Gclid vs. UTM Tracking: Selecting the Best Fit for Your Analytics Needs

gclid vs utm

GCLID or UTM? When it comes to tracking your marketing efforts, there are two popular methods that are widely used: Gclid and UTM parameters. Both methods have their own advantages and disadvantages, and choosing the right one can be a daunting task. In this blog post, we’ll discuss the differences between Gclid and UTM parameters and help you decide which one to use and when.

What is Gclid?

Gclid stands for Google Click Identifier, and it’s a unique identifier that’s added to the URL of your Google Ads landing pages. When a user clicks on your ad, the Gclid parameter is added to the URL, and Google Analytics will track the click and attribute it to the corresponding ad. The main advantage of using Gclid is that it’s automatically added to your landing page URL when someone clicks on your ad, so there’s no need to manually add any tracking parameters to your URLs.

However, the downside of using Gclid is that it only tracks clicks on your Google Ads campaigns. If you’re running ads on other platforms or channels, such as Facebook or LinkedIn, Gclid won’t be able to track those clicks.

What data does gclid provide to marketers 

The GCLID tracks a wealth of information, including:

  • Source and Medium
  • Campaign
  • Ad group
  • Keyword
  • Search Query
  • Time of day
  • Ad Content
  • Ad Position
  • Device and Browser
  • Placement and more

Use-cases for GCLID

Tracking conversions: GCLID is essential for tracking conversions in Google Ads. When a user clicks on your ad, the GCLID is added to the URL of your landing page, which allows Google Ads to track and measure the effectiveness of your ad campaigns.

Optimization: By tracking the performance of your campaigns with GCLID, you can optimize your ad copy, targeting, and bidding strategies to improve the return on investment (ROI) of your advertising spend.

If you’re interested in learning more about Gclid Tracking, check out:

What is UTM?

UTM stands for Urchin Tracking Module, and it’s a set of parameters that you can add to the URL of your landing pages to track your marketing efforts. UTM parameters include source, medium, campaign, term, and content, and they can be manually added to your URLs using Google’s URL Builder tool. The main advantage of using UTM parameters is that they can track clicks from any source or channel, not just Google Ads.

However, the downside of using UTM parameters is that they require manual input, and if you make a mistake, your data could be inaccurate. Additionally, UTM parameters can make your URLs longer and less user-friendly, which could negatively impact your click-through rates.

What data does UTM Parameters provide to marketers 

  • Source (utm_source): Identifies the specific source of traffic or where the link is placed (e.g. facebook, newsletter)
  • Medium (utm_medium):  Indicates the marketing medium or channel through which the link was shared (e.g. cpc, email)
  • Campaign (utm_campaign): Identifies a specific marketing campaign or promotion associated with the link (e.g. summer_sale, product_offer).
  • Term (utm_term): The term parameter is typically used in paid search campaigns to track specific keywords or terms.
  • Content (utm_content): The content parameter helps differentiate different versions or variations of the same link within a campaign (e.g. signup_cta. learn_more_button).  

When to use UTMs

UTM parameters allow marketers to track the effectiveness of their marketing campaigns across multiple channels and platforms. By using UTM parameters, marketers can identify which marketing channels are driving the most traffic to their site, measure the effectiveness of their advertising campaigns, and make data-driven decisions to optimize their marketing efforts.

  • Tracking traffic sources: UTM parameters allow you to track the source of your traffic, such as a specific social media platform, email campaign, or referral source. By using UTM parameters, you can identify which marketing channels are driving the most traffic to your site.
  • Measuring campaign performance: UTM parameters enable you to measure the effectiveness of your advertising campaigns, such as click-through rates (CTR), conversion rates, and revenue generated. By analyzing this data, you can make data-driven decisions to optimize your marketing campaigns and maximize ROI.
  • Comparing campaigns: UTM parameters can help you compare the performance of different campaigns, such as A/B testing or different messaging strategies. By comparing the results of different campaigns, you can identify the most effective marketing strategies and make informed decisions for future campaigns.
If you’re interested in learning more about UTM, check out:

The difference: GCLID vs UTM

A few months back I created a Facebook Campaign with 2 ad variations using utm tracking to test and measure the effectiveness of each one. I wanted to use the same utm_campaign, utm_source, and utm_medium value and differentiate my variations using the utm_content parameter but I made a “mistake”. In the first ad I used “-” in my utm values (e.g. utm_campaign=xyz-i) whereas in the second one I used “_” in my utm values (e.g. utm_campaign=xyz_i). One single dash made me waste hours on reporting.

UTM Tracking requires manual work which includes the human error as a factor (e.g. spelling or typo mistakes). Whereas, Gclid is a whole different story, if you enable auto-tagging in Google Ads you are pretty much all set.

The main perk of using Gclid is that it’s automatically added to your landing page URL when someone clicks on your ad, which means there’s no need to manually add any tracking parameters to your URLs. However, Gclid is limited to tracking only clicks on Google Ads campaigns. If you’re running ads on other platforms or channels like Facebook or LinkedIn, Gclid won’t be able to track those clicks.

On the other hand, UTM parameters include source, medium, campaign, term, and content, and they can be manually added to your URLs using Google’s URL Builder tool. The main advantage of using UTM parameters is that they can track clicks from any source or channel, not just Google Ads. However, UTM parameters require manual input, and if you make a mistake, your data could be inaccurate. Additionally, UTM parameters can make your URLs longer and less user-friendly, which could negatively impact your click-through rates.

When to use Gclid vs UTM

When it comes to tracking your marketing efforts, it’s essential to choose the right method that aligns with your advertising goals. Gclid and UTM parameters are the two most popular methods being used in the industry, each with its own set of advantages and disadvantages.

Now, let’s dive deeper into when to use each method. If your advertising campaigns are exclusively on Google Ads, then Gclid is the way to go. It’s easy to set up, and it will automatically track your clicks without any manual input. However, if you’re running ads on other platforms or channels, then UTM parameters are the better option. They can track clicks from any source, and they offer more detailed information about the source of your traffic.

Choosing between Gclid and UTM parameters depends on your specific marketing needs. If you’re running Google Ads campaigns exclusively, then Gclid is the optimal choice. However, if you’re running ads on other platforms or channels, UTM parameters are a better fit. Regardless of which method you choose, it’s crucial to track your marketing efforts to better understand your ROI and make informed decisions about your marketing strategy.

URL Parameter data for call conversion tracking (Gclid & UTMs)

gclid tracking nimbata

Nimbata’s technology takes away the need to be on top of every form or conversion point. By adding the Nimbata pixel on your website (just once) and an active integration, Nimbata will easily be able to capture the URL parameters from the visitor’s session, parse and store parameters into Nimbata’s data layer. In this way we can get any UTM parameters, whether automatically created or custom that you put in your URLs.

Now, to monitor conversions in Google Ads, google recommend to activate Auto-tagging in your Google ads Account. When the Auto-tagging function is enabled, Google will assign GCLIDs to users who see your ads, essentially adding a click ID parameter to the URL/ link the moment when users click on your ads. 

The GCLID is unique and used to make sure that any conversion is attributed to your Google Ads Account. 

With offline conversions and forms, to enable tracking of such conversions your website needs a script. Previously it was manually required to be pasted as a hidden input in every lead gen form. But as Google always changes how it works, as with UTMs, the Nimbata pixel will capture the Google Click ID (Gclid) from the visitor’s session that generated a call to your tracked lead gen numbers. Simultaneously, nimbata will attribute the Gclid back to the incoming phone call to Nimbata’s tracking number and with the integration are able to pass back to Google Ads as conversion. 

Then Google will use the Gclid and reference to any matching Ad Campaign, ad group or keyword. Note that Call Conversions will only be matched against your Ad campaigns in GA if a Google Click ID (GCLID) is available for the call. If there is no GCLID in the session, Google will not count this as a conversion. As such, this will only apply to website calls from a google paid source.

Calls to call extension numbers will not be matched against campaigns as the GCLID is not available for these calls at the time of push into GA. 

In essence, the GCLID is how Google Ads matches offline conversion, such as incoming phone calls, back to the original paid click and campaign. Without a GCLID, there isn’t a way to match a session back to a paid click. A Call Tracking Solution and GCLID are the secret sauce that tie the phone call’s session back to the paid click and its campaign attribution. 

Takeaway

In summary, GCLID and UTM parameters are both important tracking tools that serve different purposes in measuring the effectiveness of digital marketing campaigns. While GCLID is specific to Google Ads, it is a reliable way to track ad clicks and website activity, while UTM parameters can be used to track the performance of marketing campaigns across multiple channels and platforms. In this way, they provide more detailed information on the source, medium, and campaign of a user’s visit.

Using both tools together allows marketers to gain deeper insights into the performance of their advertising campaigns. However, relying on GCLID alone can limit the ability to track performance outside of Google Ads, while relying on UTM parameters alone can limit the ability to track conversions within Google Ads. If you had to use one only, we would recommend using UTM parameters, as they provide more flexibility and can be used to track performance across multiple channels. However, using both tools together can provide the most comprehensive insights into the performance of your advertising campaigns.

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