Twitter Referrals and Web Analytics – A Broken Referral Link

Broken Twitter Referral Link

If you are obsessed about your web analytics or your customer’s web analytics as I am, then you may have noticed a problem where Twitter referral traffic is being recorded as direct entry traffic rather than referral traffic.

Don’t mess with my numbers, man!

I work hard to keep my numbers clean.  I do it for my sites, my employer’s sites and my customer’s sites.  Without this anal retentive attitude you cannot make higher level business decisions.  The supporting data is flawed so your assumptions are broken.

But that’s a rant for another day.  Just suffice it say that you need to constantly test your data to make sure it’s legit.


Who Can I Blame?

Web Analytics Referrals From Twitter

Here’s the problem in a nutshell. When you click from one web page to another the browser usually passes referral data to the receiving page.  That data is then recorded by your web analytics program so you can report on where your visitors arrive from.

In Google Analytics they break it down into 3 buckets initially, Direct, Search and Referral.  Now, if I tweet this blog post’s URL through Twitter, I want those click-throughs back to the site to be recorded as referrals from Twitter. Likewise when others retweet me I want them to also be recorded as referrals, not direct entries.

But the Twitter model has introduced a new presentation screen different from browsers.  HootSuite and TweetDeck are popular applications used to “dashboard” Twitter activity (along with Facebook and LinkedIn).  These applications and their tight relationship to URL shorteners, do not always pass the referral data (needed by web analytics tools) you would normally see if they had come from the twitter.com domain via a browser.

If you want the down and dirty details behind it visit Danny Sullivan’s forensic work on it.


Make The Numbers Match!

Connecting Twitter Visitors In Web Analytics

Fine.  It’s a problem.  But you need to solve it, right?

Again in a nutshell: force the referral information to be preserved as visitors click through Twitter to your website.  This is done with link tagging.

  • Using Google Analytics, we can go to their URL builder and force-tag our link before we put it into our tweet.
    • Of course that gets really painful if you tweet more than once a week.  So check out Snip-N-Tag for an inline method of adding link tagging for Google Analytics.  Pain relieved!
  • Using Omniture’s SiteCatalyst, you can create a campaign in your report suite for all of your Twitter postings.  Then append the campaign id (e.g. s_cid) to every one of your tweets.  You’ll also need to further manipulate some of your variables to ensure they’re attributed to referral traffic, but that’s beyond this post.

I always try to include link tagging on every link I place out there.  Even ones that are not destined for one of my sites.  Nothing speaks to an analytics guy or gal more than looking in their report and seeing your traffic to their site jumping off the screen with campaigns names.

I should really share that treat here!  Next week.

4 thoughts on “Twitter Referrals and Web Analytics – A Broken Referral Link

  1. Pingback: Why Use Web Analytics? Top 3 Reason You Should Not Wait To Implement — Mark Regan

  2. The big challenge here is the tracking of the naturally occurring social media traffic from apps like Tweetdeck and HootSuite. For example if a person Tweets about your brand and you cannot control their link creation, then you will not have insight into the referrer, nor will you have a tracking code. For this reason, I think that most sites getting any kind of Twitter traffic are undervaluing Twitter.

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