One of the most common problems for those new to online marketing is not knowing where your traffic’s coming from. You may feel confused about which of your efforts are working, or worse, THINK you know where your traffic and clients/customers are coming from but be wrong. Having accurate information is of course essential to improving your marketing efforts.
Some of this can be answered easily with Google Analytics. It’s pretty straightforward to see whether that guest post you wrote or your listing in an industry directory is bringing people to your site. But many businesses – even some larger ones – are missing some easy opportunities to get greater insight into their social media efforts.
Social media is especially important to track well because businesses invest so much time in it. You can leverage those efforts much more effectively if you know what’s getting people to take the actions you want, and what is a waste of your time.
The key to getting this insight is to make use of link tagging. You’ve probably noticed that some websites use really long links like this:
And maybe your site’s links just look something like this:
There are lots of technical reasons why a site might have very long links, but for the purpose of this post we’re going to focus on the kind of add-ons you see above, called UTM tags.
What do these do? When someone clicks on these links, the information in the tags is sent to Analytics, and you can see in your reports how different links performed. Note that while we’re talking about them in the context of social media, these tags can be used with any link you put on another site, like with paid advertising, forum posts, or links from a guest post.
IMPORTANT: Do not use these tags on internal links that people already on your website use to navigate it. ONLY use UTM tags for links placed on other websites. Using tags on internal links is great way to screw up your Analytics data, so don’t do it.
Let’s break down the different parts of the link above. You always need to start with a question mark, and each parameter is separated by an ampersand (&). The most important UTM tags to know are “utm_source” and “utm_medium”
The source is, almost always, the website where the traffic came from. In our example, this is Twitter, but you could also have utm_source=facebook.com, utm_source=google.com, or utm_source=huffingtonpost.com.
This is the most misunderstood of the tags. Many marketers and other introductory articles on UTM tags get this wrong, using the medium tag for things that should go in source or campaign instead. Medium describes the type of traffic, this case social. Social of course describes organic traffic from Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, etc… (as opposed to paid social media). Some other common medium categories are:
- organic (for traffic from search engines like Google and Bing)
- referral (free links from other sites – this is the default unless another medium has been specified)
- cpc (traffic from pay-per-click advertising – generally AdWords and Bing ads)
- email (for links in your email campaigns)
- affiliate (you can request that any affiliates you have use this as the medium for links to your site)
- ebook (links placed in your ebooks)
- radio (I think you get the picture…)
The medium tag lets you see how ALL social media traffic performs, so that you get a sense of how social media as a whole works for you, as opposed to organic search as driven by your SEO efforts, your paid online advertising, or other marketing initiatives. It’s a valuable way of seeing what general types of marketing work for you.
The campaign parameter is a little more flexible than medium or source. People use this in two ways. The first is to use it to designate campaigns on ad platforms. But some people also use it in the more traditional sense of a marketing campaign: an effort to promote a particular product, service, event, or other specific initiative. Note that if you’re using autotagging in AdWords, your UTM tags will follow the first protocol. However, you can make it easy to combine both these approaches and still readily see how individual campaigns are performing by making sure your AdWords campaign names are the same as the broader campaign, or at least contain the same words so you can use that to filter, preferably at the beginning of the name. For example, 30daychallenge-search, 30daychallenge-remarketing.
The content tag is used to designate the specific ad, tweet, post, etc… where the link is placed. You’ll find that you don’t always need it if the creative you’re talking about is clear based on the campaign (though I would recommend that you try to have multiple versions of creative running for any campaign at all times, so that you’re always testing and getting information about what your audience responds to). If needed, I sometimes use the content tag to also designate the ad group, which especially comes in handy if you’re using the same copy in multiple places: adgroup1-superawesome.
Pro Tip: Google has a tool that makes building these links easier. Just enter the URL of your landing page and each parameter, and the form will give you a correctly-formatted link. The tool has help documentation to guide you through it and remind you of what I’ve explained above.
On social media especially, once you have your links with parameters, you’ll want to use a URL shortening service like bitly that will enable you to post a short URL that redirects to your longer link. Note that due to the misuse of these shortened URLs by some in the past, they are sometimes viewed with suspicion by certain web communities such as Reddit. You should be fine on major social networks like Twitter and Facebook, but for other communities you’ll want to proceed with care. Look to see what others are doing or check the site’s guidelines.
Some social media specialists might say that using UTM tags for organic social media promotion is overkill, but once you get into the habit of adding them it doesn’t take much time – and the benefit you get of better tracking will give you a distinct advantage compared to those who say it’s not worth it.
Today’s Action Step: Start using UTM tags on your social media posts. You may find the first one to be a little tricky, but once you get in the habit of setting these up, it becomes easier. If you need help, join the Bite by Bite Business Facebook group and get help from the community.