If you care about marketing and outreach, surely you’ve heard this common lament:
Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted; the trouble is I don’t know which half.
Having worked in both marketing and sales, I’ve now seen both sides of this equation. Marketing folks want to make sure that their online marketing budget goes into the right initiatives, and sales people need to know which of their offerings are most effective for each client.
Once you’ve chosen your advertising method of choice– traditional advertising using banner or sidebar ads, or inbound marketing techniques like advertorial blog posts, Facebook ads, newsletter sponsorships or any of the other dozen ways you can market your company online, you then need to figure out how to track these options.
Enter the UTM code.
UTM codes or UTM parameters are unique links created to monitor traffic online. UTM stands for Urchin tracking module. Not like the pokey sea creature, but named instead for Urchin Software Corporation, which Buffer reports was acquired by Google in 2005. The software, “laid the groundwork for what we now know as Google Analytics.”
UTM codes are those exceptionally long links with unique coding created by advertisers or brands to know where the origin of their website traffic and sales. You’ll find UTM codes on branded Facebook or newsletter links, but also in any online ads. And if you’ve never noticed them before, chances are you will now!
Buffer breaks it down well by explaining that “UTM codes tell the story of how your traffic is coming to you [using] three (or four) elements called ‘UTM parameters.’ The parameters include things like source, medium, content, and campaign; you can see all these elements in this example UTM link from Buffer:
How to Use UTM codes
If you’re an online marketer, these links can be very helpful. And despite their length, UTM codes are easy to create and track with very little investment. These links seem tricky, but are in fact easy to create and track. This is especially important if you’re running different campaigns with various advertisers.
There are many, many ways to build your UTM codes, and if you’re using any social media planning app, like Buffer or HubSpot you can create them with built-in utm link builders. But for those of us not using programs like that, you can do this easily (and free) using Google’s URL Builder.
The Google form walks first-time users though the process and makes it super-duper easy to begin creating codes. Here is a screenshot of the Google form:
Once you have your unique links, you can begin to track where you traffic is coming from, either on your website backend, or by setting your site up in Google Analytics. If you want to get super data-nerdy, you can use programs like MixPanel or Kissmetrics to track everything that happens on your website. For many people, Analytics is enough, but if you’re running a huge site or multiple campaigns, a data program can help keep your tracking under control. HubSpot reminds us that these long UTM links can still be shortened using free services like bit.ly, so that they can be used via Twitter and other social media sites without bogging down your message with a long link.
Why UTM Codes can Help your Marketing Budget
So let’s loop back to the beginning adage about not knowing where your marketing budget is going. When you use the same link for your advertising, your advertorials, and your Facebook ads, you’ll never know which of these is actually successful. So while you might see an uptick in traffic or sales with a new campaign, without knowing where the customers are coming from, you don’t know which 50% of your budget is effective!
But if you set up your Facebook ads, your banner ads, and your advertorials with unique UTM links, you’ll see each time these are clicked. This knowledge will help you make real-time decisions about which advertising options are most effective, swapping out under-performing ads with those that are more successful. These links are also great for long-term tracking too, allowing you to track the success of a blog post or a social share over the long-term.
As the Accounts Manger here at Important Media, I suggest to all our clients to create their own UTM links, especially for any advertising and advertorials, so that we can help them manage successful online marketing campaigns and get great results from their marketing budget.
Computer keyboard image from Marcie Casas from Flickr/Creative Commons