Social media advertising – don’t believe everything you read

September 12, 2018

Social media advertising is certainly on the rise, but unfortunately, it's not always accurately reported. 


The great thing about working on ethical marketing projects every day is we can take a step back to spot trends across all the campaigns we’re running. We’re keen to share these with you so you can do your digital better too. Today I’ll talk about something that’s both very topical but something that can also have a lot of misleading or false information about it online – analysing your social media advertising traffic on Google Analytics.


How to Track Social Media Traffic in Google Analytics


First of all, in case you don’t know how to track social media traffic in Google Analytics; it’s just a few clicks away. Go to your Google Analytics account, visit Acquisition, and then click Channels. Hey presto! You can see your social traffic right there. Here's a screenshot showing social media traffic in Google Analytics through Google Analytics’ demo account:


Clicking on the Social button will reveal social media traffic to your website from different sources and allow you to analyse in more detail such as pages per session by social media channel, average session duration by social media channel and bounce rate by social media channel.


Tracking Social Media Advertising in Google Analytics


So what about social media advertising? You’re probably thinking the intuitive thing – if you place adverts on a social media channel like Facebook, LinkedIn or Twitter; the results are going to show up in your social tab just like above.


Well, not quite. There’s a couple of very undocumented issues with this assumption. But don’t panic, we’re here to tell you what they are, and give you an immediate solution!


1. Some Social Media Advertising Does Not Register on Google Analytics


Like, at all. Specifically, users coming from a Twitter advert or a LinkedIn advert do not register as “Social Media” traffic on Google Analytics, but instead register as “Direct” traffic. Whereas Direct traffic in Google Analytics is supposed to be only users typing the URL directly into their URL bar, in reality it is more or less a catch-all for traffic that hasn’t otherwise been recognised or properly filtered.


2. Social Media Channels Overreport Traffic They Send To Your Website


Not quite as big an issue, but still an issue – we have found that all social media channels overreport how well they are doing when it comes to sending traffic to your site. Through analysing multiple advertising campaigns we were able to identify a discrepancy between the claimed link generation of social media advertising and Google Analytics. Facebook can overreport link clicks by up to 20%; Twitter by up to 50% and LinkedIn can be as bad as 80% (admittedly with very low sample sizes from our campaigns). Here's an example of Facebook Link clicks from a sample If Not Now project:



Luckily, these two issues do have a solution – UTM Codes with the Google Campaign Builder.


Solution – The Google Campaign Builder


Firstly, what does UTM stand for? “UTM” stands for “Urchin Tracking Module” – Urchin being the name of Google Analytics’ predecessor. So essentially these are tracking codes embedded in URLs (Universal Resource Locator, in case you were wondering), which are specifically designed to talk to Google Analytics.


How to use it: Go to the UTM builder, type in the target URL and then tell Google how you want Google Analytics to interpret people visiting that webpage from the link it gives you. Here's a dummy campaign to the If Not Now Services page:



In the above example, we are setting up a Twitter ad campaign for the Services page on our website. From this the UTM builder will give us a link that, if anyone clicks it, will show up in Google Analytics as coming from Social Media, and more specifically, Twitter. This means we’ve solved both our problems – people clicking the advert will no longer be listed under “Direct” traffic, but what’s more, if Twitter claims 100 clicks, we can go and check that out.


What’s more, by adding in a Campaign Name and Campaign Content, we can specifically see who visited our Services page from that advertising campaign in autumn 2018 (excluding anyone that might have come from another tweet of ours, for example); as well as who came specifically from the advert about THAT mural.


You can find Campaigns in Google Analytics by going to Acquisition, then Campaigns:



You can get as sophisticated as you like differentiating between various ad campaigns; although we’d only recommend doing as much as you’re actually going to analyse in the end.


Finally, you can use a URL shortener to make the beast of the link more usable!




So Twitter and LinkedIn aren’t doing a great job talking to Google, while advertisers like to give the best possible numbers as to the success they’re bringing you – big surprise. But fortunately there’s an out of the box solution here. We really do recommend using these codes when you can, and that you stick to Google Analytics’ version of the truth. You’ll also want to be analysing the quality of your advertising traffic anyway, as 100 link clicks is no use if people just bounced straight from your website anyway!


Meanwhile, if you’re anything like me, you’ll never look at URLs the same again – if you inspect very long URLs you can often see a marketing department’s mark, setting these UTM ups dependent on where you came from, be it AdWords, newsletter, social media or even a print promotion.


Thanks to Ailsa Burns on our freelancer team for her help in compiling some of this information/


Don’t have the time to run such sophisticated campaigns, but need the results? Want to know more about our methodologies? Or perhaps you want to start some advertising but aren’t sure where to begin? Get in touch with us, and we might be able to help!


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