How to ID Your Best Marketing Tactics (And Your Worst)

How to ID Your Best Marketing Tactics and Your Worst

No one wants to throw their money away.

As a marketing professional who has likely received pushback over budget recommendations and requests, you know the stakes are high. Business owners and CEOs want to see results from the money they pour into marketing, plain and simple.

Every marketing tactic is subject to scrutiny, which makes the challenge that much tougher. Looking at your marketing from a 5,000-foot view and boiling it down to “successful” or “not successful” isn’t good enough. What specifically is successful, and what specifically isn’t successful? You must be able to answer these questions.

Imagine this scenario:

You’re presenting on marketing results at your company’s quarterly meeting. Your multi-channel marketing program has been performing great. Website visits are up. Social media engagement is on the rise. Leads are steadily coming in.

You’re feeling on top of the world. Then, it happens… the question gets asked. “Which marketing tactics are bringing in the most leads? We should take money away from the poor performers and use it to boost our efforts in the areas where we are seeing the best ROI.”

You panic. Your mind races as you consider the possibilities. Was it the Facebook ad, or was it the LinkedIn post? Maybe it was the email program. Or, could it have been the postcards?

You realize you don’t have the data to definitively answer the question.

That would be a nightmare, wouldn’t it?

Out with the Bad, In with the Good

For decades, marketers have struggled to identify their best tactics. Marketing pioneer John Wanamaker famously lamented over his inability to know with certainty where his advertising dollars would be best spent.

We, a marketing agency, even admit that marketing is a waste of money… bad marketing, at least. Stop wasting your money on marketing tactics that are DOA. Put it into good tactics instead!

What if we told you that an application exists that allows you to track the performance of each of your marketing tactics in real time? And what if we told you it’s relatively easy to understand and can be implemented quickly? Best of all, what if we told you it’s free?

That all sounds pretty amazing, doesn’t it? We’re not messing with you. This technology actually exists.

Introducing: The UTM!!!

What is a UTM?

Simply put, a UTM is a modification to the URL you drive traffic to as part of your digital marketing efforts that allows you to track which efforts were directly responsible for the traffic.

UTM stands for urchin tracking module, and UTM data is collected and organized within Google Analytics.

UTMs consist of 5 parameters:

  • utm_source = the referrer
  • utm_medium = the marketing medium
  • utm_campaign = the specific campaign or promotion
  • utm_term = the paid search term
  • utm_content = the specific item clicked to bring the person to the site (often used for A/B testing)

The source, medium and campaign are required when creating a UTM. The term and content are optional depending on the purpose of your campaign.

Once generated, the UTM information is added to the end of your destination URL (the website where you want to send people).

You’ve likely seen UTMs before and maybe didn’t realize what they were. For example, here’s one of the UTMs we used to track the traffic to this post:

How UTMs Help You ID Your Best Marketing Tactics (and the Worst, Too)

A company’s website is its marketing and sales hub. It’s the go-to spot for prospective customers, current customers and past customers to gather information. If available, many buyers prefer to purchase online as well.

Google Analytics will give you a snapshot of where your site traffic comes from but not the complete picture.

Take a look at this example:

Google Analytics Referral sources without UTMs

In this instance, you can see referral traffic from marketing efforts such as Facebook and Google. But what if you are running multiple campaigns from the same sources? You have no way of knowing which specific Facebook posts or digital ads are the ones driving the most traffic.

You also need to consider the traffic labeled as “direct traffic” in Google Analytics. This includes visitors who typed your website URL directly into their browser, which makes sense. However, direct traffic also includes link clicks in emails, ebooks or other similar offline marketing pieces.

When you implement UTMs, you’re able to measure with much greater precision the effectiveness of each of your marketing tactics. This enables you to improve your marketing strategy and allocate your resources to try to replicate your successes while improving upon (or potentially just scrapping) your less successful tactics.

UTMs aren’t limited to digital marketing, either. If you utilize postcards, newsletters, brochures or other traditional marketing channels that direct to web pages, you can list the URL with the UTM. However, because links with UTMs are usually pretty long, it’s recommended to use a vanity URL or a URL shortener like Bitly on the printed piece instead. (We’ll provide details on how to implement vanity URLs and shortened URLs later in this post.)

One other thing to keep in mind with UTMs on printed pieces is they are most commonly used to link to specific content pages or landing pages. For branding purposes, most companies don’t apply UTMs to their homepage. They want their homepage to be easily recognizable.

Marketing ROI Toolbox

Track Those Links

UTMs are also valuable when it comes to link-tracking if your company sends out marketing emails or newsletters. Depending on your platform, you may have access to basic data like open and click rate, but you may not know which specific links were clicked.

With UTMs in place, you’ll be able to access that information in Google Analytics. It’s just a matter of assigning a recognizable term for the utm_content field. This is especially handy if you want to get granular with the data you collect if, for example, you have multiple links to your homepage in the same email. You could make one utm_content = emailheader and another utm_content = emailfooter so you know which of the links to the homepage was used most.

Data Organization Made Simple

When sifting through large amounts of data, organization is key. UTMs can help with the organization process by allowing you to sort in Google Analytics by the UTM parameter.

For example, if you set utm_medium = social and utm_source = (whatever social channels you use), you could view all the social data together at once regardless if the source was Facebook, LinkedIn or Instagram.

The same process could be used to sort by campaign if you are utilizing multiple channels to drive traffic within the same campaign.

Google Analytics sorted by medium
Google Analytics sorted by campaign

UTM Best Practices

To get the most out of UTMs, strategy and planning are key. It’s recommended to have a documented UTM strategy that is accessible to everyone in the company. Here are some best practices to follow:

Tag Everything Possible

Other than the aforementioned homepage listing on print materials, apply UTMs to anything that directs to your web properties. You’ll want to be able to account for any web traffic that isn’t direct.

Establish a UTM Naming Convention and Stick to It

Before implementing UTMs, document the conventions you want to use for each parameter and don’t deviate. Even small differences (“linkedin” vs. “” or “social” vs. “social-media”) will muddy the data and make it more difficult to organize and analyze. The same goes for capitalization vs. lowercase and hyphen vs. underscore. Best practice for UTM links is to utilize all lowercase letters.

Keep Names Simple

KISS: Keep it simple, stupid. Everyone within your company should be able to easily tell what your links are referring to. Don’t use complex codes or numbering systems that will cause confusion when data is reviewed weeks or months from now.

Make the Channel You are Using the Source Parameter

For example, utm_source = facebook or utm_source = google.

Never Use UTMs for Internal Links

UTMs are intended for visitors who are coming to your site from an external source. Once they’re on your site, there is no need for UTMs because Google Analytics can track their interactions with the site once they’re there. In fact, adding UTMs to internal links will cause you to lose their original data and restart their session when they click.

How to Create a UTM Link

UTM links can be created manually, but the easiest way is to use Google’s Campaign URL Builder.

Simply fill out the three required fields and the two optional fields if applicable. The new URL with the UTM information added will automatically update in the box below the form. Once you have filled in all your desired parameters, click the “Copy URL” button and paste the generated URL where needed.

If you want a shortened version of the link, it’s as simple as clicking the “Convert URL to Short Link” button and signing in with your Bitly account.

Google Campaign URL Builder with Info Filled In

Another option for displaying a shorter version of the URL with the UTM added is to set up a vanity URL. This is a short URL that is relevant to your campaign and forwards to the appropriate web page.

Hypothetically speaking, let’s pretend Adventure wants to set up a vanity URL that directs to a “Request a Consultation” landing page. In this scenario, we would purchase a relevant URL like and set it up to forward to the landing page URL with the appropriate UTM information applied.

For more information on how to set up a vanity URL, click here.

Stop throwing your money away and get data-backed proof of your best marketing tactics by utilizing UTMs. Your boss’s wallet will thank you.

Have additional questions about UTMs or want to learn even more? Call us at 815.431.1000 or submit this form to contact us.


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