Many in-house and agency search marketers use UTM (Urchin Tracking Module) tags to sort and filter their Google Analytics results for their website traffic. UTM tags are added to the end of a link and are usually formatted like this:
The UTM source can be something like ‘socialmedia’ or ‘ppc’ and the medium could be ‘twitter’ or ‘adwords’.

However, here’s where UTM tags pose a risk in modifying analytics data- for the majority of internet users, the ‘stuff’ that comes after a question mark in a link is meaningless. They assume that it is just part of the link, not that it is necessarily tracking where they got it from (this is especially true if acronyms are used instead of words like ‘twitter’).

Because of this, users are much more likely to share a link with the complete UTM tag attached- even if it is now inaccurate when another user clicks on it. For example, if a user got a link from an email newsletter and then shares it via twitter, those are 2 different sources.

As you can see, this has the potential to snowball. What if the user happens to have 10,000 followers and they share the same link? You now have the potential of thousands of users visiting your website, and Analytics is showing that they all came from your last email newsletter.
So the bottom line is- what can you do to prevent inaccurate analytics data?

  1. Monitor where and how users are sharing your data– stay active on twitter and search for your URL or website name (or blog titles) and see who is linking to your blog/content around the internet using a social media monitoring service like SocialMention (free!).
  2. Monitor other analytics statistics– check where users are entering and exiting a page, how many actual newsletter subscribers you have, etc.
  3. Spread the word! Ask your readers/users to not include the UTM tags in links if they are passing it on to someone else.

Do you think UTM tags can severely impact your analytics data? Let us know in the comments below.

Photo courtesy of DarthLen on Flickr.

Kelsey Jones

Kelsey Jones

Founder/Chief Marketing Consultant at Six Stories
Kelsey Jones helps clients around the world grow their social media, content, and search marketing presence. She enjoys writing and consuming all kinds of content, both in digital and tattered paperback form.
Kelsey Jones
Kelsey Jones