How Much Traffic Do You Get From Social Media?

by Jeff Larche |

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!