The digital marketing ecosystem is facing significant shifts in how advertisers track, target and measure audiences across all channels. The emphasis on first-party data is consistently growing, and advertisers that construct sound strategies to segment, analyze and target their site visitors will find themselves best-positioned to navigate these impending shifts.

In a previous blog post we outlined several tactics to help brands prepare for a cookie-less future, and now we’ll dive into a category that is considered one of the most flexible and effective tools for modern marketers: UTM codes.

The Basics of UTM Codes

Let’s start by level-setting the basics of UTM codes (extra points if you already knew that UTM stands for Urchin Tracking Module). By definition, UTM codes are snippets of text that can be appended to URLs in order to track different parameters of site traffic. 

At a high level, UTM codes help advertisers answer three important questions. 1. Where is my site traffic coming from? 2. How are visitors ending up on my site? 3. What actions have users taken before visiting my site?

UTM codes fall into five categories that allow advertisers to track details about their site visitors including the effects of marketing initiatives on traffic:

  • UTM Medium: This is perhaps the most-used option and can be thought of as the topline marketing channel that’s driving traffic such as Social, Email, Video or Search. 
  • UTM Source: Provides a deeper layer of description beyond the Medium. For example, if the Medium is Social, then the Source can be defined as ‘Facebook’ or ‘LinkedIn’. 
  • UTM Campaign: A parameter that allows tracking site traffic sourced from specific ad campaigns. This is helpful when multiple initiatives are live simultaneously, and typically aligns with the campaign theme such as ‘Fall_Sale’ or ‘Product_Launch’. 
  • UTM Content: This parameter can help differentiate between creative messages or ad content. If a single campaign is rotating multiple ads, each version can be assigned a unique click-thru URL where UTM Content identifies the creative message such as ‘Coupon’, ‘Product’ or ‘Location’.
  • UTM Term: For advertisers running search campaigns, this category isolates the terms that are driving site traffic, which also helps inform audience construction using custom keyword sets. 

Here’s an example URL string that includes four UTM codes:

All five UTM code categories are automatically captured by our Axon Audience Manager, which opens multiple options for advanced first-party audience segmentation and insights. We’ve outlined some recommended strategies below to ensure advertisers are maximizing UTM codes in the context of audience targeting:

Convert Expensive Second-party Audiences

Advertisers from verticals with niche target audiences often execute their prospecting across expensive trade journals and industry publications with CPMs well above programmatic rates. While this is critical to reach potential customers in the context of their industry, audience reach is typically limited and moving these prospects down the purchase funnel is lengthy and costly. 

KORTX Solution: Expensive and niche second-party audiences can be identified with the UTM Source parameter when they reach a client’s site. Once volume is feasible, these prospects can be converted into first-party audiences and retargeted through various digital end-points at a much more efficient cost. KORTX recently executed this strategy for a CPG client that was targeting niche prospects at a $23.00 CPM. The converted Axon first-party segments were activated by KORTX at a $4.75 CPM, resulting in considerable savings and cost-per-lead efficiency. 

Sequence Messaging for Search & Social

Paid Search and Social campaigns are often a user’s first digital exposure due to the extensive reach of both options. However, each tactic typically operates at different points in the purchase funnel. Social excels at reach and upper-funnel awareness while Search is an effective lower-funnel conversion strategy. UTM Medium confirms which users have interacted with Search and Social messaging in order to determine the next sequence of creative to drive towards a purchase or conversion. 

KORTX Solution: Not only does Axon Audience Manager capture the UTM Medium for Search and Social, but our real-time audience count confirms the exact number of users that can be targeted for each. Our strategy team will determine the opportunity that is available to sequence Social audiences with a mid-funnel message, and also understand if users coming from Search have completed a purchase or moved closer to converting. 

Track CRM Performance and Scale

Along with site visitors, CRM lists are an advertiser’s most valuable data asset. Sophisticated marketers often have multiple CRM lists that categorize customers based on their level of engagement with the brand. In this case, it’s critical to understand how each CRM list is performing and which creative messages are resonating. By assigning the UTM Content parameter to unique creative for each CRM list, advertisers are able to gather scale and performance data to maximize their CRM value. 

KORTX Solution: Our clients can onboard CRM lists into Axon Audience Manager and activate first-party segments across multiple digital channels. We assign unique UTM Content parameters to each list which provides a back-end view into performance and scale. KORTX recently partnered with a national retail chain that had four different CRM lists reflecting various levels of engagement with online shopping. UTM Content breakouts allowed us to track the performance of each list and make creative recommendations to maximize return on ad spend. 

Transition Users to Different End-points 

Moving audiences between digital channels was previously a complex process that required multiple campaigns and constant manual shifting of data segments. However, using a combination of UTM codes provides the flexibility to easily segment audiences based on their traffic source and activate new first-party audiences across different digital end-points. By tracking the UTM Medium and Source, advertisers can understand historical ad exposure and route them to previously unexposed digital channels. 

KORTX Solution: KORTX clients gain access to a wide range of inventory sources and channels which serve as activation options for first-party segments. The opportunities for segmenting audiences based on their UTM Medium and Source are essentially limitless. One primary example is shifting between Display and Video depending on prior ad exposure, which is especially beneficial for advertisers with a diverse media mix that are looking to control frequency within a specific digital channel.  

Push Customers Down the Funnel

The most direct and effective application of UTM codes involves segmenting users based on their current point in the purchase funnel or customer journey. Depending on the advertising tactic and how it aligns with the funnel, insights can be applied to each tactic to extract details about which upper-funnel audiences (Pre-Roll, CTV, Social) can be pushed into lower-funnel tactics (Display, Search, Native). 

KORTX Solution: Once our Axon JavaScript code is live on a client’s site, UTM events across all five categories are captured in real-time and we can begin building first-party audiences. By analyzing a combination of UTM Medium and Content, KORTX uncovers which digital tactics and creative messages each user has been exposed to in order to determine a customer’s position in the funnel and apply those insights to the campaign optimization strategy. 

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Whether you’re a power-user or just getting started with UTM codes, we’re ready to help craft a custom digital strategy for you, ensuring first-party data is a central factor of your digital success.