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Using UTM Strings to Track Inbound Links

Perhaps the greatest struggle that a digital marketer will face is taking the abundance of raw data produced by a campaign and turning it into valuable, actionable data. It is entirely possible to spend 3 hours analyzing different metrics in Google Analytics and still only scratch the surface of a campaign, so every digital marketer has a toolbox of shortcuts and tricks to help make sense of all of those numbers.  

At Adster Creative, we have a long list of tips and tricks that we will be sharing with you over the coming weeks. This week, we will be focusing on the incredibly useful UTM strings.

  Coding UTM strings for the Adster Creative Blog


What is a UTM string?

In short, a UTM string is a specially-crafted tag that is added to a URL. This tag allows Google Analytics to properly label all traffic from that string as part of a campaign, making it far easier to track the performance of your different digital marketing campaigns. Luckily you don’t need a computer science degree to create UTM string, because Google has a handy tool that crafts them for you. They’ve also written an excellent document on the best practices for deploying your UTM strings.

Tip: UTM strings are meant for inbound links only. This means that you should not place them within your own website; rather, use them when posting links to your site on social media sites or directory listings that point to your site.

Track the performance of inbound links with UTM strings.

Any time we Tweet a link to a new blog post, we include a UTM string so that we can track:

  • how many people click on the link
  • how they interact with our site once arriving

and, most importantly:

If we start applying segments and secondary dimensions, we can whittle down the information even further to understand:

  • what time of day drives the most traffic to our site from Twitter
  • which posts led to high user engagement on our site
  • which Twitter headlines led to the most clicks

These strategies can also be employed on other social networking sites, as well as in email marketing campaigns, when guest blogging, in directory listings (that allow UTM strings), and even in your email signature when you link to your own website!

Shorten your UTM strings to make them more ‘clickable’.


See that above link? That is a UTM string in all of it’s glory. (Note: We’ve followed our own rules and have not created a UTM string that points to our website. We will not be able to see the results of the interactions with the above links because it does not point to the Adster Creative URL. Remember: UTM strings are for inbound links only, and not for internal links on your website.)

As marketers, we love seeing UTM strings, because we are interested to see how they are crafted–it gives us an inside look at how a company or agency has chosen to track their campaigns, which may differ from how we do it. To us, it’s a study in technique. But to the general public, UTM strings are scary.

  • Why are they so long?
  • What do all of those extra characters mean?
  • Is that a real URL, or is it a spam link meant to trick me into clicking it?

Those are the most common complaints that we have heard over the years when it comes to using UTM strings, and we can certainly understand how they can seem scary to those not in the know. But, of course, we have a trick for that: you can shorten the UTM string without compromising the ability to track it using the Google URL shortener*.

Using the shortener takes the UTM string from scary (https://twitter.com/AdsterCreative?utm_source=Blog%20Post&utm_medium=Twitter%20Profile&utm_campaign=Test) to attractive (http://goo.gl/S9z19i).

*Note: in our experience, using other URL shorteners (like bitly, for example) will break the UTM string tracking. Instead, we’ve found that it lists the referring URL as the shortening service, rather than the proper campaign reporting protocols listed in the UTM string. For now, we only recommend shortening your URL’s with Google shortener. If this changes, we will update this note accordingly.

As you can imagine, there are thousands of ways to craft and employ UTM strings effectively. The most important thing to remember is that more data is only beneficial if you can actually use that data to drive decisions.