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January 21, 2016

What Musicians Need to Know About UTM Parameters

One of the topics I want to talk about on this blog is Google Analytics. I hope that you have it installed on your site, by the way. If you don’t you can get started here.

I see very few musicians use UTM parameters and that’s a shame. UTM parameters are both very simple to implement and very powerful. I’m sure you’ve seen them before and might have wondered what they were used for…

What are UTM parameters?

UTM stands for Urchin Tracking Module (Urchin was the name of the analytics company Google bought and turned into Google Analytics).

UTM parameters are tags you can append to a web page address (I’ll use the word URL). It looks like this:

http://website.com?utm_source=google&utm_medium=cpc&utm_campaign=fallpromo

When people use this tagged URL (most likely by clicking a link) to visit your website, the information contained in these tags is passed to your Google Analytics account.

What to use them for?

In a context of a campaign—let’s say a new album, a tour, or a single concert—you are going to want to know what is worth your time and/or money, and what is not.

For example:

  • How is that banner ad working for me? [Pro tip: Learn how to create a good one]
  • Are people clicking this link I’ve put in my newsletter?
  • How much traffic did I get from that tweet that got RTed 5 times?

Why are they so powerful?

If you’ve spent some time in Google Analytics, you know that you can easily learn:

  • how many visits your site has received,
  • which pages were seen,
  • how long people spent,
  • where they came from,
  • etc.

The point that interests me is where they came from. Remember, what we are trying to figure out if a specific traffic source is working.

If you don’t use UTM parameters, the traffic you’re interested in will be tagged generically and won’t be tied to any campaign.

For example, a link you placed in an email without UTM parameter could appear, in Google Analytics, as coming from webmail.earthlink.net / referral. Not very helpful.

But how can we differentiate the traffic sources in Google Analytics with UTM parameters?

Let’s look at the anatomy of a URL to understand how we can pass info.

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Anatomy of a URL

A UTM-tagged URL used in an email newsletter announcing a concert could look like this:

http://www.XYZquartet.com/calendar.php/?utm_source=newsletter&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=concert

You’re already familiar with the first half:

  • http:// is the protocol (other protocols include https, ftp, pop3, etc.)
  • www is the subdomain. It could also be store, etc.
  • XYZquartet is the domain
  • .com is the top-level domain
  • calendar is the page name
  • php is the file extension

In our example, everything that follows the ? represents the UTM parameters.

Even though 5 UTM parameters exist, I’ve used 3 here (you won’t need the other two unless you get into pay-per-click.)

  • Campaign Source (utm_source): This parameter is required and is used to identify the source of the traffic. Sources could be: a search engine (Google, Bing, etc.), a domain (Pinterest.com, etc.), or a newsletter. Here I picked newsletter.
  • Campaign Medium (utm_medium): This parameter is required too and is used to identify the method of sharing. It could be organic (traffic from search results you didn’t pay for), referral (another site), social (a network), or email. In my example, the medium is email.
  • Campaign Name (utm_campaign): This parameter is required and used to identify a specific product strategic campaign—your latest album, your tour, etc. In our example, a simple concert.

Afraid to mess up the syntax? Google maintains a free URL Builder that you can use to generate your UTM tagged URLs.

What you’ll see in Google Analytics

So you’ve written your email newsletter and you are linking the UTM-tagged URL to a strong call-to-action, for example:

Learn more about my concert

What happens when people open the email and click on the link? What do you see in Google Analytics?

If you navigate to Reporting > Acquisition > Campaigns > All Campaigns*, you’ll see:

UTM parameters as seen in Google Analytics

You can now isolate the traffic that comes specifically from this very link in your email newsletter. You can look at what pages people visited, if they bought anything, how long they stayed, etc. You can compare this traffic to the one you got from a Facebook Ad, or a mention in an article on a blog.

What to use them for… again.

Here are a few possible uses:

  • email signature: If you link to your website in your email signature, you can use UTM parameters; something like (lines are broken for readability):
    ?utm_source=email%20signature
    &utm_medium=email
    &utm_campaign=personal%20branding
  • banner ad: Are you buying a display ad on a site? Tag your links with something like:
    ?utm_source={name of the website your banner is on}
    &utm_medium=banner
    &utm_content={size of the banner}
    &utm_campaign={name of your campaign}
  • press pitches: Are you sending a press release? Would you like to know if Jane Doe actually clicked the link about your June 13 concert? UTM tag the link to your concert landing page:
    ?utm_source=press
    &utm_medium=email
    &utm_content=Jane%20Doe
    &utm_campaign=june%2013%20concert

It requires a bit of work, but if you create a unique link per press person, you’ll know exactly who shows interest and who doesn’t.

Questions?

Alright, that was a lot of info and I left some out. Do you have any questions about UTM parameters or Google Analytics? Get in touch or leave me a comment below.

* I’ve added Campaign as a secondary source, here. You could also go to Reporting > Acquisition > All traffic > Source/Medium and click on newsletter / email to isolate the same traffic.