How to use UTM parameters to track online and offline campaigns

children celebrating at laptop screenAccurately tracking both online and offline campaigns can be a difficult task. We know too well that sometimes source information is not passed on accurately (or at all) to Google Analytics which lands us with a high number of visitors appearing to come through as direct traffic with no medium.

There’s many reasons why traffic sources aren’t always accurately reported, for more about this see what direct traffic is and what can cause it.

What is a UTM tracking code?

A UTM code is a parameter that you can add to the end of any link to tell Google Analytics the correct referral information through the link itself:

  • Source*
  • Medium
  • Campaign name
  • Campaign term
  • Campaign content

The first source is required and the latter can be added to help differentiate adverts or sources of traffic if necessary.

In normal terms, you can add some information to the end of a link to tell Google Analytics where the link came from what it relates to.

A link with a UTM tracking code will look something like this:

The tracking code is placed after the ‘?’ and each element is attached with a ‘&’. The following image breaks down each element of the link above.

explained UTM parameters

If you only wanted to track the source, you could easily leave out the rest of the tracking code. This would leave you with the following URL:

You can create the links manually or you can use Google’s helpful Campaign URL Builder.

Tracking online campaigns with UTM parameters

Tracking online campaigns is simple. You just need to fill the relevant information into the Campaign URL Builder and make sure you use the links in the correct places.

Tracking links from social media

For example, if you want to track clicks from Twitter, you would add the following to the end of each of your links:


So a link from this blog would look like this:

If I was promoting content as part of a particular campaign, maybe I’m offering January Discounts this year (2017), I shared this post as part of that marketing push and wanted to know how many visits came from that particular campaign, I could add a campaign name. This would make the link look like this:

You can do the same for other online campaigns. I tag my email newsletter links with the following:


Adding the UTM parameters to the links you share online is a great way to help your campaign activity and traffic sources get reported accurately.

Tracking links from PDFs and offline documents

It’s great to add tracking to your online campaigns and promotions on email and social media, but often offline documents like PDFs and presentations are forgotten about. It is important to track these links as there is no chance that these clicks will be attributed as anything over than the mystery ‘direct’ traffic.

For example,
If I was going to put a link to this blog into an offline document like a PDF (a Whitepaper called ‘A Beginner’s Guide to Google Analytics’), I could link to the URL in two ways:

If this link was clicked by someone reading the PDF, in Google Analytics it would not transfer any information about the source or medium of the click i.e. it would report the following information:

  • Source: Direct
  • Medium: None

I could, however, add a UTM code to the end of the link and insert that into the document instead:

If this link was clicked by someone reading the PDF, in Google Analytics it would report the following information:

  • Source: whitepaper
  • Medium: offline document
  • Campaign: beginners guide google analytics

You can also add a campaign term and campaign content, if you wanted to distinguish the links from each other even further.

Demonstrated by the example above, UTM codes will help you to identify the sources of traffic coming from offline documents like PDFs and PowerPoint presentations.

Tracking offline campaigns with UTM parameters

In some cases, you will never be able to identify the source of traffic where someone has typed a URL into their browser. If someone has just remembered the link to your homepage ( and typed it into their browser, you have no chance.

If you’re advertising in an offline publication, however, then you can use UTM codes in a slightly different way. Instead of using the unsightly link the UTM codes create, you can redirect a shorter link to the UTM coded link.

For example,
Say I’m advertising a training session about blog planning for organisations. A session about how to research content, what to write about, how to write it and how to promote it. Let’s say I have 3 adverts, one in a business magazine called ‘Hello Marketing’, one on a poster and one on a flyer.

To distinguish when someone has typed in a link from these materials I can use three different links.

On the magazine advert, I use:

On the poster, I use:

On the flyer, I use:

Each of these will redirect to the actual page –

But, as I’ve got three distinct short URLs, I can get each of them to redirect to the actual page with slightly different UTM codes on.
will go to
Which will transfer the following information into Google Analytics:

  • Source: Hello Marketing
  • Medium: Offline Ad
  • Campaign: Training 2017
will go to
Which will transfer the following information into Google Analytics:

  • Source: Poster
  • Medium: Offline ad
  • Campaign: Training 2017
will go to
Which will transfer the following information into Google Analytics:

  • Source: Flyer
  • Medium: Offline ad
  • Campaign: Training 2017

These will transfer the relevant information into Google Analytics and as the campaign progresses, you can keep generating them. You want to make sure that you’re not tracking more detail than you really need and are keeping note of what your tracking and how, otherwise you could confuse URLs or tracking information, which could cast doubt over your tracking efforts overall.

It’s better to start simple and, as you get more comfortable, increase your tracking capabilities.

Some UTM parameter-related surprises to look out for

UTM parameters are great. They allow you to more accurately track your online campaigns and offer one of the only ways to attribute traffic from offline campaigns. There are, however, some limitations to UTM parameters that you should always be aware of:

  • UTM parameters override the naturally transferred source
    Often this is exactly what you want – you want to avoid direct traffic or incorrectly attributed traffic. But, in some cases, you could end up with misleading traffic sources.
    For example, if you sent out an email with a UTM parameter on the links declaring the sources as ‘email’. If a recipient of the link then posted that link (complete with UTM code) on a forum or on social media, these visits would still be reported as ‘email’.
  • UTM parameters are removable
    Anyone could just remove the code from the end of the link if they wanted to.
  • UTM parameters are editable
    In the same theme as being removable, they could be copied badly, leaving you with odd cut-off words in your reports.

I don’t think any of these are serious enough to abandon UTM tracking, but it’s important to know the limitations. There are some situations where a UTM coded link being shared on a different channel could be confusing and misleading but in most it is likely to have minimal impact. If this is kept in mind and investigated where necessary, then it’s a small price to pay.

How to use UTM parameters to track online and offline campaigns

2 thoughts on “How to use UTM parameters to track online and offline campaigns

  • 2nd August 2018 at 3:59 am

    How do we add the UMT codes? Ive seen this before, but most items i read about PDF are about adding a tag to a PDF on a certain url.

    I want to use this for a PDF and want to track how much viewers go to the site from the magazine

    • 18th February 2019 at 9:18 am

      Hi Rombout,

      Apologies for the late reply. This one must have slipped through the net.

      To track visits from your PDF, you can just add your UTM tags on the end of each link included in the PDF. For example, if you have an inline link to your homepage or any other page on your website within the PDF, you could append “?utm_source=magazine” to make the link something like: “”.

      You can then use the medium, name, term and content tags to further differentiate if you wanted to.

      The following would set your source as ‘magazine’, medium as ‘PDF’ and campaign as ’01JAN19′ – if you wanted to specify which issue of magazine the visit came from:

      I hope this helps!

      All the best,



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