Analytics & TestingEmail Marketing & Email Marketing Automation

How Do UTM Parameters In Email Work With Google Analytics Campaigns?

We do quite a bit of migration and implementation projects of email service providers for our clients. While it’s not often specified in the statements of work, one strategy that we always deploy is ensuring that any email communications are automatically tagged with UTM parameters so that companies can observe the impact of email marketing and communications on their overall site traffic. It’s an important detail that’s often overlooked… but never should be.

What are UTM Parameters?

UTM stands for Urchin Tracking Module. UTM parameters (sometimes known as UTM codes) are snippets of data in a name/value pair that can be appended to the end of a URL to track information about the visitors arriving on your website within Google Analytics. The original company and platform for analytics were named Urchin, so the name stuck.

Campaign tracking was originally build out to capture advertising and other referral traffic from paid campaigns on websites. Over time, though, the tool became useful for email marketing and social media marketing. In fact, many companies now deploy campaign tracking within their sites to measure content performance and calls-to-action as well! We often recommend to clients to include the UTM parameters on hidden registration fields, too, so that their customer relationship management (CRM) has source data for new leads or contacts.

The UTM parameters are:

  • utm_campaign (required)
  • utm_source (required)
  • utm_medium (required)
  • utm_term (optional) 
  • utm_content (optional)

UTM Parameters are part of a querystring that’s appended to a destination web address (URL). An example of a URL with UTM Parameters is this:

So, here’s how this specific URL breaks down:

  • URL:
  • Querystring (everything after the ?):
    • Name/Value Pairs break down as follows
      • utm_campaign=My%20campaign
      • utm_source=My%20email%20service%20provider
      • utm_medium=Email
      • utm_term=Buy%20now
      • utm_content=Button

The querystring variables are URL Encoded because spaces don’t work well in some instances. In other words, the %20 in the value is actually a space. So the actual data captured within Google Analytics is:

  • Campaign: My campaign
  • Source: My email service provider
  • Medium: email
  • Term: Buy now
  • Content: Button

When you enable automated link tracking in the majority of email marketing platforms, the campaign is often the campaign name you use to set up the campaign, the source is often the email service provider, the medium is set to email, and the term and content are typically set up at the link level (if at all). In other words, you really don’t have to do anything to customize these in an email service platform with UTM tracking automatically enabled.

How Do UTM Parameters Actually Work with Email Marketing?

Let’s do a user story and discuss how this would work.

  1. An email campaign is initiated by your company with Track Links automatically enabled.
  2. The email service provider automatically appends the UTM parameters to the querystring for each outbound link in the email.
  3. The email service provider then updates each outbound link with a click tracking link that will forward to the destination URL and querystring with UTM parameters. This is why, if you view the link within the body of the email that’s sent… you don’t actually see the destination URL.

NOTE: If you ever wanted to test to see how a URL is redirected, you can use a URL redirect tester like WhereGoes.

  1. The subscriber opens the email and the tracking pixel captures the email open event. NOTE: Open events are starting to be blocked by some email applications.
  2. The subscriber clicks on the link.
  3. The link event is captured as a click by the email service provider, then redirected to the destination URL with the UTM parameters appended.
  4. The subscriber lands on the website of your company and the Google Analytics script running on the page automatically captures the UTM parameters for the subscriber’s session, sends it directly to Google Analytics through the dynamic tracking pixel where all data is sent, and stores the relevant data within a Cookie on the subscriber’s browser for subsequent returns.
  5. That data is accumulated and stored in Google Analytics so that it can be reported on in the Campaigns Section of Google analytics. Navigate to Acquisition > Campaigns > All Campaigns to see each of your campaigns and report on the campaign, source, medium, term, and content.

Here’s a diagram of how Email Links are UTM Coded and Captured in Google Analytics

UTM Link Tracking in Email and Google Analytics Campaign

What Do I Enable In Google Analytics To Capture UTM Parameters?

Great news, you don’t have to enable anything in Google Analtyics to capture UTM Parameters. It’s literally enabled as soon as Google Analytics tags are put on your site!

Google Analytics Email Campaign Reports

How Do I Report On Conversions and Other Activity Using Campaign Data?

This data is automatically appended to the session, so any other activity that the subscriber is doing on your website after landing there with UTM parameters is related. You can measure conversions, behavior, user flows, goals, or any other report and filter it by your email UTM parameters!

Is There A Way To Actually Capture Who The Subscriber Is On My Site?

It is possilbe to integrate additional querystring variables outside of UTM parameters where you could capture a unqiue subscriber ID to then push and pull their web activity between systems. So… yes, it’s possible but it requires quite a bit of work. An alternative is to invest in Google Analytics 360, which enables you to apply a unique identifier on every visitor. If you’re running Salesforce, for example, you can apply a Salesforce ID with every campaign and then even push the activity back to Salesforce!

If you’re interested in implementing a solution like this or need assistance with UTM Tracking in your email service provider or are looking to integrate that activity back to another system, feel free to contact my firm… Highbridge.

Douglas Karr

Douglas Karr is the founder of the Martech Zone and a recognized expert on digital transformation. Douglas has helped start several successful MarTech startups, has assisted in the due diligence of over $5 bil in Martech acquisitions and investments, and continues to launch his own platforms and services. He's a co-founder of Highbridge, a digital transformation consulting firm. Douglas is also a published author of a Dummie's guide and a business leadership book.

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