Much of Twitter is about communication with your peers and meeting new people. I’ve seen many social media marketers claim that in fact conversation is the only thing that matters in Twitter.
I won’t go into detail about it in this post, but no matter what people say, marketers can only track numbers. And without tracking, there is no way to measure how effective social media is to your business.
Twitter’s growth and the ability to drive traffic via Twitter is two different things, but Jason Calacanis, for instance, blogged that Twitter was sending over 20,000 people a month to his web site Mahalo.com.
With that, I bet all marketers, webmasters and publishers will agree that they should take a very serious look at Twitter, especially if they want to tap into new source of audience and engage those users as part of their marketing activities.
The Problem with Tracking Traffic from Twitter
Before I start, let me elaborate a bit about the challenge for tracking Twitter. Feel free to skip this section if you already know it.
One of the greatest things about Twitter is the ability to post and receive updates from different medium, applications and devices. That makes it possible for Twitterers to engage in conversations no matter where they are and without disturbing their work flow too much.
With the flexibility comes the problem though. If your followers click on the link in your tweets to visit your site — in a browser, it leaves a trail. In HTTP, that trail is the Referer header.
A click on a tweet from the Twitter.com web site actually has the browser generate this as part of the HTTP request header:
By tracing the log file, using log analyzer such as Awstats (available via most web hosting control panel), or web stats package, you will be able to see exactly from which site or page your traffic comes from.
However, it doesn’t tell the whole story for the following reasons:
- Lack of Referer header for traffic from other Twitter clients. Desktop- and phone-based Twitter clients are popular. According to TweetStats, web accounts for about 51% of the whole Twitter apps, so where do the stats for the 49% go?. When someone clicks on your link, it will not carry the Referer header. Your log file and web stats are more likely to track this as direct traffic.
- Syndicated Twitter feed displays the wrong Referer information. As Twitter also has RSS feed, web publishers can syndicate it easily on their web sites, blogs, FriendFeed or even Facebook accounts. When someone clicks on the link in the tweet, the header contains a Referer line, but from the other web sites instead of Twitter.
- It doesn’t track traffic from RSS feed. If your followers decide to follow via RSS in their news readers, or if they subscribe to a keyword-search query via RSS, and then happen to click on the link in the tweet, it will be tracked as either direct traffic — if from a desktop RSS reader, or as traffic from online RSS reader in the Referer line.
How’s that for accuracy? If you are not yet tracking your Twitter traffic, chances are you underestimate the number of visitors that come as the result of your tweets.
Simple Approach to Tracking Twitter
The first solution is very simple. Use URL “shortener” service that supports tracking. Tweetburner is one of them.
Here are a few benefits of using such service:
- Desktop Twitter clients support it. twhirl and TweetDeck allow you to generate short links from the same interface directly. And that makes the process much quicker. Remember about the flow thing I mentioned above?
- It happens automatically. You don’t have to add anything. Once you use Tweetburner (twurl.nl), logging in your account shows you some interesting stats such as clicks, who also shares the link, and referrers of the link. The latter is the sites that syndicate the tweet with the link.
- Track all sources of clicks. Tweetburner solves the issue I explained above regarding Twitter tracking because wherever the tweets appear, any clicks on the link will be tracked.
Another service called cligs features other information such as geotargeting. It is also search engine friendly, i.e. using 301 permanent redirect.
Although it doesn’t give you any information beyond clicks, at the very least you know how effective your tweets are.
Tracking Twitter Clicks with Google Analytics
Google Analtyics has a feature called URL tagging. With it, you are able to track any online campaigns. The following is a list of accepted variables:
- Source (utm_source). The origin of a referral to a web site. When someone clicks on your web link in Google search result page, Google is the source.
- Medium (utm_medium). Together with source, they provide specific information about the origin of a referral. If you use AdWords to drive traffic from Google, the source is Google and medium is pay per click or adwords.
- Campaign (utm_campaign). The dimension that differentiates product promotions such as “Valentine Sale.”
- Term (utm_term). Keyword that is used to find your page via the search engines.
- Content (utm_content). Content describes the version of an advertisement, usually used in content-targeted advertising and a/b split testing.
For tracking Twitter, we only need the source, medium and campaign dimensions.
You can integrate Google Analytics tags into your URL quite easily with one of the following methods.
The first method is by using Google Analytics URL Builder. It is a simple form that walks you through the necessary fields and generate tagged URL.
Insert the Website URL into the first field and then fill in the source, medium and campaign with “twitter” (without the quotes) or with any unique name that you’d like to assign to track Twitter clicks. Finally hit the Generate URL button to get your tagged link in the field below the button.
Chances are this URL is too lengthy to be used in Twitter. As usual, all you need to do now is shorten the URL with your favorite URL shortening service. Note that if you follow this method, you can use any of your chosen service.
Let’s make it easier. The second method is by using bookmarlet. A bookmarklet is a small Javasript application that is stored as a bookmark in your browser. If you put it in the bookmark toolbar, the service is just one click away.
When clicked, this bookmark will take URL of the active window/tab, add Google Analytics tags, generate a short URL with twurl.nl and add it to the form, ready to be posted to either Twitter or FriendFeed.
Cligs also has a bookmarklet that you can adapt to include the above Google Analytics tags. Unlike Tweetburner’s bookmarlet above, it only displays a short URL with options to post to Twitter or identi. Here is the modified cligs’ bookmarklet code, for your convenience.
Create a new bookmark with the code as the location.
Much easier, right? The drawback of this method is, you can’t assign a different campaign to the tag as easily as using the URL builder tool.
If you often need to customize the utm_campaign variable, use the following bookmarklet instead.
Either of them will prompt you for the campaign name before shortening the tagged URL.
Note: Those bookmarklets have been tested with both Firefox 3 and Internet Explorer 6. Due to how WordPress format the links, it is impossible to provide drag and drop links for the bookmarklet without modifying WordPress code. This page provides the drag-and-drop version of the bookmarklets though.
Everytime you stumble on a page that you want to tweet, click on the bookmark. Now the shortened URL will carry the Google Analytics tags.
That’s it. Google Analytics will automatically detect those tags and display the report showing how many clicks occur from Twitter. The number includes clicks from Twitter web site (your profile page), any Twitter clients, syndicated feed in FriendFeed, Facebook or even other people’s web sites.
Taking It to the Next Level with Funnel Visualization and Goals
Let’s say that you have a specific campaign to drive traffic from Twitter. The campaign is to generate leads for your business by offering a white paper download. Isn’t it nice if you are able to not only track clicks, but also the number of those visitors that register? What if you can track the percentage of visitors from Twitter that abandon the page and never see the sign up form — presuming the landing page is not the registration page?
The good news is, you can.
Goals and funnels in Google Analytics allow you to do exactly that. The detail about how to do this is out of the scope of this post, but you can find more information from Google Analytics Help pages.
Let me summarize the steps you need to take to get this kind of information though:
- Create a landing page, intermediary pages, and goal page. If your web content management system doesn’t include the Google Analytics tracking code on those pages, you should insert it on every page manually.
- Setup funnels and goals. A funnel is a series of pages through which a visitor must pass before conversion. A goal is the destination page a visitor must land on to assume conversion.
- Tag the landing page with source, medium, and campaign tags.
- Shorten the URL. Use the above tool to speed this up. It allows you to do the third and fourth steps with one click.
- Use the short URL in your tweets.
That’s it. Now you are able to funnel visualization, conversions, conversion rate, abandoned funnels and even goal value if you enter it while setting the goals and funnels in the second step above.
If you use one of the URL shortening services above, you also get the analytics data from those services besides Google Analytics’ report.
Now that marketers begin to understand Twitter, and with the growth of the micro blogging platform itself, marketers and web publishers are starting to generate significant traffic from Twitter. With the above method, you will be able to at least track how many clicks are coming from Twitter beyond those from Twitter’s website. That means you are able to track clicks from syndicated Twitter RSS feeds, from desktop- and phone-based clients, and others as well.
By setting up funnels and goals in your Google Analytics account, you will also be able to get user behavior and conversion data. With those numbers in hand, marketers can now measure the effectiveness of their campaigns and know where to spend their money and effort on.
Final note: Still related to tracking, I’ve created a WordPress plugin that makes in-content RSS links trackable with Google Analytics. Currently FeedBurner only tracks clicks on the item title. When you create a blog post as part of a larger promotion, clicks on the call to action and other links within RSS feed — as a separate campaign — are not properly tracked. The plugin, which I called RSS Feed Campaign Tagger uses the same method I explained above to track links within your RSS feed.
Hendry Lee helps bloggers overcome strategic and technological challenges in starting and growing their blogs. He also writes about social media tips on his blog Blog Tips for a Better Blog – Blog Building University. While you are there, download your free eBook and subscribe to the blogging e-course where he reveals his secret about blogging and content writing!
Follow Hendry on Twitter (@hendrylee).