Understand the benefits and problems of UTMs. Then clean up your website’s URLs with our script that removes UTMs as soon as the parameters have been recorded by your analytics tools. Avoid incorrect attribution due to UTMs getting copy-pasted to social posts, emails, or messenger apps.
Why We Don’t Always See Clean Links, and What Are the Unseen Consequences
Chances are you’ve noticed long strings of words and characters at the end of a link promoted on LinkedIn, or included in a marketing email from a brand you subscribed to. Butr, you might have seen the long strings in URLs copy-pasted into a message you received on WhatsApp, an email your loved one sent you about the useful article they read, or a Facebook post by a friend of yours raving about the launch of their new dream car.
As a marketer or developer, you may know the gibberish-looking strings are actually methodical tracking parameters called UTMs. As marketers, we create UTM parameters with UTM builders to better track our campaigns on channels such as email and social.
UTMs are invaluable, but there’s a catch. Users don’t remove UTMs when we’d hope for them to. They tend to copy a link they see on one platform, e.g. Email, and paste it into another platform, such as Whatsapp or Facebook. Whoever clicks on the copy-pasted link will then be reported in analytics as a visit from Facebook, including if they don’t even have a Facebook profile. Channel attribution data in analytics becomes misleading instead of accurate.
To address this problem, our guide will define UTMs and describe the use cases that cause attribution issues. Then we’ll provide a solution via an easy-to-use UTM remover script we’ve made for you.
What Are UTM Parameters?
UTM parameters are used to track traffic that often is blind in analytics platforms such as Google Analytics (GA). In combination with a tailored channel grouping, UTMs appended to a link help make sure that the click to your website gets attributed to the right channel.
UTMs consist of – five core parameters. They are used to pass data points such as:
- The website or platform the click came from – source
- The type of traffic – medium
- The marketing effort the link is a part of – campaign
- Ad headline, email subject line, keyword, or similar – term
- Content type, link placement, or similar – content
- Custom information such as agency name – when a custom parameter is added within the standard UTM structure
For a bit more background and history, UTM stands for Urchin Tracking Module parameters. Urchin was an early analytics company that got acquired by Google in 2005, then relaunched as Google Analytics. UTM trackers have been around for a while.
The Value of UTMs to Marketing Attribution, when Links Are Kept Clean
The notorious examples of channels that need UTMs are email, social media, and display ads. All of those often get miscategorized in GA as Referral traffic or Other traffic. Other common use cases for UTMs include links in influencer campaigns or affiliate websites. You may even see UTMs in paid search ads.
The underlying result is that UTMs help attribute traffic correctly. This helps immensely with ROI attribution in paid campaigns, so you can know what’s really generating your sales or leads. With the five standard parameters listed above, and the option to add custom parameters, you can track a tremendous amount of detail about where the converting or assisting link came from.
For example, you can assign a string of parameters specific to your Black Friday Super Sales Event email. All the links within that email will use specific UTM parameters so that you can measure the effectiveness of your email campaign once the traffic from that email hits your website. This might not seem like a big deal, but it’s one of the most powerful ways to track your marketing efforts, your sales, and any other activity you’re doing online.
The abilities of UTMs are endless, and we’ve also seen valuable niche use cases of UTMs such as:
- Page rules in Cloudflare where redirects with UTMs are setup after a domain migration, to identify users that still used the old domain
- Conditional logic in Google Tag Manager that fires off an event when a particular UTM parameter is present
- UTMs in email signatures
UTMs are really the digital marketing trick to rule them all. They help you double down on campaigns that are working, and cut out what’s not.
The Issues UTMs Cause When Not Removed from URLs Systematically
If UTMs are kept in links even when we don’t want them there anymore, they lead to an attribution issue. Channel reports become bloated with flawed data.
Flawed data can be worse than no data. Decisions you make when you wrongly think you know what’s going on often lead to negative outcomes that take a long time to fix.
Let’s elaborate on typical examples, specific to the combination of channels they happen on.
Email to Social
Imagine Jenny receives your blog post distribution email with links that have UTMs appended. She loves the content, so she copies a link exactly how it came, and tweets about it. Whoever clicks on her tweet will now be attributed as email traffic, even though they probably never saw an email from you.
Paid Social to Email and Organic Social
Imagine Aditya loves the new team page you’re promoting on LinkedIn. The link has a UTM, and he copies it. He then emails it to his designer as inspiration for team page layout. The designer’s click is attributed as paid social traffic, even though he probably never saw your paid LinkedIn post. If the designer then posts about your team page to their own organic LinkedIn, and uses the same copy-pasted URL, the ensuing clicks on their organic social post will also be attributed to paid social.
You can easily imagine how misleading your paid social campaign data will be.
Imagine Aliona saw a link on Facebook and found the content funny. She then copy-pasted the link and sent it out to her family and friends via SMS, or a messaging app such as Whatsapp, iMessage, or Telegram. If the link has UTMs that state that the source and medium are Facebook and paid social, everyone in Aliona’s circle who clicks on the link will be incorrectly attributed as paid social. Sharing on dark social messes with UTM data, and poses a major problem for ROAs analysis.
Other Underlying Issues with UTMs that Stick Around
We find channel attribution to be the biggest issue. But we also find that if you don’t help strip UTMs from the URL once the analytics tools have collected the data, other issues and optimization opportunities arise as well:
- Savvier users get an in-their-face reminder of being tracked
- All users are more likely to copy-paste your URL and send it to a friend if the link it’s clean and clear
- All users are more likely to click on clean URLs
Clarity is an essential marketing concept. If you confuse a customer, you may lose the customer.
Solution for Clean Links – Our UTM Remover Script
The best solution is to use a script that automatically removes the tracking parameters for you from the browser bar. Problems with UTMs happen when users see or copy-paste a URL with UTMs from the browser. Therefore, using an application that clears the UTM parameters once a person hits your website will prevent the UTMs from being shared. It’ll also prevent other negative effects on the user’s experience.
Further, it is critical to only hide the UTMs and clean up the URL once the tracking information has been collected by your analytics tools. As we described above, UTMs are amazing for your marketing analytics, and you don’t want to just remove them. You only want to remove them after they passed the information intended to be shown in your Google Analytics, Amplitude, or whatever your analytics tool of choice. You want to have the cake, and eat it too.
[Pullquote] It is critical to only hide the UTMs and clean up the URL once the tracking information has been collected by your analytics tools,
A popular solution that gets considered is installing a Chrome extension. But a browser extension for removing tracking parameters will only remove the parameters for the individual person who has installed the extension. What we want instead is to hide UTMs and generate sparkling clean URLs for all visitors of your website.
The tool is a website code integration that’s included in any paid plan on UTM.io. To gain access, email email@example.com and we’ll get you squared away.
The UTM Cleaner will help you get accurate campaign attribution in tools such as:
- Google Analytics (googleAnalytics): both ga.js and analytics.js
- Pardot (by Salesforce)
- Segment and its universal analytics solutions
Benefits of Clean Links
To add to the excitement of having a simple solution to a problem that many marketers never get to solve, here’s a recap of your bright future with UTM Cleaner:
- More accurate campaign tracking
- Minimized incorrect attribution from social shares, emails, or messenger apps
- Improved ad spend analysis
- Increased ad spend efficiency
- Higher user propensity to share your links
- Higher user propensity to click on your links
- Better user experience
We hope you like the tool as much as we do. And now that you’re already leveling up your tracking game, you may also consider leveling up it all the way to super pro status by creating, recording, managing and collaborating on all of your UTMs in UTM.io. Sign up with Google and give it a go.
Already have a paid plan of UTM.io?
Just email us at firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll help you get UTM Cleaner set up in no time.