How Much Traffic Do You Get From Social Media
How Much Traffic Do You Get From Social Media?
How Much Traffic Do You Get From Social Media?
by

There’s a lot of talk lately about how to measure the direct and indirect impact of social media efforts. This post will answer the first half of that challenge: How can I monitor, over time, the amount of direct click-throughs to my site coming from all major social media channels?

You’d think this would be easy. All you have to do is log into your web analytics system (I’m using Google Analytics for the sake of this lesson). From there, go into the Referrer Section and see the domain names of all the sites sending you visitors. Facebook clicks-throughs would come from facebook.com and its native URL shortener, fb.me. Easy, right? Sadly, things get complicated fast.

Think about Twitter for example. After you consider twitter.com, you have to look at all the myriad applications using the Twitter API. Hootsuite is one. I’ve included in a list below hootsuite.com and its native shortener, ow.ly.

But then I kept compiling …

My rule for the process: When in doubt, include the domain name anyway. My latest tally of domains to monitor is 23 for Twitter-related applications alone. I’m sure I’ve overlooked several other popular services and dozens of up-and-comers.

And that’s just Twitter. My overall objective was to compile all of the major referring sites that can be considered part of social media. This begs the question: What do we mean by “major?” Not to mention, What do we mean by “social media?” Here is my albeit imperfect list of categories:

  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • LinkedIn
  • Social Bookmarking
  • Blogging Sites
  • Social News

I have not included all specific blogs domains. How in the world could I? I’m assuming you’ll be taking my basic list and look at your own visitors. If you see a blog site domain name that supplies significant traffic to your site, you can choose to either include them in your own general “social media” segment, or zero in on that referrer alone, and see how their click-throughs compare as a separate visitor segment.

For example, my own blog, Digital Solid, receives a ton of traffic from this site. That qualifies the domain for its own segment — one I use to see how deeply visitors dig into my Digital Solid content, and what other actions they might take during that user session.

Make a “Visitors from Social Media” Segment

Once that list is compiled, I create an Advanced Segment in Google Analytics (GA). Here’s what it looks like using the GA segment builder:

The value field shows the start of a very long list. Here’s an excerpt:

facebook\.com|fb\.me|twitter\.com|hootsuite\.com|ow\.ly|thwirl [etc.]

It’s a list of all of the domains, with each separated by “pipes.” (Pipes are those | characters you see.) Pipes are something that Regular Expression filters recognize as meaning “or” — as in: “Include ‘facebook.com’ or ‘fb.me’ or …” etc …

The backslashes you see are key to producing results that are as accurate as reasonably possible (see my note on imperfection, below). A backslash is another character that means something special to Regular Expression(i.e. RegEx) filters. It means that character immediately following it is to be read as a regular, searchable character and not taken for its RegEx meaning. This is called the escape character, and you can read more about it and other RegEx syntax here.

Keep in mind that RegEx is used by GA in some quirky ways compared to other systems. Whenever you do this type of work, be sure to check and double-check to make sure you’re not including too many referrers or excluding some important ones.

A Note About Imperfection

No segment is perfect. In fact, all of web analytics is a struggle to separate the signal from the noise. The important way to use this and other segmentation is to chart activity over time. My blog post on Digital Solid, How to resolve those infuriating analytics discrepancies, provides more information on how to get actionable information from GA’s inherently flawed reporting.

Here’s the text file you can grab and use. I’ve broken the list into categories if you’d like to separate out some of the major traffic sources, or you can get the full list at the bottom of the file.

Reporting On The Social Media Segment

Once you’ve built this Advanced Segment for your social media visits, you can easily compare the traffic you get from social media referrals to all other sources. This is priceless.

It allows you to compare how likely this group is to “convert” on your site compared to other types of visitors. You can even see how likely they are to log a “micro-conversion,” such as sharing with others or sending the content to a printer or bookmark. This is measured with my Content Interest Index, described in this post, and some other posts you can find here.

From the insights you gather about this segment, you can decide how much your social media traffic matters to you and plan accordingly. You can even devise specific engagement strategies for them, based on their behavior once they arrive on the site. In other words, you can make well-founded business decisions.

This work is crucial, but you can’t even begin until you have hard data like this. Sure, you can guess about the impact of social media, but you can never be sure of this opinion with any level of real confidence.

So what are you waiting for?

Give this method a try. I think you’ll love the insights you find about your visitors from social media sites and applications. Then, I’m hoping, you’ll want to join me in improving the list.

Has this list missed important domains? Of course it has!

So once you’ve experience the power of this technique, please feel free to leave a comment here for me and our other readers. Tell me (and us!) of any additional social media domain names you might come across and value.

And let us know what you learn!

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About the Author

Jeff Larche
Jeff Larche has a deep background in database marketing and direct response. His is a consultant specializing in CRM and interactive marketing with Accenture. His own blog, which is also the name of his original consulting business, is Digital Solid. When he's not working at his day job, he's provided digital strategy support for a worthy not-for-profit, Rock the Green: mixing education about our environment with a day of great live music on Milwaukee's beautiful lakefront!
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  • Mike

    Thanks Jeff. Search Engine Optimization is my expertise, but I am trying to get the hang of this social media thing now. I just got set up with HootSuite last week and have started some campaigns for Twitter and Facebook (I’ll go from there). This sure does seem like a tall mountain to climb and is pretty overwhelming, but I appreciate the boost of confidence your article has given me. I just don’t want to waste the little time I have, ya know?!

    Feel free to follow me @7DayAffiliate on Twitter. While I’m new to social media marketing, I’ve been a full-time affiliate marketer for years now and have some good info to share.

    Mike Rogers | http://www.affiliatemarketertraining.com

  • Jak Manson

    Well the social media is a great way to get traffic to your business. A lot of people are watching social media and that is a great way to get noticed. Thank you for sharing this great post. It is really helpful and you put it together really well.
    Jak Manson | http://nautilusbuyshomes.com/investors/

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  • Nice post, jeff. What a great programming skills you have. I would definitely try to segment the amount of traffic that I get from social media sites. In that way, I know which traffic or visitors are important to me and my site as well.

  • Hey Jeff, some cool tips you have been shared in this article, thanks man

  • Wow, lots to digest. Thanks for generously sharing this useful info. Especially appreciate the acknowledgment that for some businesses, the goal may not be tens of thousands of fans but a few hundred solid ones.

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  • I hadn’t ever thought of creating a social segment. I’m definitely not utilizing analytics as much as I could. This will be extremely helpful.

  • Helpful article, thank you very much!

  • Very helpful Jeff, thank you!

  • Anonymous

    This I can really use! As someone who understands the value of comparing conversion rates for social media, search engines, pr, etc. and does so monthly in a semi manual way, I love a method for automating. Thanks.

    • Jeff Larche

      I’m thrilled that you and other readers are finding this useful. Always glad to share the wealth! :-)

  • never enough even though i think most sm sites are full of kids with no real spending power.

  • лектор

    А у нас в России всем на это начхать… Платим больше чем вы а соединение как с луной.

  • Hi Jeff,

    Thanks for walking through how to do this. Very handy information!

    • right) thanks a lot to the author! there are things that i’ve never thought about!

  • Anonymous

    Hmm, not very much actually. Never realyl thought about it.

    http://www.total-privacy.int.tc

  • Anonymous

    Hey Jeff, thanks for the data, this is some good stuff.

    I did notice one error in your RegExp. On the last

    • Jeff Larche

      Got it.

      I had broken out the full list into categories for listing purposes only. A warning to readers: If you end any RegEx inclusion command (such as this) with a pipe, you filter out no one! It reads the “nothing” after the last pipe as permission to include EVERYTHING! Always be sure you cut this trailing pipe out or your filter will fail.

      Thanks for the catch, Casey!

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  • Ndawkins

    Great article Jeff and a couple of additions based on what we are doing with our social media measurement product, Social Snap:

    1.) If you have a community or SM site that you are focusing on, you might want to isolate it and compare to overall SM traffic.
    2.) Viewing this type of data alongside other metrics, such as changes in buzz volume and topic, direct traffic, influencer mentions, SM reach and engagement, etc. provides the context needed to make the light bulbs go off in your head.

    Thanks for providing solid, practical advice that anyone can do with a little elbow grease!

  • Social segmentation is fine but you’re never going to be perfect due to the long tail of blogs that exist. Referral traffic is inherently social as well, think about it.

  • Excellent advice. I also recommend tagging the links to your own site that you place into social channels, before shrinking them. You can then track the performance of your own efforts in Google Analytics via Traffic Sources/Campaigns. You can identify which message variations yield the best results, which time of day is optimal, etc.

    Google has a handy URL Builder tool that let’s you easily tag your links:

    http://www.google.com/support/analytics/bin/answer.py?hl=en&answer=55578

  • Jeff! Wow! I’m extraordinarily happy to see your post, given the lack of attention that the hard numbers and measurement challenges get in the social media marketing space.

    The one thing I’d bring up is that using a simple web analytics platform (aka Google Analytics) to track conversions from social media tends to under-report your actual results from social media because social media is intent-generating rather than intent harvesting. I wrote about this a while ago at http://argylesocial.com/blog/2011/1/3/social-media-measurement-google-analytics-vs-argyle-social.html . Marketers that ignore this fact are going to underestimate the value that their social media activities are having on revenue…not the result anyone wants ;)

  • Russ Henneberry

    Very practical post Jeff! Thank you.

    I’ve always said, online marketing is much more measurable than traditional marketing… if you do the measuring. Admittedly, I need to do more practicing and less preaching about this. I become so disheartened by my GA data sometimes because of exactly what you stated … it’s difficult to separate the signal from the noise.

    I will give this a try!

    Thanks for writing this Jeff!

    • Jeff Larche

      I’m glad it could help, Russ.

  • Awesome tips Jeff thanks! I will give this a try. I was looking for an easy way to track my traffic from these sites. I will let you know how it turns out. =]

    • Jeff Larche

      Please do Chris

  • Your Google analytic should give you a break down of the traffic sources. But you only need a little here and there..don’t put all your eggs in one basket..

    “Black Seo Guy “Signing Off”

    • Jeff Larche

      Good tip, “Mr. Guy” ;-)

  • Fantastic idea, Jeff! Like Kristi, I’m planning on following the tutorial and adding a social media segment to my GA later. It will be interesting to see what kind of true traffic ROI my time is resulting in.

  • Great idea! I will be adding this to my analytics later on today. Keeping up with all of the related Twitter apps is a beast in itself, especially since you can’t consider HootSuite all from Twitter because it integrates with other networks.

    • Jeff Larche

      You’re right, Kristi. As tools start pulling from other social media feeds, it is hard to differentiate. Take FriendFeed. Most users seem to push more tweets to it than anything, but FriendFeed’s value proposition is being able to pull from many different places.

      All we can do is our best, and watch our progress over time. It’s the trending data that is some of the most relealing — and least prone to inaccuracies.

  • Nice tutorial Jeff, and thanks for the text file. I’ve added the advanced segment to my GA. I’m surprised at the results. I expected my social media traffic to be more than it actually is, a small percentage compared to the time I invest in it. However, I did find with my social media traffic that the bounce rate is lower, the pages-per-visit was higher and the Avg time on site was longer .

    • Jeff Larche

      Thanks for sharing your experiences with this type of segmentation, Jay. When I say you can pick up interesting insights, this is the sort of thing I was thinking about. Now you know that your social media efforts probably aren’t as high as you thought, bringing the ROI of the work into question. On the other hand, if your game is quality and not quantity, social media efforts may pay off after all, since these folks are clearly more involved with your content once they arrive. Good example!