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UTM Codes: What Auto Marketers Need to Know

If you’re an automotive marketer, you are likely already using Google Analytics to track the success of your marketing campaigns — factors such as traffic source and clicks.


Amanda Meuwissen is the marketing manager for Outsell.

If you’re an automotive marketer, you are likely already using Google Analytics to track the success of your marketing campaigns — factors such as traffic source and clicks. But if you’re not using UTM codes, you need to start — because they are the key to being able to attribute a lead to a campaign.

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UTM stands for Urchin Tracking Module. A UTM code is essentially a little piece of code you embed into the URL of a marketing campaign in order to track its performance. The codes are easy to create with Google Analytics.

Here’s what one looks like in action:


In this case, the base website URL is for a whitepaper on “The Great Ignored” housed on our website with “utm codes article” as the Campaign Source and “blog” as the Campaign Medium.


Remember vanity URLs? They were an early form of UTM code — a unique URL for a marketing campaign. UTM codes make the process easier: they are generated for you, they are basically invisible to customers and there are almost infinite permutations, eliminating the need for marketers to continually come up with clever vanity URLs.

Step 1: Define Your Campaigns
The first step in utilizing UTM codes is to define your individual campaigns. Each should have a unique UTM code. So if you have a monthly newsletter, for instance, each month should have its own UTM code.


Step 2: Create a UTM Code for Each Campaign
Some vendors add UTM codes to their campaigns automatically. For your own campaigns, Google provides a free tool called the Campaign UTM Builder (ga-dev-tools.appspot.com/campaign-url-builder/). You enter some parameters and a UTM code is generated. You simply add the code to the end of your campaign URL.

Step 3: Track Campaign Success per UTM Code
Use Google Analytics to track campaign success per UTM code, in the Source Medium tab.


The four things you should be looking at are:
1. Source: This could be a vendor, or a campaign such as a monthly newsletter.
2. Medium: Email, social media, etc.
3. Content: (Optional) Here you could specify which content is used in the campaign.
4. Campaign: Which specific campaign; for instance, “Jan 2018 Conquest.”


When used properly and uniformly, UTM codes should also help you track the impact your various vendors are making. You should be able to go into Google Analytics and see results broken down by vendor, eliminating the problem of all vendors taking credit for every lead.

PCG Companies’ Brian Pasch is leading the charge for uniformity in UTM codes — such as using only lowercase letters — to ensure vendors are using them consistently, so that results are completely transparent to auto dealers. If your vendor isn’t showing you results in Google Analytics, ask them why. All auto-marketing vendors should be on a path to Google Analytics integration, if they haven’t done it already.


When (and When Not) to Use UTM Codes
So when should you use UTM codes? For every paid marketing campaign, such as newsletters, paid search, social media ads and one-off email campaigns. Don’t forget that in the case of recurring campaigns, like a monthly newsletter, you should have unique UTM codes for each.

When shouldn’t you use UTM codes? For organic search and for tracking activity from page-to-page within your site. That’s because Google creates a new session each time the code is activated, in essence treating every visit to that URL as a brand-new visitor.


Pay Attention to Results, Even if They’re Bad
What separates a good from a great marketing director is their ability (and sometimes willingness) to follow every campaign to the end and accurately report on results.

The fact is, not all campaigns will be home runs, so you can either tweak campaigns that aren’t working or skip them in the future. Experimenting is a good thing, as is learning from them to make the next one better.


With that said, it’s also important to know what success looks like. Not all campaigns are about lead-gen, so clicks and opens aren’t always the goal. For a Facebook campaign, for instance, the goal might be engagement rather than opens. Google Analytics has a great tool for goal setting, and it’s free — use it.

UTM codes really are the key to attribution, which is what makes them so important for auto marketers. We hope this advice helps you get started.

Click here to view more solutions from Amanda Meuwissen and Outsell.

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