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After the Click: How Newsletter Editors Use UTM Parameters

row of mailboxes

What should you measure to determine whether an email newsletter send was successful?

The answer might seem obvious: open rates, click rates, the size of your subscriber list—whatever shows up in MailChimp, Marketo, Campaign Monitor, or your preferred email marketing platform. These metrics provide insight into your subscribers’ behavior before they clicked on a link.

But what about what happens after the click?

How long do subscribers actively read or watch your content after they click through? Which devices do they use to read your content? What percent of a story’s traffic came from the newsletter?

If you know the answers to these questions, you can hit send feeling confident your subscribers will love the latest issue.

That’s where UTM parameters come in. UTM parameters are simply tracking codes added to the end of your URLs. When a subscriber clicks a link in your newsletter, you’ll be able to track their engagement with the content they land on. Check out these examples of how other newsletter editors use UTM parameters to figure out what stories their subscribers care about.

Are There UTM Parameters Specific to Newsletters?

Google “UTM parameters” and you’ll find a lot of suggestions for tracking traffic from social media or ads. However, there aren’t many best practices for setting up UTM parameters to track newsletter traffic.

Since UTM parameter use varies widely across organizations, it’s tricky to narrow down the “right” way to set them up (though the main piece of advice that surfaces is to be consistent). We looked at four newsletters to see how media companies and brands structure their tracking parameters.

Axios: Identifying audiences from different newsletters
Tagging URLs can come in handy when an organization sends multiple newsletters. Axios uses the utm_campaign parameter to identify which newsletter is sending traffic to a particular story. Axios can see if one newsletter audience is more engaged than another, which could help them decide which one they should use to experiment with paid content or send reader surveys.

Axios newsletter

Link: utm_source: utm_medium: utm_campaign: newsletter email newsletter_axioslogin newsletter email newsletter_axiosam

Codeacademy: Finding the best call-to-action

The Codecademy newsletter uses a utm_content parameter to indicate which call-to-action someone clicked to visit a URL. It’s an interesting way to test the text and location of the CTA as suggested by the “main_story” qualifier. Knowing which CTA performed better can help you optimize for driving the most visitors from future newsletter sends.

Codecademy newsletter


Link: utm_medium: utm_campaign: utm_content: Fortnightly-2017-04-19 newsletter_a code_something_CTA_main_story Fortnightly-2017-04-19 newsletter_a share_own_prj_CTA


Digiday: When do audiences want to read newsletter content?
Digiday uses the utm_content parameter for denoting the newsletter send date. For newsletter editors sending multiple newsletters on different cadences (daily, weekly, monthly), including the date in the campaign tagging can help identify if certain days are best for newsletter engagement.

Digiday newsletter

Link: utm_source: utm_medium: utm_campaign: utm_content: daily mail digidaydis 170419


The Drum: Geo-targeting newsletter readers
The Drum is a global industry news publisher with offices in Glasgow, London, New York, and Singapore. The Drum editors use utm_campaign to show the where in the world visitors are coming from to read a story. Seeing how the newsletter audiences in different locations engage with different stories can help The Drum decide how to distribute coverage among their editorial staff.

The Drum newsletter

Link: utm_source: utm_medium: utm_campaign: pardot email Newsletter_Daily_US

How Uses Campaign Metrics and Content Analytics Together

Once you start tagging newsletter URLs with UTM parameters, you can see a new layer of metrics that’s generally unavailable in email marketing platforms. After I send out a newsletter, I check audience engagement in the dashboard.

This helps me make informed decisions about everything from design to what to write about next. Here are the metrics I look at when evaluating content analytics for campaigns.

campaign tracking in the dashboard

The overall number of visitors generated by a newsletter gives a quick, relative idea of how successful each send is. Looking closer at data around each link in the newsletter, though, contextualizes audience engagement even further. I’m able to see how the newsletter drove direct traffic to our site at post level.

Reviewing campaigns data from a recent newsletter send, I noticed this post garnered 57% of its visitors from the newsletter.

campaign tracking post view

This was a high percentage, and I drilled down into the post data around engaged time, visitors, and device type to try and understand why this article resonated with readers.

Engaged Time
It would be one thing if the post drove significant traffic and then visitors bounced immediately. Reach without engagement tells me something about the article isn’t sticking.

In this case, visitors who came to “We Can Always Be Better” through the newsletter spent more minutes on average reading the post than visitors referred from other sources. This tells me something’s working—maybe our readers responded to the topic or the interview-style format of the piece. I can keep this in mind when drafting future posts.

Engaged time is also a good benchmark for where to allocate resources. Knowing newsletter visitors spend more time engaging with content can help make the case for directing additional effort or resources to newsletter strategy.

Device Type
From the device views breakdown, I’m able to see that most people read the newsletter on their desktop, but that doesn’t mean I should ignore mobile as a viable source of traffic.

campaign tracking device breakdown

Since the newsletter is viewed more on mobile than other parts of the site, I need to pay extra attention to making the newsletter template easy to read on all devices.

Understanding Newsletter Metrics is Understanding Your Audience

Knowing how your audience engaged with the content they landed on has direct applications for crafting the next newsletter send. Understanding audience behavior helps better serve that audience. Retaining loyal readers better equips you to monetize your newsletter and strengthen your brand voice.

Whatever your goal may be, digging deeper into data helps you put your audience first.


How do you set up your newsletter UTM codes? Share your thoughts with us by tweeting @parsely.