Link Decoration Deprecation & the Death of the UTM

Is terrible web data getting you down? Then read to the end of this article for some good news….

Link Decoration is a marketing tactic used for years to pass marketing data like the Campaign Source, Medium, Campaign Name and Ad Content information through to measurement platforms like Google Analytics, or to feed back traffic and conversion data to Google Ads.

It’s already challenging now, but we’re on the cusp of losing a whole lot more data into the abyss.

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If you’re a digital marketer and have used tools like Google Analytics or Google Ads, or maybe email marketing or Facebook Ads, then you have probably come across things called “UTMs”

The UTM is a form of Link Decoration, i.e. we add on or “decorate” the URL or link to the website with extra info to help marketers understand performance better.

The acronym’s meaning is a throwback to times gone by – it stands for Urchin Tracking Module, relating to Urchin analytics which goes back 20 years or so – that’s ancient in web years!

Urchin analytics has evolved into what we now know as Google Analytics. But aside from the old name, the UTM as a thing itself is becoming increasingly useless.

That’s because browsers and operating systems like Safari with iOS, and Firefox too, are now actively blocking their use for privacy protection.

What that means for you is that if you relied on UTMs for tracking before, you now have a percentage of your traffic seemingly, according to Google Analytics, coming to your website from thin air.

It’s seen as an increasing volume of “direct / none” source and medium.

It impacts links you set UTMs on from Google Ads.

It impacts links from your email marketing.

And it impacts on UTMs from your Facebook ads too.

For marketers who rely on sound data to make recommendations to their CMOs and CEOs, this is a huge problem!

If Google Chrome takes up the same tactic to protect user-privacy, we’ll end up with almost complete deprecation of the UTM function. i.e. it will stop having any value as a tracking tactic.

The news gets worse…!

This applies to Google Ads “GCLID” tracking parameter too! How will you know which campaigns are working?

Alright, I did promise some good news:

Google has come to the party with a solution for improving the tracking of Google Ads performance called Enhanced Conversions. It does this by collecting user-submitted data at the time of conversion in a privacy-safe way.

Getting it set up seems easy, and if you’ve already tried to do so in your Google Ads account you may think it’s working, but it may not be at all. There are some really significant hurdles to making this work.

As performance data specialists, we can help.

If you’ve observed an increase of unattributable traffic in your Google Ads or Google Analytics accounts and need help solving this issue, email me at today.