Social media is hard work.
It takes a lot of time and energy. Connect and share. Listen and engage. Grow your following. Be consistent.
Usually, the list of social media marketing goals includes “brand awareness” and “drive website traffic.” But how well is working? Is it bringing visitors to the site? What are they doing? Not long after you start sharing content on social media, you find yourself asking this question:
Of course, there are all kinds of social media metrics right in front of you. There are likes, shares, comments, and followers. It’s a data-rich channel with tons of social media analytics tools. But these numbers don’t necessarily translate into website engagement.
These are the content marketing metrics least likely to correlate with business outcomes.
But tracking social media in Google Analytics lets you connect the dots. You can see which social networks, which shares, and which content is getting traction in which ways.
This post shows the step-by-step process for answering each of these questions.
- How much traffic is social media bringing to your site?
- Which specific social networks are sending traffic to your site?
- How much social traffic is going to any specific blog post or web page?
- How to create a segment to see social media traffic in any report?
- Which social media campaigns are attracting and converting visitors?
SHORTCUT! I built a custom report that will show you all of the social media traffic to your website. Just click this button and then select the Google Analytics account you’d like to add it to.
How to see social traffic in the Acquisition > Site Traffic > All Channels report
Let’s start with the big picture question. The answers are fast and the insights are good.
In the Channels report, you can see that Social is one of the “Default Channel Groupings.” Along with Direct, Organic Search, Referral, and Email, it’s one of the big buckets of traffic sources.
From this high level, you can see generally how social media traffic compares to other sources
- How much traffic are we attracting from social media? (users, sessions)
- How engaged are visitors from social media? (bounce rate, pages/session, avg session duration)
- How likely are social media visitors to take action? (goal conversion rate)
Don’t be surprised if…
- Conversion rates for visitors from social media are lower than those of the other traffic sources. Social media visitors tend to have lower intent than search or direct visitors.
- The numbers may be very low. If so, just set a bigger date range. Beware of seasonality and changes in marketing activity.
Related: Here’s our guide to website traffic sources if you want the detailed (sometimes surprising) definition of the Default Channel Groupings.
See each social network by “drilling down” in the Acquisition > Site Traffic > All Channels report
The next level of reporting is one click away.
Just click on the “Social” link in that first column (the first column is the “primary dimension”) to drill down into the next report.
Now “Social Network” is the primary dimension. And you’re looking at a list of every social network that sent visitors to this website.
It’s easy to compare these social networks at a glance. Which one is attracting more visitors? Which is attracting more engaged visitors?
To make the differences easier to spot, switch to the comparison view. Within this view, you can select any metric (here I’ve selected “users”) to see how each social network compares.
Don’t be surprised if…
- You may see surprise traffic from social networks where you aren’t even active. Those networks may not be part of your strategy, but they still contain links to your site.
- Instagram doesn’t bring in much traffic, but those visitors are highly engaged.
- Pinterest is a surprisingly good source of traffic!
How to filter for social traffic in the Behavior > Site Content > Landing Pages reports
If one of your social media goals is content promotion, then you’ll want to measure traffic from social to a specific article (or to any kind of URL). Look at the page in the Landing Pages report, but filter to show just visitors from social.
Here is the step-by-step process, but it may be even easier to just watch the video above starting at minute 2:50.
Step 1. Find the page in the Landing Pages report
Go to the Behavior > Site Content > Landing Pages report and find the URL, either by scrolling through the list or with a quick filter. You can see the filter I used to find an article in our Analytics, highlighted in this report.
Step 2. Click the URL to drill down into the report
Once you find it, click it. Now you’re looking at a one-row report with just that one URL. That’s good.
Step 3. Add a “Secondary dimension”
Open the dropdown menu above the first column. This lets you add data from a different report into this report in a second column. Search for “source” in the little search box in the drop-down, and click “Source / Medium”
Now you’re looking at all traffic sources and mediums for this URL, including email, organic, direct. Next, we want to remove all but the social sources.
But notice how some of the “social” sources have “referrer” as the medium and look like referral traffic. Some networks seem to appear twice, with different mediums. There’s no consistency. This is because social traffic is inherently difficult to attribute. It comes from apps and websites, URL shorteners, and redirects. Analytics is doing its best!
A filter will clean it up.
Step 4. Use an (advanced) filter to see just social traffic
Click “Advanced” next to the filter box. Set the filter to just show the rows where the “Source / Medium” are social networks. It will look something like this:
We need to use “Matches RegExp” (as in, “matches the regular expression”) instead of “Containing” so we can list a bunch of options: LinkedIn OR Facebook OR Twitter…
To filter for “A or B” in analytics, you need to use the vertical line “|” character, known as the pipe. It’s the regular expression for “or” and it’s very useful. So to specify “A or B or C” you use “A|B|C”
Shortcut! Copy and paste the following regular expression string into that last little box. It should catch everything:
Done! Now you can see just how much traffic came from every social source to this specific URL.
It was kind of a hassle to make this report. Don’t lose it! If you’d like to reference it quickly later, click the Save button at the top and then find it later in Customizations > Saved Reports. Or add it to a Google Analytics dashboard.
Don’t be surprised if…
- You need to keep adjusting your filter to catch everything.
- The trendline is very spiky. Social is an unpredictable channel, right?
How to build a Google Analytics segment for social media
When you customize a report in Google Analytics, all of those settings (secondary dimensions, advanced filters, sorting) are only on that report. Go to a different report and poof! They’re gone.
But add create a segment and it applies no matter which reports you to look at. Click around and it’s still there. You can see just the social media traffic on any report.
Segments are subsets of your total audience. They are super useful. Social traffic is a good example of how handy a good segment can be.
Step 1. Click the + Add Segment button
It’s at the top above the trendline in every report.
Step 2. Click the red + New Segment button
We need to create one of our own because there is no pre-built (system) segment for social media traffic!
Step 3. Click “Conditions”
It’s in the left side menu, under “Advanced.” Also, this is a good time to name your segment. Maybe something fun and creative like “Social media visits.”
Step 4. Set the conditions for your new segment
Conditional segments are built the same way we built the advanced filter a minute ago, with one difference: they can apply to sessions (visits) or users (visitors). Probably, it makes no difference which you select. You’ll get very similar insights either way.
Your segment is for visits where the Source / Medium contains any of your social networks. Put this long RegEx string into the open field:
It should look like this.
Notice how Analytics shows you the percentage of users on the right (3.5% in this example). It’s fun that GA is giving you insights even before you save the segment!
Step 5: Save and browse around some reports!
It’s interesting, especially if you leave the “All Users” segment turned on. This lets you compare social visitors to all visitors.
Check out the conversion reports. Or the Behavior > Overview report. Or the Audience > Mobile > Overview report.
Don’t be surprised if…
- Acquisition reports are all meaningless. Your segment zeroes out all but the social traffic!
- Google Search Console reports don’t work at all. They’re all pre-click data from organic search, irrelevant to social media. Besides, GSC doesn’t obey segments.
|“If you want to know the real value of social traffic on your website, use this segment and check out Conversions > Goals > Overview. There, you’ll see how many visitors from social media converted and became a lead! (Assuming you have good Goals set up.) See how different social sites compare to each other, and how they compare to other traffic sources. Now you can put your effort where it makes the biggest impact.” – Laurel Miltner, Director of Digital Strategy, Orbit Media
How to use a URL builder to add campaign tracking code and track social media traffic from any link
Some marketing efforts are worth tracking separately. For example:
- Traffic from a paid social campaign (Facebook ad, sponsored posts, etc.)
- Traffic from a social media video
- Traffic from a collaboration with an influencer
These are all “campaigns” and can (really, should) be tracked with a campaign tracking code. Without it, some visitors will be categorized as direct traffic, others will be tracked as referral traffic. It’s a problem.
Campaign tracking code is a bit of info you can add to the end of any link to your website. When the visitor clicks this link and lands on your page, this code is in the address bar. Google Analytics sees it there and attributes that visitor to that campaign.
This code is very easy to add. It takes less than a minute. It can be added using any of the free “URL builders” on the web. There are many, but we’ve built our URL builder.
Ours is a little easier than most. It forces lower-case and previews the campaign report.
Here’s how to use a URL builder to add a campaign tracking code for any social media campaign.
Step 1. Enter the link to your website in the first box
For example, if I want to track traffic to this little article about content promotion, I’d add this link into the first form field: https://www.orbitmedia.com/blog/content-promotion-strategy/
Step 2. Set the campaign’s source, medium, and name
These are the three tracks “parameters.”
- Campaign source:
“Source” is the specific origin of traffic. In this case, it’s the name of the social media network, such as “linkedin.”
- Campaign medium:
“Medium” is the broadest origin of traffic. Select “social.”
- Campaign name:
This can be anything you’d like. Give it a name that will be meaningful to anyone scanning through the campaign report, such as “content-promo-video”
As you entered these three bits of info, a new URL with the tracking code appended to it appears below.
Step 3. Click “Copy URL” and use that (instead of the untagged link) in your social media campaign
Now when that link gets clicked, Analytics will know that they came from this campaign and will report on that visit in the campaign reports.
Here’s what it looks like in the URL builder:
Here’s what the campaign report looks like in Google Analytics, after the campaign has run its course:
Don’t be surprised if…
- The lifespan of that link is longer than expected. A single social post can drive traffic for a week or more, with expanded reach and life for each social share.
- Conversion rates are zero? It’s hard to get any visitors (especially visitors from social media) to take action. When traffic is there but conversion rates are low, work harder on your calls to action.
Social media marketing is challenging. It takes strategic focus. It takes consistency. It takes empathy and hard work. Ask any social media manager. So make sure to measure. And make sure to go beyond the basic social media metrics.
Measuring social media marketing is also challenging. It takes a bit of skill to set up the dimensions, filters, and segments. Even then, when everything is tracking properly, your data won’t be 100% accurate.
Keep in mind that Google Analytics has some inherent accuracy issues (as Amanda explains here. Our goal isn’t to get perfect data. That’s impossible.
The goal is to get good enough data to make good marketing decisions. That is possible, even when tracking a tricky, diverse source of traffic like social media.
And remember, there’s more to social media than dumping links into social streams. Social is a channel for networking, listening, building real relationships, and making friends. If your only goal is website traffic, you’re not likely to win in the long game.