A Beginner’s Guide to UTM Tracking for Recruitment Marketing

In the highly competitive world of higher education recruitment, standing out from the crowd is crucial … and data-driven marketing strategies are essential for attracting prospective students and measuring your efforts effectively. Enter UTM tracking, a powerful tool that can empower your institution’s recruitment marketing and provide valuable insights to optimize your outreach.

UTM stands for Urchin Tracking Module. These are text snippets added to your website URLs, acting like invisible trackers that reveal valuable data about your website traffic and user interactions.

Have you ever clicked on an ad while scrolling through your social media? And once you got to the ad landing page, did you notice the URL felt excessively long? For instance, I have been forever longing for a set of Cozy Earth sheets. (If they are “one of Oprah’s favorite things,” I know I will love them!) After signing up to receive an SMS for discounts, I got a text about their “Sleep Week Sale.” Once I got to the landing page, this was the URL for the site:


Any value after the question mark (?) in the link is called a “query string.” A query string contains pieces of information being tracked by Cozy Earth to determine which marketing channels I am viewing their content from and what actions I take afterward.

Query strings are where our UTM values live! Cozy Earth now knows I viewed content on their website through SMS and am actively engaging with their promotion for “Sleep Week.” And guess what? Five minutes after clicking the link, I got a text response with a 35% discount. That’s strategic marketing there!

How UTMs Can Power Student Recruitment

Imagine you are running an online advertising campaign targeting high school students interested in your engineering program. You place ads across various platforms, such as search engines, social media, and college prep websites. But how do you know which platform is resonating the most with your target audience at the time and driving the most qualified applicants? That is where UTMs come into play.

By attaching unique UTM codes to each platform’s link, you can track:

  • Traffic source: This identifies where the click originated from, such as a search engine (“Google”) or a specific social media platform (“Facebook”)
  • Campaign name: This lets you know the specific recruitment campaign the link is associated with, like your “engineering program open house” campaign.
  • Medium: This clarifies the marketing channel used, such as “PPC” (pay-per-click advertising) or “social media.”
  • Content: This is used to specify different pieces of content being used on your campaign. This code tends to be used most often in advertisements or when the same link is used multiple times on the same page of an LP or email.
  • Term: This is used to identify key terms in your digital advertising campaigns, especially PPC (pay-per-click.) So, if you run a Google ads campaign and want to rank for “top engineering schools,” you must add value to your ad utm_content=top-engineering-schools.

These insights empower you to measure campaign effectiveness by analyzing which campaigns generate the most website traffic, qualified leads, and applications. They also let you optimize your budget by allocating resources efficiently to the platforms and campaigns yielding the best results.

Finally, they give you a deeper audience understanding by uncovering how different student segments interact with your content based on their traffic source. This helps tailor your messaging and outreach strategies for better engagement.

Creating UTM Codes

Creating UTM codes is a straightforward process. Several online tools and platforms like https://utmbuilder.com/ and Google Analytics offer free UTM builders to simplify the task. These builders require you to fill in the following parameters:

  • Campaign source: (e.g., “Google”, “Facebook”) 
  • Campaign medium: (e.g., “PPC,” “social media”) 

Other parameters you can optionally add in:

  • Campaign Name: engineering_open_house 
  • Campaign Content: join-us 
  • Campaign Term: top-engineering-schools 

Once you have filled in these details, the builder generates a unique UTM code that you can append to your URL. For example, a UTM code might look like this: ?utm_source=facebook&utm_medium=social_media&utm_campaign=engineering_open_house&utm_content=join-us&utm_term=top-engineering-schools

Two important fundamentals for making UTM codes are to “maintain consistency” and “focus on clarity.” For accurate data analysis, Use the same naming conventions for your UTM parameters across all campaigns, and keep your UTM code names concise and descriptive so that you can easily understand the data. 

Pro Tips: 

Here are some excellent tips I often use from SEO Expert, Neil Patel: 

  • First, use dashes over underscores, percentages (representation for spaces inside GA), and plus signs in your URLs. 
  • Second, stay consistent with lowercase throughout all your campaigns. For example. Changing to uppercase, camel case, or any other capitalization will require you to remember this convention. It is better to stick with lowercase and not let human error creep in. 
  • Third, keep your URLs clean, descriptive, non-redundant, and easy to read. 

By implementing UTM tracking, you gain a powerful tool to measure the effectiveness of your recruitment marketing efforts and optimize your campaigns to attract the best and brightest students to your institution.

Putting UTM Tracking into Action for Our Partners

How can a recruitment marketing firm like Capture Higher Ed leverage this technology for your university’s digital advertising efforts? We can:

  • Generate insightful reports: Capture translates UTM data into actionable insights through reports highlighting critical metrics like traffic sources, lead generation, and application rates. These reports can help you identify high-performing channels and optimize your recruitment strategy for maximum impact.
  • Develop a comprehensive UTM tagging strategy: Capture works with your team to design a UTM tagging framework that aligns with your specific recruitment goals and target audiences. This ensures consistent data collection and simplifies analysis.
  • Integrate UTM tracking with analytics platforms: Capture integrates UTM data with your existing analytics platforms, providing a holistic view of your recruitment campaign performance.

By partnering with a marketing recruitment firm that understands the power of UTM tracking, universities can gain a deeper understanding of their recruitment marketing landscape and make data-driven decisions to attract the most qualified students. 

By Emma Brown, Senior Marketing Manager, Capture Higher Ed