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GA Campaign Tracking Parameters: What’s Really Required?

Google Analytics campaign tracking is great, and we’ve talked about it lots before. The official story with the campaign tracking parameters is that Campaign, Source, and Medium (utm_campaign, utm_source, utm_medium) are all required. It says so in the the URL builder tool, for example.

I wondered though, what would happen if you left one or two of these off? Would campaign tracking still work?

The short answer is: As long as you include a source (utm_source), campaign parameters still work.

If the URL has the utm_source parameter, cookies get set correctly. If it has one of the other parameters but no utm_source, the cookies about where a visitor came from don’t get re-set at all (similar to using utm_nooverride=1).

What does it look like in reports? If you leave off either utm_medium or utm_campaign, you just get “(not set)” as the value for those fields (shown here in the All Traffic Sources and Campaign reports):


Although I still recommend using all three fields for campaign tracking, this does have one take-home lesson: If you have situations in which URLs might get cut off (such as a plain-text email), always put the source first. This will help ensure you’ll at least get some data even if the other parameters are lopped off.

Jonathan Weber

About Jonathan Weber

Jonathan Weber is the Data Evangelist at LunaMetrics. He spreads the principles of analytics through our training seminars all over the East coast. The next seminar he'll be leading will be a Google Analytics training in Boston. Before he caught the analytics bug, he worked in information architecture. He holds a Master’s degree from the University of Pittsburgh School of Information Sciences. Jonathan’s breadth of knowledge – from statistics to analysis to library science – is somewhat overwhelming.


6 Responses to “GA Campaign Tracking Parameters: What’s Really Required?”

pavel jašek says:

Hello Jonathan,

in “Helpful information” section GA URL Builder tool does not say that the utm_campaign is required. But I try to use it always.

On Twitter you say “Always set up utm_medium before campaign and source”, here I see “always put the source first”. So what order of UTM parameters do you prefer?
A) 1. source 2. medium 3. campaign
B) 1. medium 2. source 3. campaign

Do you see any difference in that despite the situation when URLs can get cut off?


Jonathan says:

That was a little mis-tweet. We followed up with a tweet saying “source” instead.

Always put source first. It’s the most important one, and if it’s missing, the other parameters just get ignored.

pavel jašek says:

OK, I just clicked from @jonnylongden’s retweet that used the medium :-)

Kombi Temiri says:

thanks for informations

Falcon Bowen says:

This is a good topic. It’s strange that you can’t use just the campaign or medium tags, without a source.

In many cases I think that the ability to do this would be very beneficial, especially since the source tag overrides the actual referring site in GA reports.

Let’s say you’re running the same ad on multiple ad networks or sites. Rather than having to manually set the “source” for each one, GA can already take care of that. Am I missing something?

Jonathan Weber Jonathan says:

Falcon — Yeah, wouldn’t it be nice if I could specify a medium and simply let GA take care of the source automatically? Especially for ads on multiple sites or networks, as you mentioned.

Unfortunately, the way GA uses the parameters and fills in the source information in the __utmz cookie just doesn’t work like that. You *must* specify utm_source for the campaign tags to take effect.