utm tags vs events

UTM Tags vs Event Tracking: What are they and when do you use them?


So, you have a website and you already have Google Analytics setup and tracking data. That’s a great start! But, you want to start tracking more. You want to find out who clicks what on your site and which elements are critical in the conversion process. You’d like to determine which campaigns are performing the best and sending qualified traffic to your site.

You can and certainly should do all of this. To accomplish this, you would use a combination of UTM tags, event tracking, and possibly even virtual pageviews. It’s important to understand the difference between these tracking methods so you don’t override any data erroneously.

The first thing to understand about the tracking methods is that UTM tags are used to track external links and events and virtual pageviews are used to track internal links. You’ll notice the data from UTM tags will appear in the Campaigns section under Acquisition. Whereas, Events appear under Behavior. UTM tags are intended to track acquisitions from your campaigns and events are meant to track elements within your web property.

UTM Tags are Used for External Sources

Only use UTM tags on external links. Don’t use UTM tags on internal links that go from one page of your website, to another page on the same website. Adding UTM tags to internal links will override the original referrer source and medium. So, if a user got to your website from the source of Google, and then clicked on an internal link with a UTM tag that included a source of YourSite; Google Analytics would override the original referral source of Google, with the new referral source of YourSite.

Does this mean you would never use a UTM tag on your website? No, you can use a UTM tag on a link on your website if it links to a different website. If it goes to a different website then it is an external link. You should know though, that this would not actually provide any Google Analytics data for you, unless you also own the other domain. To capture clicks on the link and collect data on the original website, you could add an event. If the site you’re referring to also needs to track this information you can still include the UTM tag. If the link on your website is an external link you can track it by using both a UTM tag and an event. The event will track the click under Behavior on your site, and the UTM tag will track the click under Acquisition on the site you sent the traffic to.

Use UTM Tags to Track Campaign Efforts

One of the great uses of UTM tags is to track your campaign efforts. You can add these tags to links in e-mail campaigns, social posts, and paid ads. This way you’ll be able to see Campaigns under Acquisition and determine which marketing efforts are having the largest impact.

How Do UTM Tags Work?

UTM tags work by appending parameters to your URL to identify the source, medium, and campaign. There is extensive Google documentation that explains what UTM parameters are and how to use them. Google even offers a Campaign URL Builder that makes it easy to add UTM tags to your URL.

Get More Value Out of Your UTM Tags with a Consistent Naming Convention

When creating UTM parameters, one important tip to remember, is to use a consistent naming convention. To make it easy to understand your campaign efforts, make sure you’re naming your sources and mediums in the same manner during repeat use. If you tag one link with a medium of email, another with a medium of Email, and yet another with e-mail they will all be listed separately. Whereas, if you named the medium for all three campaigns email you would easily be able to review which campaign and source performed best in that medium.

To help with this, I’d recommend always using lowercase and not using spaces. Spaces are allowed but will be replaced with %20 in the URL. This could cause some confusion down the road. Instead, use hyphens (-) or underscores (_) between words. There are also tools you can use to help keep your UTM tags consistent. For example, the Effin Amazing UTM Builder is a Chrome plugin that allows you to set UTM tag presets. That way, when you’re on a URL you want to share, you can just click the plugin and select the UTM preset tag from a drop-down. I like to create presets with placeholder text for the unique campaign name such as [Enter-Campaign-Name-Here]. That way, it’s easy to identify what needs to be modified before sharing the URL.

How Does This Differ for Events?

It’s a good idea to also keep a consistent naming convention for events and virtual pageviews. Typically, this is a little easier as you can reference existing events and virtual pageviews to use as a template. It’s a little more difficult to do that with UTM tags as they are used in external sources and not stored exclusively on your website. For technical setup information, you can visit the Google developer documentation on setting up event tracking and virtual pageviews.

How do you use UTM tags and event tracking? Feel free to share any of the tips or tricks you’ve learned to get the most value out of these items.

About the Author

Jennifer Rogina has been a digital marketing specialist since 2008. During those years she has focused on Pay Per Click Advertising, Search Engine Optimization, and Conversion Rate Optimization.