7 Common Google Analytics UTM URL Tracking Mistakes To Avoid

What is a UTM, A.K.A. a Campaign URL?

UTM parameters are tracking markers that you can add to a URL pointed at your website to track where visitors come from in granular detail in Google Analytics. UTM stands for Urchin Tracking Module. Urchin was the original name of the analytics software acquired by Google that was ultimately integrated into Google Analytics. UTMs are particularly helpful for tracking visitors from social media posts, emails, PDFs, etc. For more information on what UTMs are and how they’re used in social media check out Buffer’s excellent UTM Guide. For more information and examples for each UTM parameter check out Google’s Campaign URL Builder.

As long as the website you are linking to with UTM parameters has Google Analytics tracking code installed on it, it will record the UTM parameters when a visitor visits the website using the URL with UTM parameters included in the link they use to access the website. The only required parameter is the campaign source (utm_source), the rest of the UTM parameters are optional, although in almost all cases I would recommend using all of them except the campaign term (utm_term) parameter.

Common UTM Mistakes To Avoid

If you’re running into problems tracking UTMs, hopefully this list of common UTM mistakes will help you find a solution. If your problem isn’t addressed by any of these common UTM mistakes, feel free to share what you’re struggling with in the comments and I’ll do my best to try and help you out.

  1. Multiple entries for the same link due to UTM inconsistencies

    To avoid this mistake use the KUSS principle “Keep UTMs simple, stupid”. I keep my UTMs simple by sticking exclusively to lowercase characters, numbers, hyphens for spaces and not using any other special characters.When you don’t use the KUSS principle you end up with duplicates of the same UTM source, which results in this:

    Same UTM source treated as separate source due to difference in capitalization


  2. UTMs getting stripped from URL by redirects before hitting your site

    If you link to a URL that isn’t on the website you want to track, that then redirects to the site you do want to track without the UTMs they will not be recorded in Google Analytics, since the redirect has stripped the UTMs. In this scenario Google Analytics on the target site never loads a URL containing the parameters so nothing is recorded. Instead it would record the visit as a referral from the website containing the redirect with no additional tracking information.

    Alternatively, if you link to a shortened URL that then redirects to the target website with the UTM parameters added to the end of the target website URL – as is the standard practice – then Google Analytics will see the URL containing the UTM parameters and record the additional tracking information as intended.

    It is possible to track UTMs through one website and track the associated activity on another, but this requires a more complex setup with cross-domain tracking. If you’re interested in doing so and have access to both websites you can make this work following Simo’s guide to Troubleshooting Cross-Domain Tracking In Google Analytics utilizing Google Tag Manager, which makes it relatively easy if you know what you’re doing.


  3. Adding UTMs incorrectly to URLs with existing query strings

    If you’re at all unsure about the formatting of your UTM-enabled URL, just use Google’s Campaign URL Builder to make sure there’s nothing wrong with your URL’s formatting – it only takes a minute and will give you peace of mind.

    For example if you were linking to this URL with an existing query string:

    https://penguiin.com/?s=query

    If you tried to add a UTM like this it wouldn’t work properly:

    https://penguiin.com/?s=query?utm_source=newsletter&utm_campaign=spring-sale&utm_medium=email&utm_content=early-bird-discount

    To get the UTM to work properly you would need to adjust the UTM to start with an ampersand instead of a question mark as follows:

    https://penguiin.com/?s=query&utm_source=newsletter&utm_campaign=spring-sale&utm_medium=email&utm_content=early-bird-discount

    If you created the UTM using Google’s Campaign URL Builder it would automatically fix the URL for you to the correctly functioning version above.


  4. Not using a URL shortener

    Not shortening your URLs to mask UTMs is bush league. At the very least use Google’s URL shortener built into their Campaign URL Builder. If you want to go pro purchase a branded URL shortener domain and setup bitly to work with it. I’ve found Domainr to be a very helpful tool for identifying great branded URL shortener domains.

    Rather than sloppily expose your full UTM URL like this:

    https://penguiin.com/?utm_source=newsletter&utm_campaign=spring-sale&utm_medium=email&utm_content=early-bird-discount

    Why not have something more elegant like this instead:

    http://pngn.link/early-penguin

  5. Using UTMs to track internal links

    UTMs should never be used to track internal links on your site. Doing so can ruin your raw Google Analytics data as Neil Patel explains in his blog post on the 8 Common SEO Issues (and How to Troubleshoot Them).


  6. Filling in the term UTM with non-keywords

    The term UTM should only be used for paid search to note the keyword being targeted. When using Google AdWords you simply need to link your AdWords and Analytics accounts and use the auto-tagging feature. So in the vast majority of cases the term UTM should not ever be used and you should leave it blank when using Google’s Campaign URL Builder, because you don’t want non-keywords showing up as “keywords” misleading you in your keyword reports.


  7. Expecting exact capitalization to matter in advanced segments using exactly matching conditions

    When you create an advanced segment with the condition Source that exactly matches a source in all lowercase as follows:

    Advanced Segment Source Exactly Matches Source All Lowercase

    The advanced segment ignores capitalization and includes campaign sources with and without capital letters as follows:

    Advanced Segments Source Exactly Matches Capitalization Is Ignored


Other Common UTM Mistakes To Avoid?

If you have additional common UTM mistakes to avoid, please share them in the comments!

33 COMMENTS

  1. I have been searching for an answer as to why a URL with UTM tracking would disable a redirect from happening. Would this have to do with how the redirect was set up?

    • Yes exactly. The redirect needs to be setup to ignore parameters in order to work properly when a UTM is added to the end of the URL. This is a relatively common issue with single page web applications not setup to accommodate UTMs.

  2. Do multiple analytic plugins disrupt the accounting? I had three analytic counters, one a plugin and one from my server, with two giving me the same numbers but the third, Google Analytics (GA), registering site stats below the other two. Do you happen to know why the GA numbers are below the others? Is there such thing as cross interference? Is there a fix? I’ve removed the one plugin to see what happens even though that was giving me correct site information.

    Thanks – I look forward to your response

    • Multiple analytics shouldn’t disrupt one another’s accounting. My guess in that case would be there is simply data the other two are tracking that GA is not. GA is probably not firing on some of the content the others are firing on for whatever reason. If you have any filters in GA that could also cause it. You should filter out bots anyway though, so it should be less. You don’t want bots, referral spam or your own traffic clouding your analytics data from actual user behavior.

  3. I have utm tracking appended to links in an email. For regulatory reasons I always have to direct the user to a login page which contains T&C’s, however if the user is already logged in they get redirected to the homepage and the tracking is stripped out. I assume this visit isn’t recorded then as the utm didn’t get a chance to fire? How would I avoid this situation?

    • If the login page is on the same domain as the page after logging in, uses the same Google Analytics code and the UTM parameters are passed into the login page URL, then the UTM data should still be recorded properly.

    • That article is saying they can cause problems reporting analytics accurately when properly generated campaign URLs aren’t being used prior to shortening URLs. As long as you properly tag the URL with UTM campaign parameters prior to shortening your URL you shouldn’t have anything to worry about.

  4. Hi,
    Your article is great, but I still don’t know what the problem might be in my case. Here is a link that doesn’t get tracked in GA. Would you pls take a look and advise? I’d really appreciate it.
    https://www.peerform.com/common/redirectregistration.aspx?utm_source=SFSOptionTest&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=2018Test&utm_content=*|HTML:MERGE3|*&fname=*|HTML:MERGE1|*&lname=*|HTML:MERGE2|*&email=*|HTML:MERGE0|*&home=*|HTML:MERGE4|*&zip=*|HTML:MERGE5|*&loanamount=25000&loanpurpose=1

    Thank you,
    Oana

  5. Hey Andy – Great stuff here, thanks for the insights. Clarifying question (and more may follow), using a space rather than a hyphen doesn’t impact the backend accounting in any way, correct? From what I understand, that is merely a style preference to make things cleaner. Your input is much appreciated. Thanks!

    • Thanks Jeff – you’re welcome. That’s correct using a space instead of a hyphen will also work, it is indeed just a style preference of mine to make things cleaner. You just need to make sure to replace the space with %20 in the actual UTM-tagged URL. So for example if the UTM Source is “penguins are awesome” the URL would be “?utm_source=penguins%20are%20awesome”

    • Hash tags (#) were originally used in URLs as anchor links and are now commonly used for JavaScript-driven websites for switching pages without actually reloading the page. Because of this a hash tag in a URL effectively completes the web page’s valid URL and the hash tag as well as characters after it are no longer considered part of the actual URL.

  6. Ok so this is the super “I am missing something question”. If I create a url with say a source tag at the end (I know not utm) now I have this great url. is the only way to use it in google analytics? I guess what I am trying to figure out is how do I used this now, shortened or not, on my wordpress site?
    great article still a ways from understanding it all but lots of great information.

    • There are other ways, but this is the easiest and best way. You could use Google Tag Manager to enable a different way to track non-UTM campaign URL’s by setting up custom events for example, but it’s not nearly as ideal as just using the standard UTM URL’s.

  7. hi, I set a utm campaign but in google analytics it is redirect to referral.
    my source is ok but it redirect to referral.
    my url has #, is it important?
    thanks

  8. Hello, thanks for the great article. Will the UTM data get stored in a cookie if the site redirects? For example if the user clicks on test.com/?utm_source=source&utm_medium=medium&utm_campaign=campaign, can this redirect to test.com and still track all of the campaign information?

  9. Andy – Thank you for sharing all this great information and being such a great subject matter expert. I used the Google Analytics Campaign Builder to create the following URL – https://www.linkedin.com/company/valid-s-a-/?utm_source=Email%20Signature&utm_medium=LinkedIn%20Logo.

    But there are no results in the Campaigns section of Google Analytics. I waited the 24 hours they say it may take to display results in Google Analytics, but still nothing. Any idea what I may be doing wrong? Thank you so much!

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