Sometimes looking at your analytics data, you can get the information you need from just the referring source of the visitor to your website, or by using Advanced Segments to compare results from groups of referring sources. Sometimes you need more specific information than that will provide. Using Google Analytics, you can easily tag links to your website, so you can get different information about different sources, campaigns, etc., and learn more about what is working (and what is not!).

How can you get more specific information than the referral source?

The answer is to use the UTM variables available in Google Analtyics. Now, I can see your eyes glazing over, but don’t give up yet! We’ll see that it really can be quite a simple thing to do!

What are UTM variables?

UTM variables are put at the end of a URL, to give additional information to Google Analytics. For example, if we want to have a link from About the Inn to our Freeport Maine Bed & Breakfast, that identifies it as coming from this post, we could use the variable utm_source=AboutTheInnMarketingStats. The utm_source is the variable, telling Google Analytics to track the value we have created, “AboutTheInnMarketingStats” as a campaign (to GA, pretty much everything is a campaign).

Google Analytics CampaignsIf you use an email marketing service, like Constant Contact, MailChimp, or others, the links in your emails may be automatically tagged with information about that email (as a campaign). To find out, in GA, go to Traffic Sources -> Sources -> Campaigns. If you click on the Source/Medium link at the top of the list, you’ll see the sources and may find the email “campaigns” in that list.

There are several UTM variables available for us to use. The most common are utm_source, utm_medium, and utm_campaign. You do not need to use all of them. You can use any of them you feel are helpful to identify how a visitor got to your website.

For example, suppose you send out two different emails in one month. One email goes to all prior guests, while the other goes only to guests who have stayed within the past year. You might use utm_medium=email for both mailings (to differentiate those visitors from others who come through other means), but use utm_source=allguests for the mailing to all guests, and utm_source=recentguests to identify the guests who have visited in the past year. If we mail to each of these groups every month, then we might also add to each of them utm_campaign=2012_January so we know they responded to the January 2012 email.

For another example, your analytics may show a number of visitors from Twitter (or Facebook, Pinterest, Foursquare, etc.). However, you ordinarily have no idea if the visitors came to you via the link in your profile, or from a link to your website in something you posted. To differentiate the link in your profile from other links from Twitter (or others), you can add utm_source=profile to the link in your profile.

OK, so how do we use these UTM variables?

You can type in the values yourself, which is not difficult at all, but Google has made it even easier, with a tool called URL Builder, which will set it up for you automatically.

We’ll show you first the manual way to use these variables, so you’ll be able to see what the URL should look like (and thereby be able to check for errors, typos, etc.). There are two versions – one where your link goes to a specific page, and one where you just link to a site (such as

If you’re linking to a page, you add a question mark after the page address, then add your variables, with an ampersand (&) between each variable, like this:

To link just to a site, you must end the domain name (the .com, .net, .org, etc.) with a forward slash (/) and then add the question mark, followed by the variables you want to use:

Google's URL BuilderTo build the same thing using Google’s URL Builder, we simply enter the page or site we want to link to, then add “AboutTheInn” in the Source field, add “BlogPost” to the Medium field, and “MarketingStats” to the Campaign Name field, and it generates the full URL for us, as the accompanying graphic shows.

When these links are inserted as links in a page, social media profile, or whatever, Google Analytics will track not only the referral source, but will identify the campaign, medium, or other variable that you include. The full list of UTM variables is provided in the Google Analytics help section on variables.

After setting up your links to use these variables, it may take a day or more, depending on how much traffic you receive from the sites you put the links on, to see results in your analytics. When they appear, you can view your Sources, Mediums, and Campaigns in most of the standard analytics reports, as well as in the Campaigns section, to identify how each campaign has performed, including how well they convert (using Goals and/or Ecommerce tracking).

When should you use UTM variables?

There is little value in using UTM variables to replace something you’re already getting. Consequently, replacing a referring source with utm_source=theSameSource will not provide new information.

Instead, use UTM variables to provide additional information – information you aren’t already getting. Two examples were given above (separating links from marketing emails by audience and date, and separating links from social media profiles from links in social media posts). If a B&B directory offers multiple links (perhaps an “Inn of the Month” link or a “Featured Inn” link) that can be different from the link in your general listing, a UTM variable (perhaps utm_medium) may be helpful to differentiate visits from that link.

Another use of UTM variables is to include them in the link built into a QR code. If you just use your home page as the URL in the QR code, you can not determine how many visitors came via the QR code. If you put utm_source=QRcode (or perhaps get even more detailed), you will have the ability to identify the source of those visitors.