All website owners of this world have one thing in common: We are obsessed with our statistics.
How many visits did I have today? How many clicks did this Facebook share get? What is my bounce rate?
But what makes successful website owners different is that they don’t just stare at their numbers. They measure things strategically and analyze their stats to find out what works and what doesn’t.
Today, I’m going to show you how to easily find out what shares on social media get you more traffic (which is not the same thing as likes and shares), and which ones turn out to be useless.
You can apply the same method to find out what links in your emails, bios on social networks, ebooks or PDFs work best.
But to be able to do so, I’d like you to do me a favor and resist the urge to close this page and never come back to it after the next sentence.
Ok, that wasn’t the sentence. But here it goes:
Still there? Good.
Just thought I’d warn you, as I know many website owners who tend run from abbreviations and words that imply technical stuff.
I really need you to stay with me, because:
- UTM parameters are less scary than you think and easy to use even if you aren’t technically savvy.
- Using UTM parameters will save you a ton of pointless hustle and help you learn more about your audience.
If you know what UTM parameters are…
…you can jump straight to an example of using UTM parameters to see what image / message performs best on social media for a particular post.
Otherwise, read on.
- What are UTM parameters?
- How do UTM parameters work?
- How to automatically generate links with UTM parameters
- Example: How to use UTM parameters to see what image drives most traffic to a post from social media
- 6 things every website owner should use UTM parameters for
- 2 cases when you should use UTM parameters with caution
What are UTM parameters?
UTM parameters are additional bits of information you can append to a link to your website. When someone clicks on such link, not only will you see a visit recorded in your Google Analytics but also know where it came from.
And by “where from” I mean way more detailed information than just a referring website’s URL.
Here’s an example of what I see in my Google Analytics -> Acquisition -> All Campaigns view just because I’m using UTM parameters:
How do UTM parameters work?
Everything’s simple once you know how to do it. Even generating links with UTM parameters. Here’s how it works.
For Google Analytics to be able to display this information, you need to append some additional info to a usual link.
You can set up to 5 UTM parameters, but these 3 are obligatory:
- utm_source: Generally speaking, where are you using that link? For example, email, Twitter, free ebook, etc.
- utm_medium: How are you sharing this link? For example, blog post, email newsletter, “About” page, etc.
- utm_campaign: A descriptive name that makes sense for your analysis later. For example, link in your side widget, share on social media with a particular image, etc.
But honestly, you can also put utm_source=airMail and utm_medium=pigeon, or whatever you feel like. There is no UTM parameters police that will come and check if their values generally make sense.
The only person who will ever see this info – and, thus, the only person who should be able to understand it – is you.
How to automatically generate links with UTM parameters
You don’t have to manually code each and every URL (this would be insane!).
There is a free plugin for your web browser called Google Analytics URL Builder that lets you save the frequently used parameters. After that, you can generate those URLs with just one click.
When you’ve installed this plug-in, you can now generate a link with the UTM parameters like this:
To generate a URL with UTM parameters from your browser:
- Open a page you’d like to generate a URL for.
- Click on the plug-in icon.
- Select a set of parameters you’ve saved in advanced or simply type in the input fields.
- Click “copy” (when you can “hide” the actual link behind an anchor text) or “shorten & copy” (when the actual URL will be visible; for example, in your Twitter bio).
You want to save the parameters that you think you’ll be using often. To do that, click on the gear icon next to “Support” in the right top corner.
It will open a preset editor where you can save your parameter sets.
Here are a couple of the parameter sets I use:
Example: How to use UTM parameters to see what image drives most traffic to a post from social networks
If you share your post multiple times with different images and messages, you have a better chance to get people to click on your link.
Yet, you still wouldn’t know which image or message resonated better (I guess you’ve noticed that the number of likes and reshares doesn’t equal the number of clicks).
Wouldn’t it be great to see at one glance what social shares of the same post attracted more clicks and which ones didn’t spark any interest?
Then, you could stop sharing the boring images and share the ones that resonated better instead. And when you create new images, you could make them more appealing from the start, as you’ll learn more about the preferences of your followers.
Here’s how you can do this.
Step #1: Create different images for one post
One of my favorite posts to share on social media is “7 Elements of a Crazy Effective Homepage“.
With its modest word count of fewer than 800 words, I created 13 images to share with it. Some of them are included in the post itself, and some I created solely to share on social media.
You don’t have to go that bazooka on images, of course. 3-4 different images are also enough.
Using this method, I discovered that the last two images were totally useless and attracted almost no clicks (or even likes). Which is sad, because they were my favorites and they took me the longest to create.
But I guess it was just too much info packed in one small image (especially if you look at it on mobile) so that they were perceived like one giant colorful stain.
The images that attracted most clicks were the featured image of the post (top right corner) and the images #1, #2 and #4.
This is how I use UTM parameters to determine which image performs best.
Step #2: Add different UTM parameters for different images
Every time I share this post with a different image, I slightly change the campaign UTM parameter to keep the clicks on different shares apart.
- Open the URL you want to share.
- Click on an icon of Google URL builder in the browser and expand the list of pre-configured sets of UTM parameters.
- If you haven’t done it yet, add a parameter set to your Google URL builder settings (as I show above)
- Select the corresponding set (in this example: EffectiveHomepage)
- Add a number or a couple of meaningful characters to the campaign string (in this example: img1, corresponding to a particular part of the post). This will keep different shares for different images and/or parts of the post apart so that you can later decide which one performed better.
Tip: To remember which characters correspond to which image, create an Excel file with two columns matching campaigns and image names or URLs.
- Copy the link that now has UTM parameters and share it with your audience.
Step #3: Share the link with your audience
Here I’m about to tweet an image with a link with corresponding UTM parameters. I’ll be using this link every time I share the post with this particular image so that later I’ll know how many clicks the shares with this image got.
Important: If you schedule your social shares in advance (for example, with Buffer), make sure to switch off the campaign tracking that comes with your tool. Otherwise, the tool will overwrite your custom UTM parameters and ruin everything (sneaky, huh!).
For example, Buffer would replace your custom campaign strings with “utm_campaign=buffer” and you won’t be able to differentiate between your shares anymore.
To switch this off in Buffer, select Settings -> Link Shortening. Then scroll to the bottom and select “Nope” in Enable Campaign Tracking.
Step #4: Analyze
As soon as someone clicks on your link, you’ll be able to see it in your Google Analytics -> Aquisition -> Campaigns.
Pro tip: If you are using UTM parameters a lot and have a lot of data in this view, you can add a filter to see only the campaigns you are interested in.
For example, here I added a filter to see only the campaigns for my effective homepage post – the ones that contain the string “eHomepage”:
- In Google Analytics -> Aquisition -> All Campaigns, click “advanced” next to the search box.
- Select “Include”
- Select “Containing”
- Type “mistake”
- Click “Apply”
After 4-6 weeks of collecting these insights, select the images that sparked the most interest and regularly share them dropping the rest.
6 things every website owner should use UTM parameters for
As you might have guessed, helping you select the most engaging image for sharing on social networks is just the beginning of what UTM parameters can do for you.
Here are a couple of things you should definitely use UTM parameters for:
- See what social share performed better for a particular post on a particular social network:
- plain text vs text with image
- image1 vs image2 vs image3
- emoji vs no emoji
- short message vs long message
- different times of the day
- public share vs share in the group or community, etc.
- Links in your bio on social networks. If you don’t have a possibility to hide the link itself behind an anchor text, shorten the link by clicking “SHORTEN & COPY” while generating the link so that it also looks neat.
- Links in email newsletters to differentiate between a link in the text and a link in the “latest posts” section for example.
- Links from your videos.
- Links in free ebooks and PDFs.
- Links in your email signature.
2 cases when you should use UTM parameters with caution
You may get more ideas once you start using UTM parameters to collect insights about your audience’s reaction to your content. Yet, there are two cases where you should use UTM parameters with caution.
1. Links from your guest posts on other websites
Google isn’t stupid. If you have a do-follow backlink from another website that has UTM parameters, Google knows that it’s not a natural link but a link that was placed there on purpose. So it will give this link a lower value than a backlink without UTM parameters.
2. Internal links on your website
Using a link with UTM parameters to find out whether someone is clicking on a particular link or image in your side widget seems easy and fast. I myself used to have a link like that to see whether anyone is clicking on one of my thumbnails.
However, if your website has a lot of traffic and you do it in many places this will eventually corrupt your “Sources” data in Google Analytics.
Let’s say someone comes to your website through Twitter and then clicks on an internal link with UTM parameters. For the first click, Twitter will be recorded as a source. But for the second click and all potential clicks after that, your website will be recorded as a traffic source.
This is especially bad for the analysis of conversions, as for some cases you won’t know where the traffic actually came from.
So if you want to see whether someone is clicking on a particular link, setting up an event (which also will be displayed in Google Analytics) is a better idea.
To wrap it up
Running your own website and doing your own content marketing isn’t always easy. Especially if you are new to this or hate everything that looks technical, I won’t blame you if you’ve been avoiding looking into UTM parameters so far.
But if you want your website to be successful you need to learn more about your audience and grow your following.
You can do it blindly, producing and sharing your content not knowing whether it’ll resonate.
Or you can discover what works best, do more of that and drop the rest saving valuable time and efforts.
If you choose the latter, there is no way around it: You need to use UTM parameters.
I hope this tutorial will help you confidently use them very soon. If you have any questions, leave me a comment. I always reply.