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Do you know where all of your social traffic is coming from?

Want more detailed information on social media referral traffic?

The Google Analytics’ Social Network Referrals report gives you a top-level snapshot of social media referral traffic, but it may not show you everything.

In this article you’ll discover how to create custom URLs to find what is called dark social media traffic.

What Is Dark Social Media?

Dark social media traffic is referred to your site when you post a direct link to your content on a social media network and that link is clicked outside of the network.

For example, dark social media traffic happens when you post a link to Facebook and someone clicks on it from within a mobile dashboard app such as TweetDeck, or when someone copies that link and shares it via email or a text message.

find hidden social media traffic in google analytics

Find out how to track hidden social media traffic in Google Analytics.

Google Analytics can’t track traffic from these sources so it reports it as direct traffic. That makes it hard to know how many click-throughs can be attributed to content posts you make on social media networks.

Google’s custom URLs can help you shed some light on dark social media and begin tracking your content’s performance beyond likes, comments and shares.

#1: Add Web Tracking to Your Website

Hopefully your website is already set up with Google Analytics. If not, getting started is a very simple process.

Visit the Google Analytics website and follow the instructions to sign up for an account and add the property (website or blog) you want to monitor.

The default view of your analytics is unfiltered and shows all report data. If you already have a Google Analytics account for your website or blog, you may need to create an additional view for tracking the custom URLs covered in this article.

Google Analytics supports multiple view configurations; however, the configuration you choose affects what data is available in your reports. It’s very important that you understand how Google Analytics accounts, users and properties work when you create a view.

You also need to set up your web tracking code. Don’t let this process scare you.

finding the tracking script in google analytics

Find the tracking code on the Admin tab of your Google Analytics account.

Simply click on Admin and select your property from the Account column. Under the Property column, click on Tracking Info, and then Tracking Code.

On the next screen, copy the website tracking script so you or your web designer can paste it into the web pages you want to track.

copy the tracking script in google analytics

Google Analytics will automatically generate the script you need for website tracking.

#2: Build Your Custom URLs

Once Google Analytics is set up properly, you can use Google’s URL builder to create your custom URLs.

There are six different parameter fields available, but for our purposes we’ll only be using the Website URL, Campaign Source, Campaign Medium and Campaign Name fields.

fields for custom utm parameters

These fields give Google Analytics information about the content that is linking to your website.

The Website URL field is pretty self-explanatory. Simply copy the complete website URL for the page or content you will be linking to and paste it into this field.

Use the Campaign Source field to identify the social media channel your link will be posted to; for example, Facebook or Twitter.

The Campaign Medium field tells Google Analytics what medium this traffic came from. For our purposes, use a term to remind yourself this traffic came from a social media channel.

Finally, use the Campaign Name field to identify which post or campaign you’ll use the link in. I highly recommend using the date somewhere in this field. Not only will this help you remember when the link was posted, it also helps segment data to identify how each individual content piece performs.

completed fields for custom utm parameters

Fill out the form to give Google Analytics the information it needs.

Be as detailed as possible with these fields so that there isn’t any confusion when you analyze the data.

After you fill out the fields, click Submit.

The tool automatically generates a trackable link that’s ready to be published on your social network. The example URL in the illustration above was published to Facebook on 9/9/2014.

If you’re publishing the same content to different social media networks, be sure to create different custom URLs for each network. Just change the Campaign Source to reflect the appropriate network.

#3: Shorten and Publish Your URL

The length of custom URLs can make them unwieldy for networks with character restrictions, like Twitter. I highly recommend using a link shortener such as Bit.ly to keep your post neat and attractive.

Bit.ly is an extremely simple (and free) tool to use. Just paste your custom URL into the “Paste a long URL here to shorten” field and click Shorten.

bitly url shortener

Use a tool like Bit.ly for shortening your long URLs.

Copy your shortened custom URL into an amazing Facebook post and publish it.

facebook post with a custom url

Example of a Facebook post with a shortened version of a custom URL.

#4: Measure Your Results

Finally you have arrived to the fun part. When it comes time for you to do your social reporting, log into your Google Analytics account. Using the left navigation, click on Campaigns. On the Campaigns screen, click on Secondary Dimension and type Source / Medium into the drop-down search box.

filtering for secondary dimension in google analytics

Click through to find your information.

When you apply this filter, it pulls up any custom URLs you created using the Source or Medium fields and you’re able to find your source, medium and campaign details.

traffic details in google analytics

Look for the Source, Medium and Campaign details.

Suddenly you have access to more accurate metrics for links originally posted to a social media network, even if those links were clicked from inside a mobile dashboard app.

Final Thoughts…

With all of the advances in website reporting, many of us are still behind the curve when it comes to attributing the return on social media efforts. Sometimes it’s very difficult to connect the dots and see where social media is making an impact for your brand.

By leveraging Google’s nifty URL builder tool, marketers can track in detail the performance of content posted to social media.

Although this approach is fairly basic, it gives you a clearer view of the value of your social media efforts.

What do you think? How are you currently tracking the performance of your content on social media? Do you have any tips to add? Tell us in the comment section!

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  • Simple but effective tips here, thanks for sharing.

  • Really interesting article. I’ve wondered about the best way to track dark social media. I post links using my bitly account most of the time (it has the added advantage of using my custom url shortener which is good for branding). I wondered if there was a way to more fully integrate a bitly account with Google Analytics? It seems quite involved having to create each link in Google and bitly individually.

  • Michael Procopio

    We use a tool called SqueezeCMM. It simplifies the process by providing multiple URLs for most of the popular network at one time and they are already shortened.

  • I assume this is separate to bitly? I’ve got a custom url that I use with bitly for branding. How does SqueezeCMM work? I assume it’s expensive- it says “schedule a demo”- that always means $$$$!

  • Michael Procopio

    No it is pretty inexpensive I think something like $20/ month to start. It gives you a variety of fields you can enter data into for aggregation like campaign etc. When you put in a URL it give you the option of what networks you want short URLs for including any extras you want. Push the button and the shortened URLs show up and tracking is automatically in place.

  • Lars Budde

    How does this technique find „hidden referral traffic“? The hidden traffic is hidden because you have no chance to edit the url. It comes from clients that don’t send a referrer.

  • OK, that’s not too bad. I can’t quite get my head round it to be honest, but I’ll add it to my list of tools to investigate!

  • I’m not sure it does. To be honest what you are referring to is true “dark social media”, because we just don’t know where it comes from, and have no hope in doing so- unless we are very good at adding query strings to links in emails and other websites.

  • Michael Procopio

    It finds the hidden traffic because you are tagging the URLs with the source of the traffic, so it doesn’t matter what the browser says.

  • natasa

    In order to use URL builder, is it essential to be an admin in GA?

  • We use a tool called Oktopost that automatically shortens URL’s when posting. It also add google analytics UTM codes that the link so you can see all of the social data in google analytics.

  • No. URL builder is a public tool that helps you format the ref codes to attach to the end of your urls. In fact the ref codes follow a standard, so once you get the hang of it you can even do them by hand. You do have to have access to your site’s GA account to see the resulting traffic being tracked of course.

  • I would not suggest using utm_medium=Social_Media.

    If you want Google Analytics to categorize your social traffic correctly in Social report, you should use utm_medium=social. I would recommend against using anything else.

    Note: Google Analytics also recognizes social-network, social-media, sm, social network, and social media, but it’s easy to make mistakes with these. So it’s better to stick with just social. It’s short and clear.

  • wonderful post. I never knew about url builder and it’s a great peace of Info for me. thanks!