27 Nov 2023

Best Practices for UTM Building in GA4 + Find a Free Tool at the End

Do you know how much traffic your emails generated for your most recent promotion?

How about your social media platforms – which one brings the most clicks to your hotel website?

If you don’t know the answers to these questions off the top of your head, that’s OK – as long as you have a place where you can look that data up.

But that brings us to the next challenge, doesn’t it? Checking your website analytics, email provider, and socials for user data can feel like an endless task that still doesn’t provide the insights you’re looking for.  That’s where UTM codes can help. They track all your traffic sources and collect user stats to make this data easily accessible for you in Google Analytics. Not only does that shed light on your marketing initiatives results. It’s also a great way to justify your promo budget and ensure you’re spending it wisely.

So, what are UTMs? How do they work? And what’s changing with the launch of Google Analytics 4?

First things first: What is a UTM code?

Let’s start with the origin of UTMs. The acronym stands for ‘Urchin tracking module’ which comes from Urchin Analytics, the company that first developed UTMs. Google bought Urchin in 2005 and developed its product into what we know as Google Analytics today.

Now, that doesn’t help you understand what a UTM is, does it?  So, let’s take a closer look at UTM codes and what they do.

In short, they’re a bit of text, also known as a tag, which you can add to a link. This tag helps Google Analytics (or similar tools) get more background information about the URL and the traffic it sends without changing the link’s properties.

Here’s an example of a link to an imaginary hotel website with UTM tags:

It appears a bit messy at first. But if you look closer, you can identify the UTM codes attached to this link. They identify the marketing campaign, traffic source and even the exact Facebook post that sends visitors to the landing page for this sample hotel’s Christmas promotion.

That allows Google Analytics to track exactly how many people find this seasonal offer via a specific Facebook post and how these site visitors behave once they’re on the website. This can give you valuable insights like how much time Facebook users spend on your site or how many of them end up booking the offer.

When to use UTM codes

UTM codes are useful whenever you share a link to your website because they let you track traffic sources and your promotional campaigns’ performance.

Here are some examples of where UTMs come in handy:

  • Social media: when linking back to your website from both sponsored and normal posts, UTMs track which type of content brings the most clicks.
  • Email campaigns: when linking to your website, a landing page, or your booking engine via newsletters or email blasts, track how many people click and how they behave. Do they explore your offer, book it or click away?
  • PPC (pay-per-click) ad campaigns: UTMs let you monitor each ad’s effectiveness and the data can reveal where you need to fine-tune your next promotion.
  • Third-party sites: if you publish a guest post or a press release, they’ll likely include backlinks to your site. Add UTMs to see which of them drives the most traffic.
  • Any other time you want to know exactly where traffic is coming from and how these site visitors behave.

Important UTM parameters to track your traffic

UTM parameters tell Google Analytics how to categorize your traffic and better break down data in its reports. In the past, Universal Analytics had five parameters. Google Analytics 4 will offer up to eight for those who want to get extra granular.

However, of these eight parameters, only three are required.

Required UTM parameters

  • Source: lets you identify the traffic’s origin, e.g. Facebook, TikTok, paid ads, or your weekly newsletter.
  • Medium: categorizes the types of traffic sources, e.g. social media (all platforms), blogs and email (both newsletters and promotional email blasts).
  • Campaign: highlights why you generated this traffic, e.g. for a last-minute summer holiday promotion, a direct booking campaign, or to offer newsletter subscribers an exclusive deal.

Optional UTM parameters

  • Content: reveals which specific piece of content is driving the traffic, e.g. one post, image or link. That’s especially useful when you’re linking to the same page from several posts or ads and you want to see which one works best.
  • Creative format: tracks how various content formats such as text only, images, videos or display ads are performing.
  • Term: monitors paid ads that target a certain keyword. It shows which keyword the website visitor used to find you.
  • Marketing tactic: records your campaign’s overarching purpose, e.g. prospecting, retargeting, etc.
  • Source platform: tracks the platform responsible for directing traffic to a given Analytics property such as Google Ads, Search Ads 360, and Display & Video 360.

The Role of UTMs in hotel marketing

Understanding where your site visitors come from and how they behave on your website is critical for several reasons:

  • Identifying the channels that bring the most valuable traffic: knowing this allows you to focus on channels that bring you site visitors who are more likely to be interested in your offers.
  • Seeing which promotions do best with various audiences: gaining a better understanding of your target market will help you create even more relevant offers for them in the future.
  • Finding out which ad campaigns or sponsored posts brought the best results: especially with paid content, detailed tracking is worthwhile since it shows which initiatives created the most interest and conversions.
  • Discovering which content formats work best: not all channels and guest segments respond the same to one type of content. Knowing what works where and for whom is the key to creating effective campaigns.
  • Deciding where you should focus your efforts in the future: combining all the insights above will help you make your marketing dollars go further and get a better ROI.

In short, having this data at your fingertips takes the guesswork out of your marketing and campaign development. That allows you to be more strategic and get better results in the long run.

How to build UTMs is Google Analytics 4

Now that Google Analytics 4 will soon replace Universal Analytics, we asked Kyle McGregor, GA4 expert at three&six, about the best practices when using UTMs in Google Analytics 4.

Here’s what he said: “The same best practices will continue to apply. That means you should develop and stick to naming conventions for UTMs across marketing teams. Always be consistent here. It’s also important to keep it simple and avoid overcomplicating things. Lastly, create bespoke reporting if required to fully understand your campaigns’ impact.”

Let’s look a bit more closely at Kyle’s points and how you can implement them.

Develop and stick with naming conventions for UTMs

Before you start creating and using UTMs, decide how you’ll name the various traffic sources, promotions, content formats and referral channels you plan to track. Be consistent with the naming patterns you implement. For example, choose if you’ll always use lowercase or uppercase. Then, ensure your team is aware of and has access to these guidelines.

Keep it simple

Pick straightforward names for your UTM tags that leave no room for misinterpretation. Everyone working with them should easily be able to grasp what they describe. This reduces the risk of any misunderstandings and interpreting data the wrong way. On top of that, clear names make it easier for new team members to jump in.

Also, be clear on which data you really need to track. Just because there are so many UTM parameters doesn’t mean you always have to use them all.

Create bespoke reporting to better understand your results

Google Analytics lets you dig deep into the data. If the standard reports aren’t enough, you can refine them to get highly specific insights. You can do that by applying different filters or summarizing specific data sets. While you could do this yourself, it’s much easier with an expert by your side who knows which settings will get you exactly the data you want. Of course, the team at three&six is happy to help you out here.

A Straightforward tool to create your next UTM

Now, creating, using, and tracking UTMs may all sound like a bit much. But once you get into it, it’s quite straightforward. Especially since you don’t even have to write out your UTM links manually.

To automate that step, we created a simple tool to help you build your link in minutes – UTM codes and all!

Just add your parameters and you’ll immediately get the corresponding tracking link. It’s quick and easy and you never have to worry about typos costing you traffic or valuable user data.

Test the tool now 👉 GA4-Friendly UTM Builder

Still, have questions about UTMs or Google Analytics 4? Let us know – our experts are here to help!