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Use Google Analytics to Get Facebook Traffic Insights

Published: August 20, 2013

Author: Dan Wilkerson

ga reportsMost of the time, traffic spikes are at least somewhat predictable; you’ve launched new ads, you’ve just created a piece of killer content, whatever. But sometimes, you open up Analytics and find a nice little surprise (or, if you’re on top of things, you’ve already configured custom alerts to email you when unusual things happen on your site). You’ve gotten a huge spike in Facebook traffic to a specific page on your site! Woo-hoo!
Except you have no idea what shape that traffic takes – is it an individual user, page, or group sending visits to your site, or is it a chain of users spreading your content virally across the network?
In the past, there are a few places you might have turned to try and discern this information. For example, you might have looked at the number of times someone had shared the page on Facebook using a social bookmarking reference tool. Maybe you would have taken a peek on the old ‘Public Posts’ search category, which appears to have been deprecated in Graph Search. Outside of these things, however, there seemed to be very little information that you could glean.
Not anymore. You see, when visitors come to your website, their browsers communicate some information with your server. One piece of that information is the referrer, or the URL of the previous page that browser was viewing. This information is how Google Analytics sorts visitors into the ‘Source/Medium’ reports that you see inside the Traffic reports. In Google Analytics, this is truncated to simplify things – facebook.com/notdanwilkerson/some-other-stuff becomes facebook, for example. This is kind of a shame, since knowing the specific status that drove all of those visits could be a hugely insightful piece of information for you.
Fortunately, that value is still captured within Google Analytics. To get to it, create a new Custom Report that filters by source for Facebook (recommended RegExp: facebook|fb.me), has visits and any other metrics you’d like to examine (conversions or revenue, for example), and segments by the dimension ‘Full Referrer’. Then you’ll see a report that looks something like this:
ga full referrer report
Nice, right? Although not all of this will be actionable, there will be scenarios where specific groups or Pages on Facebook will drive lots of traffic to you. Unfortunately, what can be captured varies by where the users interact with the content; if they click through from the Newsfeed, it will come through on a secured connection, and Google Analytics (and the browser) will only have the domain listed as the referrer, meaning no specific user information.
Only visits from the Pages’ timelines themselves and a few other oddball situations will pass along referrer information, meaning the number of visits isn’t an accurate representation of the traffic that Page or group drove to your site.
That said, this is still a great place to prospect for partnerships. Even relatively insignificant-looking amounts of traffic could indicate a much bigger impact. That can, in turn, inform your advertising strategy; maybe, for example, a particular page with a large following drove an unexpected amount of qualified traffic to your site. You could then target users connected to that page (if it was large enough to be a specific interest) and advertise to them.
Even better, you can use this information to find out more about other referring sites, too, like Reddit. Although not as substantially useful from an advertising or Facebook advertising standpoint, this can be a great way to find and reach out to groups that connect with your content, and maybe even deepen the relationship there. For example, if r/graphic_design really liked an infographic you hosted, you could jump in and field questions about the design and exigency for its creation.
ga referring sites
Have you ever found actionable insights in the Full Referrer inside Google Analytics? Share your story (and what you did about it) in the comments.

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