Using UTM parameters for tracking campaigns in GA4 (properly)

UTM parameters are essential to be able to measure your marketing links and campaigns effectively in GA4. In this guide, I show you what they are and how to use them properly. There's also a free Google Sheet to use yourself to manage the link building process.

When Google bought Urchin and adopted the usage of UTM parameters (Urchin Tracking Module to the uninitiated), I was 6 and little did I know these UTM parameters would play such an important role in my life.

With the news of Google sunsetting UA, an increasing number of people are now using, or planning to use, Google Analytics 4 (GA4) day to day. As everyone starts to use GA4 more, one of the most frequent requests I get is for us to update the default channel groups. Rather than do this, we try to advise clients to utilise the existing channel groups in GA4 which have been predefined for us using a combination of traffic sources and some rather wide RegEx rules (seriously really wide RegEx!).

Custom channel groups are available in GA4 – more to follow on this!

Remind me, what are channel groups?

Simply put, channel groups are a way of Google bucketing traffic together based on its origin. These channels are then surfaced in Google Analytics and allows users to view traffic levels, users, conversions and ultimately determine what channels are proving most successful and therefore should receive more/less investment.

Okay – but how does this all work?

Well the same Urchin technology from 2005 hasn’t changed too much. Google still uses the same parameters: utm_source, utm_medium and utm_campaign to categorise the traffic into channels. The only difference is that there is now a list of predefined Video, Social, Shopping and Search utm_sources that Google uses within the channel group rules.

So for example, a link appended with


would be categorised correctly with the source/medium of “facebook / social”, however


would be ‘Uncategorised’ due to the value in the utm_source being seen as ‘Video’ not ‘Social’.

Does that mean I need to tag everything with these ruddy UTMs?!

Yes and no – never a straightforward answer! A lot of platforms out there have incorporated automatic campaign tagging within their settings, say for example HubSpot and Mailchimp – any email sent from these platforms will populate the utm_source, utm_medium and utm_campaign with the correct values if the setting is enabled. Other platforms such as Google Ads have a native connection called auto-tagging, and so you’ll want/need to connect your Google Ads property to your GA4 property and then you’ll get accurate campaign reporting across your paid campaigns.

Finally there are some instances where you’ll inevitably need to create your own custom links that incorporate the UTM tracking for example if you’re working with a 3rd party and want to see traffic from their site or app. In this case, we’ve put together a handy link builder Google Sheet that you can use to build out your own custom links. It also includes a validation step to ensure that the correct source is imputed and traffic isn’t going to be attributed to the wrong channel in GA4.

Open the Google Sheet – Measurelab – GA4 – UTM Link Builder.

To use the sheet, firstly make yourself a copy by going to File > Make a copy:

The 'file > make a copy' screen in a google sheet to make a copy

Now you have your own copy, select the channel from the drop down menu in column D of the ‘UTM Link Builder’ tab. Based on your selection, this will automatically populate column E with the correct ‘utm_medium’ you will need to use. Then you will need to populate column F with your ‘utm_source’.

If the source you enter is included in Google’s predefined list of sources then column G will be populated with a tick. Otherwise you will need to enter an alternative ‘utm_source’ as your traffic may be misattributed.

Feel free to then populate any/all of the columns H-N and then finally input your URL into column O. Your final tagged URL will be automatically generated in column P which you can then use in your links/ads to track your campaigns.

Is there any other way?

Always! There are tools like that manage all your UTM’d links in a web platform – and they even have a handy Chrome extension too.

You can always build them one-by-one using Google’s own link builder tool.

There is even the website that is dedicated to all things UTMs, and even has a list of other UTM link builder sheets you can use. I haven’t vetted each and every one on that list, but we have put everything we’ve learnet into our one above – I can vouch for that one at least!

This is by no means a comprehensive list of resources, but should give you everything you need to know to make a start and get using UTMs in GA4 effectively.

In review

Fortunately (or unfortunately), UTM parameters are here to stay and without the proper care and attention traffic and conversions may be incorrectly attributed. So, while you migrate your teams and sites to GA4 hopefully this link builder tool will create one less headache for you!

We’re here to help, so get in touch with me/us if you have any questions on UTMs, or if you’d like to suggest an update to the UTM link builder sheet itself.

Written by

George is a Lead Analytics Consultant at Measurelab. He loves a complex problem to solve and is even restoring a classic car just to see how it works.

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