Event Industry Comprehensive Guide on UTM Parameters

We decided to consider this powerful tool in the context of event industry. This study is based on hundreds of PPC campaigns, mass mailings, push notifications, Facebook events.

This article will be of use for anyone dealing with traffic acquisition on a website – either their own or a ticketing service like Eventbrite; for those using UTM tags every day and those who never tried.

Why use UTM parameters?

UTM parameters help to slice and dice your ad campaigns. For example, you can see the general picture of your event marketing in different dimensions. The following example shows the number of visitors, orders and even the revenue per each event:


(an example of Google Analytics report in utm_campaign dimension)

It is very important to know the number of people who purchase tickets to your events and where they come from. This shows what traffic sources really help you to sell tickets. Was it an Instagram ad campaign or a free tweet in a partner account? Should you consider an offer from a new social network?

You will be able to cancel ineffective event management sources and boost the ones that drive sales. Invest into enhancement and optimization of the selling traffic sources to get even more customers. This asks for understanding which appeal to the audience worked best, e.g. which of your Facebook event posts got more link clicks?

UTM parameters added to all links will help you answer these questions along with many others.

What are UTM Parameters?

Urchin Tracking Module (UTM) parameters are used by marketers to track the effectiveness of online marketing campaigns across traffic sources and publishing media.

The UTM parameters in a URL identify the campaign that refers traffic to a specific website, and attributes it to the browser’s website session. The parameters can be parsed by analytic tools and used to populate reports. Take a look at a sample URL, UTM parameters highlighted, after the question mark (?):

https://www.example.com/?utm_source=facebook-event&utm_medium=social&utm_campaign=super_concert&utm_content=xmas_20percent_off

The main 5 UTM parameters stay unchanged for almost 16 years: utm_source, utm_medium, utm_campaign, utm_term, utm_content.

Historical note:

UTM parameters were introduced by Google Analytics’ predecessor Urchin in June, 2002 and consequently are supported out-of-the-box by the majority of web traffic analytic tools. 85% of websites having an analytic tool installed use Google Analytics, which makes it the default tool all over the world. UTM parameters became so customary that are now supported not only by analytic tools (for example, CRM, ad networks, web forms, polls).

Usage of UTM parameters

If the majority of links leading to your website have UTM parameters specified, you can get a detailed overview of your promotion.

Google Analytics Acquisition Report

This is only an example of various report types presenting different customer acquisition sources for comparison.

Campaign URL Builder Page contains tips and an interactive form showing how to set each parameter:

  • utm_source — Campaign Source. The referrer: e.g. google, newsletter.
  • utm_medium — Campaign Medium. Marketing medium: e.g. cpc, banner, email.
  • utm_campaign — Campaign Name. Product, promo code, or slogan e.g. spring_sale.
  • utm_term — Campaign Term. Identify the paid keywords.
  • utm_content — Campaign Content. Use to differentiate ads.

This description helps to read the link from the example above and guess what the marketer meant:

https://www.example.com/?utm_source=facebook-event&utm_medium=social&utm_campaign=super_concert&utm_content=xmas_20percent_off

This can be explained as follows: a campaign to promote Super Concert event, the link comes from a Facebook event which is a Social channel, where we placed a Christmas offer for 20% discount.

The problem of UTM parameters in event industry

UTM parameters selection is very arbitrary. Let’s imagine: we need to publish ‘Black Friday’ discounts to five Facebook events. Should we set utm_campaign as ‘Black Friday’ with 5 types of utm_content for each event? Or should we have 5 utm_campaign instances per each event with the same utm_content ‘Black Friday’?

Such examples are numerous. Sometimes all UTM parameters are filled with the same info or some useless data. The most common case is absence of UTM parameters in URLs. If a visitor comes to your page from a usual website, you still can figure out where this click came from. However, it is different with such giants as Facebook: it protects personal data and will never show which group, page, event or chat it was.

This corrupts data and hinders your marketing analysis, as long as the parameters become hard to reach and impossible to group.

Case study: UTM parameters mess in SeatGeek mass mailing

Here’s an example from Seatgeek mass mailing. We admire their incredible seating charts, great and convenient website design, cool app and recommendations system. However, their UTM tags in mass mailing are perplexing. Take a look at the links from several mailings: Eagles, Giants, Imagine Dragons, Sting. Each mailing has the same set of UTM parameters for each element.

utm_sourceIterableIterableIterableIterable
utm_mediumemailemailemailemail
utm_campaign2018_09_18_concerts_this_week2018_09_20_mlb_week26event_abandonment_day_before_eventnewsletter
utm_content

Let’s consider their link structure:

  1. utm_source is the same in all mailings — Iterable, apparently to group all Iterable customer communication channels. No more info available.
  2. utm_medium is a system field to be populated with default data, email being one of the options. So no other reasonable variants here.
  3. utm_campaign shows incoherence. We found a lot of mailings that always contain the same utm_campaignnewsletter. Thus, all mailing data will stick within one campaign with no way to differentiate them. Such campaign names as 2018_09_18_concerts_this_week or 2018_09_20_mlb_week26 are way better than just newsletter. As we see it, the notions of campaign and content got mixed here.
  4. utm_content parameter appears to be not used, though it could make reports much more flexible by breaking the campaign name 2018_09_18_concerts_this_week into utm_content=2018_09_18 and utm_campaign=concerts_this_week. Then we could see how effective concerts_this_week mailings are in terms of sales. utm_content field can also be used to tag different events, buttons and clicks to understand what exactly drew the recipient’s attention and what people actually click – the heading, the buy tickets button, the fifth event in the table? For example, it would be useful to fill in the content of Sting email.

This case study with homogeneous data shows that the UTM parameters do not work out as intended.

UTM parameters convention

All problems can be solved by a UTM parameters convention to synchronize the terms and definitions for each parameter in your marketing strategy. We suggest our version of the document, but do not claim it to be the only correct variant. We just want to share the convention that our team developed over promoting several tens of thousands of events.

It is based on two simple ideas:

  1. Agree on what counts as a campaign and what content is. We suggest that a campaign is a single event, but there are some nuances.
  2. Always fill all 4 UTM parameters; not 3, not 2, and not 5 (except for cpc ads, that will be covered later).

utm_campaign

Campaign name is like a folder on your hard drive, uniting different file types under one idea. The files can be of different types and can have different names, but they are always united by some common concept. The same works for events. Let events serve as ‘folders’ for all your ad campaigns. This will help to calculate the overall spendings and the total traffic acquired, to overview all acquisition channels that added to the event audience.

This strategy will work if all campaign names follow the same format. We recommend the following:

date(YYYY-MM-DD)_city_event-name → 2018-12-01_san-francisco-ca_sting

In our convention, month and year are separated by a hyphen (-), while the date and the artist name are separated by an underscore (_). If you have respect to such details, your campaigns section will look as a neat chronological list even as time passes.

Different approaches for a ticketing company, touring artist or a venue:

Of course, each case is different, so you are welcome to modify the naming format. For example, this is of no use to indicate the city for a venue, so the tag can be contracted to date(YYYY-MM-DD)_event-name; and for a touring artist – date(YYYY-MM-DD)_city.

One campaign = one event. We are about events, after all. And it solves a number of issues. Do you get the idea?

utm_medium

  • email — this name says it all.
  • social — social networks like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc.
  • cpc — Cost Per Click Ad Networks. These are text blocks in Google Ads, Bing Ads, Amazon Ad, etc. However, Facebook also offers cpc ads. We recommend not to use cpc in this case, although it seems logical at first sight: this will break the channel report into two types of medium, which is no good.
  • display — all visual ads from Google Marketing Platform, Youtube and other similar systems with payment per impression instead of clicks. In the same way as for cpc, it’s better not to use it for Facebook ads to avoid confusion.

There are other sources as well, but they do not require filling in UTM parameters, they are assigned automatically – organic (for free clicks from search requests in Google or Bing), referral (a website address, that is not a search engine or a social network), and direct (direct entry to the website).

utm_source

While all troubles with utm_campaign are resolved by following the rules agreed on inside the company, and utm_medium has just several options to select from, utm_source is the most intricate of the parameters. You’ll have to keep a permanent record of all sources in a table, and this list can be really vast. For example, facebook-event, instagram-stories, affiliate-partner, messenger-bot, etc.

Here are some pieces of advice on using utm_source:

  1. Keep record of all possible variants and write short comments what each of them embraces.
  2. Use at least two words for the parameter. Don’t worry: the page address with all parameters included can contain up to 2000 symbols and will still be processed smoothly.
  3. Do not reuse the names of other parameters, even partially. For example, do not indicate email-newsletter.
  4. Treat it as a description of the form of your marketing message, but not its content.
  5. It may present link placements (instagram-feed or instagram-link-in-bio).

utm_content

This is perhaps the most multiversion parameter. Just one simple rule applies here: describe your marketing message so that it is easy to understand in the future. When offering a 20% discount with a Christmas tree banner, indicate 20percent-off_banner_xmas. Believe me, you will be grateful to yourself for such a long description as time passes. And although it is not possible to keep a complete list of all content ideas, try to use the same format for repeated variants. For example, if you are planning to post links about the Black Friday to all your Facebook events, make sure to put the same utm_content everywhere. It will help you to find and estimate the results of this black-friday-50percent-off discount. Notification triggers can also be used here (abandoned-cart or welcome-instructions).

utm_term

Filling utm_term parameter manually is a common mistake. This field is meant for cpc search ads solely, and is auto-filled by Google Ads. If you fill this parameter with, say, a word for a Facebook ad post, you’ll have a hard time later trying to remember why you used such strange keywords for Google Ads. Just do not fill utm_term – as simple as that!

5 common errors in UTM settings

  1. Do not use UTM parameters to tag internal links on your website. Not only will it corrupt your data, but will also result in errors while counting the number of website visits.
  2. Do not use spaces in UTM parameters, as long as spaces will be replaced with %20, which is difficult to read. This will generate excessive symbols (an example by Festicket: https://www.festicket.com/collections/festive-sale-2018/?referrer=facebook&campaign=xmas%20promo&shared_from=partner_linkgen&utm_source=Facebook&utm_medium=Social&utm_content=Xmas%20Promo%202018).
    Use hyphens or underscores.
  3. Google Analytics is case-sensitive, so campaign names 2018-12-01_san-francisco-ca_sting and 2018-12-01_san-francisco-ca_Sting will be considered to be different ones. It is preferable to use lowercase in all instances, as this will cut the likelihood of errors.
  4. Cutting all UTM parameters for redirects. If you use a URL shortener like bit.ly, in no case should you add UTM parameters to the shortened link bit.ly?utm-campaign=… All parameters will be removed after the redirect. Add UTM parameters only to your domain link.
  5. Usage of several question marks (?) in one URL. The first parameters added to a URL is preceded by a question mark, while all further parameters start with an ampersand (&). Thus, if a URL already has some parameter added, you should indicate https://www.example.com/?query=param&utm_source=facebook-event&utm_medium=social.  More information at https://stackoverflow.com/questions/2924160/is-it-valid-to-have-more-than-one-question-mark-in-a-url Moreover, there are Unsafe Characters that can disrupt URL. Never use the following symbols: ; / ? : @ = &. Read more at https://perishablepress.com/stop-using-unsafe-characters-in-urls/

Case study: UTM parameters in VividSeats mass mailing

Let’s consider one more example from VividSeats mass mailing:

VividSeats mass mailing
LogoGet TicketsHeader menuBottom menu
utm_sourceSSSS
utm_mediumemailemailemailemail
utm_campaignPrintPrintPrintTransaction
utm_content
utm_termLogoPLinkNavMore

I’m sure, you see four ways to make future analytics more convenient:

  1. The source indicated with a single S and Plink contraction are not the most evident variants to be used. Don’t try to shorten the link – the obvious is always better than the obscure.
  2. It’s better not to use lowercase and uppercase together: this is a potential problem. If someone else puts Print or Transaction with a lowercase letter in another mailing, this will count as a separate source.
  3. Two different campaigns in one email. They decided to summarize all transactional emails in the campaign, but this lead to a confusion.
  4. utm_term and utm_content got confused. Apparently, a cpc ad manager will see reports with many ‘successful ads’ having Logo, Nav, More as the ‘key words’.

Conclusion

We hope that you like our approach and the article highlights the power and flexibility of UTM parameters. Share your questions with us, and we will prepare new posts on the topic. We will also appreciate sharing info on your UTM parameters convention.