UTM Tagging vs. Google Ads Auto-Tagging: What should I choose?

UTM vs. GCLID
Getting website tagging done in the right way is not easy. If you have managed Google Ads campaigns before, it is likely that you are familiar with this topic. The decision to use UTM Tagging vs. Google Ads Auto-Tagging is not a simple one. Auto-tagging is a feature which helps to track and optimise Google Ads performance. If setup in the right way, it provides you with all campaign insights in Google Analytics. But there are limitations to auto-tagging. As soon as you go out of the Google Analytics eco-system for data analysis auto tagging is not available.
In this article, we cover best practices.

UTM tags, a brief overview

UTM (Urchin Tracking Module) are variants or URL parameters. They are used in marketing to measure the effectiveness of online marketing campaigns. These URL parameters are added to URL’s when you send traffic from one website to another. The available UTM parameters are:

  • Campaign Source
  • Campaign Medium
  • Campaign Name
  • Campaign Term
  • Campaign Content

A sample UTM tagged link looks like this:
https://windsor.ai/?utm_source=google&utm_medium=cpc&utm_campaign=brand-search-global&utm_term=windsor.ai

More about UTMs can be found in Google’s Support. Adding on to this a UTM URL builder can be found here.

But for now let’s get back to our topic: What is auto tagging?

What is auto-tagging and when to use it

Google Ads supports manual and auto-tagging. It’s easy to set up in Google Ads and will save you a lot of time.

google ads auto-tagging on

If you are a PPC veteran and accustomed to using manual UTM tags, you might want to reconsider your tagging approach.
Auto-tags add additional helpful dimensions for optimisations.

According to the Google Ads documentation, auto-tagging will add the following additional dimensions:

  • Hour of Day
  • Placements (Where your ads on the content network were placed)
  • Keyword Positions (What position your ad appeared in on Google Search)
  • Display Targeting
  • Video Campaigns
  • Shopping Campaigns

These dimensions are not available if you use UTM tags. So this is a pretty good argument to switch your Google CPC campaigns.

When not to use auto-tagging

Now the above sounds pretty much like a no brainer for using auto-tagging. Have a look at the screenshot below and you can see how the campaigns get tagged when auto-tagging is turned on. This means no more UTM tags for Google CPC.

gclid in browser

Let’s assume you try to export the data for your other tools or reporting outside your Google stack. This means you won’t be able to identify the UTM parameters.
Side note: Some platform’s like ours do the matching even with GCLIDs, but most don’t.
But in case you need the UTM tags there is a way to work with both. It’s called dynamic manual tagging.

How to use dynamic manual tagging

Say you need to export your data and don’t want to use UTM tags (for any of the above reasons). You can either generate your UTM tags manually or you can use the dynamic tagging feature of Google Ads. I recommend having a closer look at this article on Googles blog. It’s important that you keep in mind: If you do this you won’t be able to enjoy the deeper insights with the additional dimensions I describe above.

Side note: Facebook has a similar feature on dynamic tagging now. You might find this article here interesting

Now, this is probably not the ideal solution for you as you want both UTM tags and the benefits of auto-tags.

How to use manual tags and GCLID’s

It’s likely that you want to use Google Ads auto-tagging to get all data in Google Analytics without manually tagging all your ads. To make sure that all data is recognizable in other analytics tools or A/B testing platforms, the steps below will provide you with a quick solution.

Within Google Ads, you can use ValueTrack and custom parameters along with a tracking template. This automatically generates a tagged URL with all of the information you need. A tracking template which populates the query string with campaignid, adgroupid and keyword looks like this:

{lpurl}?campaignid={campaignid}&adgroupid={adgroupid}&term={keyword}

Then when someone clicks on one of your ads, {lpurl} will be replaced with your landing page. The rest of the parameters will be expanded to contain the campaign id, ad group id and keyword. For a list of all parameters and instructions on how to set this up, see Google’s support information on

To get the actual campaign and ad content rather than just the IDs which aren’t useful, you need to use custom parameters at the campaign and ad level. The parameters will need to look similar to this:

{lpurl}?utm_source=google&utm_medium={ifsearch:cpc}{ifcontent:display}&utm_campaign={_campaign}&utm_term={keyword}&utm_content={_content}

At a campaign level, you will need to set up a custom parameter named _campaign containing the URL encoded name of the campaign. At the individual ad level, you’ll need to set up a parameter named _content containing the URL encoded title of the ad.

For more information on setting up custom parameters, check out this Google’s documentation on

Creating custom parameters for advanced tracking.

Then you will also need to set up Google Analytics to allow manual tagging. You need property edit access and in the property settings you head to the settings and tick this box here:

Turn on manual tagging in Google Analytics

Turn on manual tagging in Google Analytics

 

We’ll be posting another article on how to use custom dimensions for attribution purposes soon. Recently this has been a hot topic with our clients so it’s worth explaining further.

Wrapping it up

If you have searched for this article and followed it to the end you should now have a good grasp on how tagging is ideally done for Google Ads. The most important takeaway is:
 
Make sure that your Google Ads tracking does not get compromised. It can have a great impact on your performance, especially when working with partly or fully automated bidding strategies.

 

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