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Why Your Dealership Needs to Utilize UTM Codes For All Of Its Digital Marketing Campaigns

December 21, 2016

With so many ways to market your car dealership online today, how can you truly track each and every facet of the traffic that is coming to your website? Daunting though this process may seem initially, the answer to the question at hand is actually pretty simple: Properly integrated UTM codes.

If you're running various paid search campaigns on Google, Bing, or Facebook, or your dealership runs multiple email blasts, display campaigns, etc., you can track and break down the results of each by using UTM codes. Additionally, for those of you who want to see the traffic that a specific email campaign generates for your website, UTM codes are also able to help you keep track of this data within your Google Analytics account and effectively analyze the results.

In other words, using UTM codes is a no-brainer if your dealership intends to both accurately compile data and track the return on investment (ROI) within its digital marketing efforts.

Want to learn more about how to make the most of these handy digital marketing assets? Then join the Remora team as we delve into the finer points of UTM code utilization and implementation.

What Is a UTM Code?

UTM, which stands for "Urchin Tracking Module," was first developed by Urchin Software – a company that was later bought out by Google in 2005. This acquisition would eventually lead to the formation of the Google Analytics platform.

If your dealership used Google Analytics back then, you may remember the tracking code pointing to "urchin.js." Eventually, this first iteration of the technology would later be modified to be "ga.js," and in recent years Google Analytics upgraded once again offering even more tracking features with their "analytics.js" variant.

UTM codes are added to the end of any Uniform Resource Locator (URL) and contain specified parameters, thereby allowing you to segment out incoming traffic. Google Analytics will look at those parameters and break down the traffic, which in turn gives you the ability to analyze this data by looking at the source/medium.

Screen capture of acquisitions data tab.

As the image above illustrates, this breakdown can be found under the "Acquisition" data tab within your Google Analytics profile once you have your UTM codes in place.

What Does a UTM Code Look Like?

In terms of the actual syntax and composition of a UTM code, this inclusion into your digital marketing efforts can be broken down into different segments and sections.

http://cardealersite.com/?utm_source=email_company&utm_campaign=dec2016_drop1&utm_medium=email&utm_content=banner2

In our preceding example, you can see that we've assigned the following parameters:

  • utm_source – This input gives you the opportunity to supply the marketing company's name.
  • utm_campaign – This is the name of the campaign currently being operated. In our example above we've utilized this label to segment out all of the traffic for the "December 2016 Drop 1" email campaign. It's important to specify the month and year if you're running multiple marketing campaigns each month. This will allow you to compare data against each campaign to see what works and what doesn't.
  • utm_medium – With "utm_medium," you'll specify the intent of the campaign; in this case, we're dealing with an email campaign. If you run multiple email campaigns from various vendors, that is perfectly fine as you can segment out their efforts based on the "utm_source" designation as described above.
  • utm_content – The "utm_content" portion of a UTM code is an essential inclusion if you're looking to track and compare different creatives. With this tag, you can specify the banner size or specific banner name, which works especially well with an email campaign as you can accurately track which link in the email gets clicked the most. This type of split testing allows you to analyze not just link placements, but also which creatives generate a higher click-through rate (CTR) and perform well via other engagement statistics.
  • utm_term – While "utm_term" was not used in the URL example above, the team here at Remora still suggests using it for any paid search campaigns so that you can identify and track relevant keywords. If you're running a Google AdWords campaign and have your Analytics account linked to it with auto-tagging enabled, you can skip over this piece of the UTM code puzzle as it will automatically tag the keywords for you.

The parameters covered here are merely the core options at your disposal should you decide to incorporate UTM codes into your dealership's digital marketing strategy. As you become more advanced on this front (and new technologies emerge within this field), you can expect to see more variations and alternatives added to this method of tracking and data analytics.

UTM Parameters Are Case-Sensitive

One of the biggest hang-ups for dealerships that use UTM codes comes from the fact that these digital inclusions are most definitely case-sensitive. It might not seem all that important initially, but if you – or an associated vendor – switch from uppercase to lowercase when implementing these codes, you'll actually end up unintentionally splitting your data and tracking two separate campaigns.

For example, if you compare:

http://cardealersite.com/?utm_source=Facebook&utm_campaign=dec2016&utm_medium=promoted-post&utm_content=headline1

and:

http://cardealersite.com/?utm_source=facebook&utm_campaign=dec2016&utm_medium=promoted-post&utm_content=headline1

You'll notice that the "utm_source" designation for both URLs is set to Facebook. However, since one is capitalized and the other is lowercase, it will be seen as two different campaigns and tracked as such. This, in turn, leads to having different data for "Facebook" and "facebook" under your source/medium traffic tab in Google Analytics.

If you'd rather not deal with the headaches that come with incorrectly coded analytics, take a page from our playbook and use only lowercase terms. Doing so not only ensures that you never have a conflict of this nature, but also helps make tracking and reading incoming data a whole lot easier.

Using UTM Codes to Split Test

For those of you who regularly keep up with the Remora blog, you're probably aware of the fact that split testing is a vital piece of the puzzle for any dealership that's serious about taking control of its digital marketing operations. In fact, without split testing, it's virtually impossible to know what works best for your dealership.

From ad copy, content placement, banner sizes, colors, and text, to a variety of other "moving pieces" within your ad and site content, there are a plethora of inputs that play a role in how well your campaigns can perform over time. Going a step further, supplying Google Analytics with certain UTM parameters gives you the ability to determine exactly which of these attributes matters most to the customer experience and your dealership's overall success.

For instance, a banner ad that looks amazing might not actually perform as well as one of its counterparts, naturally leading to many questions on your end of the equation. By assigning an ad size parameter to your UTM code, you can analyze which dimensions work best on which platforms, thereby getting to the bottom of this conundrum and shining a light on the best possible path forward for your marketing operations.

Your email marketing efforts can also be tracked in this manner. In fact, UTM codes allow you to see things all the way down to the exact link the user clicked to end up on your website.

To put this in perspective, let's that you have eight images or links in your email, and each of these attributes should be tracked individually so that your dealership can pinpoint top performers and mold upcoming campaigns around these outreach tactics. By leveraging the power of UTM codes, we can see how far down the email users are reading, which vehicle creative or price point is being clicked on, and (most importantly) what these individuals are doing once they reach your website. From here, when you change up your car specials for the coming month, you'll also change your UTM codes as well so that you can compare this incoming data versus what you learned in the previous campaign.

Split testing in action.

We'd be remiss if we didn't also point out that the same concepts hold true for any display advertising you may be running with third party networks. The big key here is that you don't want to simply track the source of your site traffic, you also want to make sure that your images are being tagged with size and creative information. This will allow you to make a determination regarding which ad creatives work best on those platforms.

Does the red button outperform the green one? You'd know the answer to this if you were assigning the proper parameters to your display URLs.

While split testing via UTM codes does require a little extra effort from your team or the vendors that manage your digital operations, the truth of the matter is that this data is vital to determining if your current online marketing programs are truly working for your dealership.

(Quick aside: If you're interested in taking a deeper look at the power of split testing, click here for our comprehensive review of this optimization practice.)

Tracking Your Marketing Dollars

If you've been around the block a time or two in the automotive marketing industry, then you know that just because the sales pitch offered up by a vendor sounds great or they come highly recommended, that doesn't always mean that their product or service is any good. With this mind, we've helped customers from across the nation track and analyze data via UTM codes from several automotive vendors in an effort shine a light on the offerings that actually provide dealerships with a decent ROI – and which ones amount to nothing more than snake oil.

Unfortunately, if you don't currently own or have access to your Google Analytics account, then you're in the dark when it comes to leveraging this portion of the power found within UTM codes. For this reason, we strongly recommend that you own your Analytics account and set up proper views within it so that you can track and analyze data over time on your own terms.

How to Track Your Offline Marketing Efforts with UTM Codes

Tracking offline metrics with UTM codes.

Over the years, we've watched dealerships spend thousands of dollars each month on mailers, yet not receive many walk-ins in return for this substantial expenditure. To explain this away, plenty of vendors suggest that customers call in or visit the website on the mailer.

Odds are that you already have a separate number on the mailer to track all incoming phone calls. However, adding in a vanity URL, complete with UTM parameters built into it, gives you the opportunity to put these claims to the test and see just how potent your offline marketing efforts really are.

Yes, approaching the process from this angle means not branding your main dealership website on the mailer. But let's be honest; nobody is typing all of that text into their browser anyways. At least with a shorter, simpler vanity URL, you'll be able to track any traffic that originates from these snail mail offerings.

To see how this practice plays out for the average dealership, let's look over a quick example.

Let’s say your domain is:

exampledealership.com

Your vanity URL to be used in the mailer would be:

cityexample.com.

From here, you can set your vanity URL to auto-forward to your main website with all of the UTM parameters attached automatically. This means that when a user types in "cityexample.com" into their browser, they'll automatically be taken to:

http://exampledealership.com/?utm_source=mailer&utm_campaign=dec2016&utm_medium=service-flyer&utm_content=red-flyer

The end result? You are now able to see all traffic coming to your dealership's website from this specific mailer. If you send out more than one mailer a month, or you want to split test the design layout of a mailer, then you'll naturally need to generate a few more vanity URLs.

The best part of all of this is that once you're comfortable with vanity URLs, split testing, and UTM codes, you can apply this method to any offline marketing campaign and see exactly what type of traffic (if any) these outreach opportunities are actually bringing to your website.

Putting All of the Pieces Together

At the end of the day, integrating UTM codes – and all of their various applications – into your daily marketing operations (both digital and otherwise) is far from a simple or easy affair. Even so, it's hard not to see how important this process is to any dealership that's serious about making the most of its advertising budget.

With this in mind, the team here at Remora invites you to connect with our dedicated staff of digital marketing experts if you have any questions, comments, or concerns regarding UTM codes. Whether you're a little unsure about how to implement a parameter or you want some extra insight into how to split test a specific channel, we're more than happy to help you start optimizing every aspect of your online marketing operations today.



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