Why Social Visits Look Low in Google Analytics and How to Fix the Problem

By Nathan Linnell (Director of Analytics, Social Snap)

Do you ever look at the Google Analytics (GA) social referrals report and wonder why the visit metrics seem lower than you had anticipated?  If you have, you are likely not alone and may well be justified in your assessment that the numbers should be higher.  The issue likely is not that GA is underreporting, however, but rather that it doesn’t know how to attribute the social referrals appropriately.  The main culprit is likely the GA UTM parameters that are used for campaign tracking.  To take a look at why this is the case, I’ll use Twitter referrals as an example.

If you are like many social media marketers, you are tracking all the links you put out on Twitter through campaign tracked URLs that make use of GA’s UTM parameters.  You may be using GA’s URL builder, the free URL tracking tool offered by Social Snap that also manages the UTM parameters for you, or you may be trying to do it manually through Excel.  In any case, you likely have standard nomenclature that you use for the various UTM parameters that may look similar to the two examples below.

  • www.mysite.com/blog/awesome_post/?utm_source=Twitter&medium=social&content=awesome_post&campaign=blog_promotion
  • www.mysite.com/blog/awesomer_post/?utm_source=Twitter&medium=social&content=awesomer_post&campaign=blog_promotion

Notice the utm_source that is used in both of these examples.  The text used for this field will override the actual referrer, which means GA will use “Twitter” as the source instead of twitter.com or whatever the referrer actually was.  This is where the root of the discrepancy is coming from.

If you filter your referrals with an advanced filter such as twitter\.com$|^t\.co$|^twitter$, you will be able to see all the visits that should be attributed to Twitter.  As you can see, there is a source named “Twitter” and another named “twitter”.  The reason why both exist is a result of using UTM parameters and not using a tool like the one offered by Social Snap to manage the UTM parameters.  That, however, is a separate topic that I’ll leave for a later post.

Figure 1: GA Traffic Sources Report

While you consider visits that came from the source “Twitter” and “twitter” to be Twitter referred visits, GA does not see it the same way.  The reason is that GA matches social referrals based on the domain name.  In the case of Twitter, GA is looking for visits that came from twitter.com, one of its sub-domains or t.co, Twitters URL shortener.  As a result, GA will omit anything that has a source of “Twitter” or “twitter” from its social related reports, which may drastically alter the number of visits that get attributed to Twitter.  In this case, the visit numbers attributed to Twitter has dropped to just 157.

Figure 2: GA Social Network Report

If you are using a reporting tool (reports from an SMMS system, a marketing automation system or any social media measurement tool) be sure to understand how socially referred visitors to a web site are defined/calculated.  At Social Snap, we do not pull this metric directly from Google Analytics.  Instead, we combine all visits that are actually driven bysocial (whether GA recognizes it or not) including  visits that result from using custom UTM parameters, so that our reports reflect an accurate total (see Figure 3 below for an example of our traffic reports).

Figure 3: Social Snap Report (showing visits generated by Social Media)


Hey, you’ve got enough on your hands trying to make the case for social media.  The least we can do is make sure your data is giving you full credit where it is due.


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One Response to Why Social Visits Look Low in Google Analytics and How to Fix the Problem

  1. Pingback: Dirty Little Data Secrets: 5 Potential Inaccuracies In Your Social Media Reports | motorverzekering

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