The Nonprofit Guide to UTM Parameters and Campaign Tracking

Erin Mastrantonio September 24, 2019, by Erin Mastrantonio

How did this month’s newsletter do compared to last month’s in terms of generating traffic - including potential donors - to your website? Do you know what percentage of your donations originated from that email campaign you sent last week? 

What if you could easily answer those questions not just for your nonprofit’s email and newsletter campaigns, but for ALL of your marketing campaigns, no matter the source? 

Whether you’re posting a press release to Facebook, tweeting about an upcoming event, or guest-blogging for a sister organization, it’s possible to know which sources are getting you real results, and which are falling flat. The answer is UTM parameters! Let’s dive into what these are and how you can combine them with your analytics goals to transform your donor conversion rates.

Why Should I Be Tracking My Organization’s Campaigns?

If you’re like most nonprofits, you probably send out your newsletters, emails, and social media posts every month with little more than crossed fingers that they will result in a surge of website traffic and donor engagement. 

Constantly overwhelmed and understaffed in serving your primary mission, the time and energy it would take to really understand and implement campaign tracking seems like a pipe dream. Who has time to learn all that Google Analytics stuff, anyway? And does it really pay off?

Yes, it does. Organizations that implement campaign tracking end up saving significant time and money that would otherwise be spent on ineffective marketing channels. Here are just a few concrete ways you can benefit from the practice of campaign tracking:

  • Determine which social media network is generating the most donors for you, allowing you to redouble your efforts there (and reduce it on other networks). 
  • Decide which banner ad design is generating more clicks for your paid ad campaigns
  • Pinpoint exactly which link text in a guest blog post is most successful at motivating readers to take action on your website, whether it be to donate, sign up to volunteer, or register for an upcoming event.

The importance of this type of information is clear: every dollar not spent on a dud marketing campaign is one that can be deployed to provide one more meal, medicine, or much-needed service to your target population.

“OK, but how? And please don’t hit me with a lot of technical jargon…”

Don’t worry. We know you’re busy out there changing the world, so we’re going to keep this short, sweet, and actionable.

Just What Are UTM Parameters, Anyway?

UTM parameters lie at the core of campaign tracking and are the magical little creatures that make all of the above possible. But what actually are they?

The easiest way to think of them is little tags that ride along on the end of any URL link pointing back to your website. Just like any label you would apply to a file folder, or any other type of physical container, a good tag helps you identify the contents inside.

In this case, the “content inside” is the precise context the user was in when he or she clicked on the link pointing to your website. When we browse the web, our “context” refers to:

  • What specific site we are browsing/app we are using 
  • What delivery method that site or app utilized to get seen
  • What exact content is being offered via that site or app

For example, let’s say you send out a monthly newsletter via a MailChimp email. This month, that newsletter announces a big fundraising event: your annual chili cook-off!

  • The specific app you are using to deliver your newsletter is mailchimp
  • The delivery method is email
  • The exact content you are offering is an invitation to register for your 2019-chili-cookoff

The trio of {mailchimp, email, 2019-chili-cookoff} represent the three mandatory UTM parameters for any marketing campaign:

  • utm_source 
  • utm_medium
  • utm_campaign

If you can remember ‘source=specific’, ‘medium=method’, and ‘campaign=content’, you’re well on your way to creating your own UTM parameters and rocking your campaign tracking!

The Analytics Connection

If your website is integrated with any kind of analytics platform that keeps tabs on your traffic (like Google Analytics, Mixpanel, or Kissmetrics), these tags can further help identify precisely where that traffic is coming from. Check out a typical campaign tracking results in Google Analytics:

Google Analytics_Source_Medium

Click on Acquisition > All Traffic > Source/Medium to access the above report. As you can see, the source is always listed first, followed by the medium. In our hypothetical example, this would show up as mailchimp / email. But what if you have multiple mailchimp / email campaigns, as you would if you’re sending one newsletter per month and always using Mailchimp email?

This is where the utm_campaign parameter comes into play. See that “Secondary dimension” dropdown box above the first column in the table? 

Google Analytics_Campaigns_Button

Click it, and search for the word “campaign”. Upon click, a new column is created where you can view every campaign with source mailchimp and medium email (i.e. all your newsletter campaigns). The campaign entitled “2019-chili-cookoff” would show up here alongside the rest, which might carry names like “jul2019-newsletter” or “5k-fun-run”.

Google Analytics_Campaigns

But the truly powerful bit of information lies in the last set of columns to the right: the conversion columns. A conversion is nothing more than the event of a user taking a desired action on your website, like making a purchase in your store or a donation on your Donate page. The conversion columns help tie your donations, store purchases, etc. back to a particular traffic source. 

Google Analytics_Conversions

Go ahead and click on the Goal Completions column header to sort all your campaigns by the number of conversions they resulted in. A downward arrow should appear as shown, sorting the column to show the campaign with the most conversions at the top!

These conversions (or ‘goals’ in Analytics parlance) must be configured in advance. If you don’t already have a goal set up to capture visits to your donate page, the next section will tell you how!

Setting Up Your Conversion Goals For Campaign Tracking Success

The following example pertains to Google Analytics, with other analytics platforms working in a similar way. First, click on the gear icon at the bottom left of the screen. Under the View options all the way to the right, click on Goals to access the Goal Setup menu.

Google Analytics_Goals

Once inside, setting up a goal is a 3-step process. Google Analytics presents you with a host of pre-configured goals in the form of templates, or the option of setting up a Custom goal. Go ahead and select “Custom” since we are going to configure our own goal.

Google Analytics_Set Custom Goal

Next, you describe your goal by giving it a name (here, “Visit Donations Page”), assigning it a Goal slot ID (accept the default ID), and selecting a goal type (select “Destination” for all goals related to a user reaching a specified page). Since our goal is for the user to land on the Donate page, this is the correct goal type for this case. Click “Continue”.

Google Analytics_Set Custom Goal 2

Finally, we will specify the exact page we want the user to visit. In the empty field, type just the last part of your URL (in our case, /donate.html) and click Save. 

Success! Your goal is now set up and ready to start collecting anonymous data on the behavior of your users originating from your various campaigns!

Generating Your UTM Parameters

Now that you understand the power of UTM parameters and how they show up in your Analytics reports, let’s go over exactly how to generate a link that includes them. For this, we will make use of the very handy Campaign URL Builder Tool from Google. 

Let’s say that your newsletter email would normally contain a link to direct users to visit a page on your website dedicated to information about this year’s chili cook-off. The “normal” link might look like:

https://www.mynonprofit.org/chili-cookoff

But this time, you’re going to be savvy and include those UTM parameters! Copy that link and paste it into the “Website URL” field, along with the utm_source, utm_medium, and utm_campaign we defined earlier (leave utm_content and utm_term blank as they’re optional). Google will magically generate the tracking link you need at the bottom, concatenating your UTM parameters onto the end after the question mark symbol (?):

Campaign URL Builder

Now you can copy and paste the modified link into your email and your Analytics program will parse the URL, tag the traffic as coming from your chili cook-off MailChimp email campaign, and track whether those users eventually complete your goal of visiting your Donate page. Pretty neat, huh?

Best Practices And Additional UTM Examples

When it comes to defining UTM parameters, the following best practices are advised:

  • Use all lowercase names since parameters are case sensitive
  • Use hyphens or underscores (hyphens preferred) to separate words (e.g. 2019-chili-cookoff) instead of whitespaces.
  • Use the shortest description possible for the campaign name (e.g. 2019-chili-cookoff and not 2019-third-annual-chili-cookoff). UTM parameters are ideally no more than 20 characters long.
  • Collect all your utm_source, utm_medium, and utm_campaign parameters in a document that can be shared across your team (example from Sam Wiltshire here). That way, if the person in charge of your social media presence wants to advertise the chili cookoff on Twitter, they can do so under the same utm_campaign name for consistency  (but with utm_source=twitter and utm_medium=social).

Finally, here is a handy guide to some common values for UTM source and medium, along with some campaign names that follow all the best practices listed above:

  utm_source utm_medium utm_campaign
Email Marketing mailchimp,
constant-contact, campaign-monitor
email sep2019-newsletter, impact-report,
silent-auction,
fall-fundraiser
Social Media facebook, instagram, twitter, linkedin, pinterest social, paid-social awards-gala,
save-the-animals, earth-day-benefit
Digital Ads google, bing paid-search, display, mobile t-shirt-promo, volunteer-day,
5k-fun-run

Wrap Up

By tracking the actions users take on your website and attributing them to a particular traffic source, you can determine which channels yield the most donations, event registrations, volunteer signups, or any other action critical to your nonprofit’s success! 

If this comprehensive guide left any questions unanswered, the expert team at Elevation can help! Sign up for one of our support plans today to get up and running with campaign and goal tracking, and become the data-driven organization of your dreams!

Erin Mastrantonio

Erin Mastrantonio

Erin Mastrantonio is an Account Manager at Elevation. Certified in Google Analytics and passionate about education— in particular, science and math education for young girls— Erin has more recently decided to bring her technical background in physics and data science to the nonprofit world to better fulfill on her stated purpose “to uncover and amplify ideas that have the power to restore dignity and possibility to humanity.”

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