couple of weeks ago I wrote a post about some of the problems I’ve encountered when trying to gauge accurate traffic from our social media channels, particularly Twitter.

Based on the overwhelming response in the comments section, and feedback from our own recent social media measurement roundtables, it appears this is a very common problem. 

Lots of you took the time to offer up ideas and recommendations, so I thought it would be useful to recap (and test) some of the suggested solutions here...

To begin with, Nuttakorn RattanachaisitAndrew Hood, Dan Barker and several others mentioned was that Econsultancy often sends tweets with inconsistent UTM tracking code attached:

This is the most obvious problem here, so I ran a quick test to see if we could make an appreciable difference. On the 18th February, I appended every tweet from @Econsultancy with the following code: 


Now I can visit the ‘campaigns’ section of Google analytics and all the visits generated by the tweets we sent will appear there:

Utm tracking is probably the most common way to keep track of outgoing campaigns, so you’d think it would be fairly accurate. 

Here’s a tweet sent on the day:

(we send most links twice for the benefit of followers in different timezones). 

According to Twitter, 699 people clicked those links

And here’s the amount of visitors we received from that tweet, as defined by Google Analytics: 

408 visits. So we’re currently missing 291, or 41% of our ‘should-be’ visitors. 

Reasons the numbers might not add up: 

1: People love us

As several of you pointed out. ‘Clicks’ don’t necessarily equate to ‘visits’.

It’s certainly possible that users were visiting as part of the same session. So they’d visited a post, left, and visited another within a 30-minute period.

At 41%, the numbers seem a bit high for this to always be the case,  but in general that's good news for us as it indicates a highly engaged following. 

2: Twitter’s click measure is inaccurate 

This seems extremely unlikely. If there’s one thing that Twitter should be able to measure, it’s the ‘physical’ action of somebody clicking on a link.

If we were promoting these posts using a CPC campaign, that click count would be used to charge us.

Incidentally, if you are running promoted tweets campaigns, Twitter’s ad platform doesn’t seem like it’s penetrated popular awareness to suffer from significant click fraud (yet…) so while I’m sure it may go on to a certain extent, I’d say Twitter’s billing is pretty sound

3: Operating system meltdown

A lot of people mentioned this. Here are our all traffic figures for the same period site by OS:

For starters, iOS is one of our biggest referrers, but iOS 6 punts almost all of its traffic in to the ‘Direct’ category. Similarly, JavaScript doesn’t function uniformly across many mobile browsers, so tracking figures could easily go awry here. 

4: Accidental attribution

The other day we noticed something unusual in our Google results. 

We Googled ‘Econsultancy mobile marketing’.

We got this link in the search results:

That link is appended with this utm code: utm_medium=email&utm_source=daily_pulse

That code is assigned to our Daily Pulse newsletter. So how did it get on Google?

Frankly, I’m not too sure, but that does mean that people reaching that article from Google may be attributed to the Daily Pulse.

And Google indexes Tweets. So some of our Twitter links might well be attributed to Google, and vice versa. 

At this point in the analytics funnel I usually recommend a stiff whisky. 

We also had a lot of people point out some salient points about Twitter that all social campaign managers would do well to remember: 

You can’t please all the people…

We have 129,000 followers on Twitter.

None of our tweets are ever, ever seen by them all.

Wednesdays at 2pm is our highest potential reach period, with around 26% of our total audience active on Twitter at that time.

Assuming they are all even human, that doesn’t mean that if I tweet I can expect 33,000 people to see it, because they might be eating a sandwich, or staring aimlessly out the window, or looking at another tweet at the time. And even then they aren’t going to all click on it.

Simple stuff but still not focused on enough by a lot of people. 

RTs don’t always equate to visits: 

We generate a lot of Retweets, which is geneally a good thing as it gives us a chance to expand our sphere of influence, but it’s important to remember that some of those RT’s will be from bots, or from RSS feeds, so many people are curating and sharing without actually visiting all the links they share.

In general you can expect to get more than one visit from one RT, but not always, so keep this in mind when you’re looking at engagement figures.

It’s also worth mentioning that analytics is measuring decodes, which are just a touch different to actual visits by living, breathing humans.

And even the live ones don’t always stick around long enough to do anything useful.

The vast majority of tweets go through or shorteners. As commentor 'Jevgenijs' pointed out, these are fast, but they still might increase bounce rates.

On ecommerce sites, a one second delay in page-load can cause 7% loss in customer conversions, while 40% of visitors will leave a page that takes more than 3 seconds to load. 

Suddenly, that high bounce rate from BlackBerry devices makes a lot more sense. 

What's the solution? 

There are some services emerging that are designed to track content in a more accurate way as it wends across the social web.

To do this properly, social needs to be factored in to your overall approach to digital tracking. Although there are plenty of ‘Heads of Digital’ out there, social media manager is still often a junior position in many cases, so implementing this can be problematic.

In addition, if like Econsultancy, you are looking for a variable set of metrics for different on-site pages (for example, from our blog, or from report pages), then this may be further complicated. 

Make sure you have a clearly deliniated set of tracking codes for each channel. It won't be perfect, but it can help to clear up some of the more unambiguous channels. 

Burn your silos

While I was testing all this, I spoke to our own Data and Digital Marketing Manager, Ben Barrass, who made a straightforward point about analytics data that is increasingly the elephant in the room:

These numbers will never match.

We can look at attribution from trackable traffic and say "Ok, so social is responsible for 20% of attributional conversions”.

What we can’t do is then say “that means 20% of direct attributional conversions are also from social”.

In Econsultancy’s case, I’m fairly sure it’s much higher than that, but there’s no possible way I could ever prove that statement.

Overall, trying to track social in a granular way is a useful guide, but it’s not the be-all and end-all.

As Stuart Hall put it: Whatever the stats do or don’t say, how do they help 'move the needle' to meet business objectives.  

It’s here that social media represents a unique problem. Although I’m generalizing massively, I don’t think it’s unfair to say that a majority of businesses consider social to be a function of marketing.

Unfortunately marketing tends to revolve around short term campaigns, which demand quicker, measurable results.

Social media keeps running, all the time, so more valuable metrics can only be identified when you have (at least) several months of data, and need to revolve around long-term figures like overall growth, brand sentiment, yearly revenue increases and lifetime customer value, rather than "we did A, and B happened the next day".

These metrics tend to come from having a unified vision of your business.

I'm reminded of a social media cliche: You can't control the message. This originally referred to the way people interacted with your communications. In this case, it also covers the way that message is taken apart and seeded across countless channels. You have no control over this, and in most cases your best efforts can only give you a guide. Likewise, while different analytic systems excel or lag in various areas, none are quite equipped to deal with the wonderful chaos of the internet.  

Social may be a function, but so is everything else you do, so the ultimate measurement here is probably “How well is your business doing?” We need to be looking at You can do all the research into individual channels you like, but they need to be completely aligned if you want an accurate picture of your progress. 

Thanks again to everyone who offered advice on this last time around, as always I'd love to hear any comments you have. 

Matt Owen

Published 28 February, 2013 by Matt Owen

Matt Owen is a marketing consultant based in London. He was previously Head of Social at Econsultancy and currently runs Atomise Marketing. Opinions expressed are author's own.

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Comments (7)

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Michelle Hill, Marketing Manager at Vertical Leap

Great post Matt!! Thanks for sharing

over 5 years ago


Ian Gertler

Extremely insightful article; provides much more information and detail than I expected. Yes ... I did end up here by clicking on a link in Twitter as well. Thank you, Matt.

over 5 years ago


Daniel Wilson, Managing Director at Stubble & Glasses

Thanks for the good post.

The one thing that isn't covered on the disparity between twitter and GA is that a proportion of the difference is a measure of real behaviour.

Twitter is an immediate medium, often consumed on mobile. If a user clicks on a link, and doesn't get a page response in a very small number of seconds (a regular issue in mobile), then they will abandon and carry on to the next tweet.

This counts as 1 click in twitter and no visits in GA.

If you're lucky then people will try again later, leading to some of the double counts you talk about.

over 5 years ago


Tim Aldiss

Please copy and paste links everywhere and in all sorts of ways so it really doesn't surprise me at all that your newsletter tracking code ended up in Google.
I quite often flick between apps reading on my iPad in the even for example and can copy a URL in Flipboard to then use in the Hootsuite URL shortener.
Sorry if I'm not helping!

over 5 years ago


iain martin, Founder at Skipedia

<We got this link in the search results:

That link is appended with this utm code: utm_medium=email&utm_source=daily_pulse

That code is assigned to our Daily Pulse newsletter. So how did it get on Google?>

Could it be that the link was copied and pasted and then shared, then indexed by Google?

over 5 years ago

Matt Owen

Matt Owen, Marketing Consultant at Atomise Marketing

Hi Iain,

yes that was what we thought as well. Email should (*should*) be uniquely trackable in theory, so the fact that this happens just goes to show that a lot of the time we really can't be sure where our links end up, so attribution is really a guide rather than a definitive figure.

over 5 years ago


Pamela Bustard, Social Media Executive at The Data Octopus

A fantastic, in-depth post covering all bases of tracking and analysing social media stats...It's a monthly challenge, managing The Data Octopus social media accounts then presenting the analytics when, as your posts have shown, Google Analytics in particular is not the most accurate at all!

I guess the main thing you've highlighted and explained brilliantly is, you can't soley rely on the stats you're provided, that it is equally important to try and manually track while comparing results across other tracking software/sites, plus seeing the bigger picture: overall, is the business and traffic to the site performing well?

Thanks again Matt, I look forward, as always, to reading more of your content!


almost 5 years ago

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