a link to a Google Sheet so that you can get started immediately. You could enhance the sheet by adding columns to record the success of your ad elements.

Shortening Your Ad Campaign Links

If you are going to visibly display your links such as on a billboard, poster, postcard, newspaper add, etc. I would recommend shortening your links with Bit.ly. Bit.ly will allow you to customize the link so that it is easier to remember.

Bit.ly is easy to use. I recommend that you create an account so that you can track your ad campaign in Bit.ly. With an account, you will also be able to rename your shortened links. You can either create shortened links with the Bit.ly website or the Chrome extension. I would recommend going to the website if you are trying to shorten the UTM links. Here is a detailed article I wrote about using Bit.ly.

Final Thoughts

While UTM links may seem difficult at first glance, they are actually very easy to use. If you are interested to see if you are getting bang for your buck, you will definitely want to use UTM links.

Recently, I went back to all the links I added in Meet Edgar and Pinterest to chenge them to UTM links. I am looking forward to see how they show up in my Google Analytics.

How do you see yourself using UTM links to support your business? Please leave a comment below. If you would like to know more about using UTM links for your ad campaign, please feel free to contact me.

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Stan Skrabut

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Stan Skrabut

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