[UPDATED] Understanding Social Media Metrics in Google Analytics

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Editor's Note: This blog post was has been updated to reflect Google Analytics new terms and changes as of May 3rd, 2018.

I'm a huge statistics nerd. Like level #NERDALERT. When I first launched my old blog, I would log in every day and look at the statistics, where they came from and would just marvel at all the information I could suddenly glean.

How are these readers finding me? Where are they coming from? Gah, I loved it!

Get to know your social media metrics in Google Analytics and use them to help you!

That was over 10 years ago, and much, much has changed. Of course, there's been many shifts in the digital landscape, but one of the biggest things are how we are able to drive and track our traffic.

Social media is now one of the easiest ways to drive traffic back to our websites and shops. We also have MUCH stronger tools like Google Analytics, and less robust but still helpful, tools like social media dashboards to track our activity.

Today we'll go over key places to focus on to track your social media traffic in Google Analytics.

You'll be able to start tracking your traffic, paying attention to numbers so you can figure out how your audience engages with your content, and the social sites you should be exploring more as well as the ones you may want to rethink or ditch.

To keep this post concise and not overwhelming we're just going to focus on social media traffic within Google Analytics; the places to check data that offers the most relevant and helpful information.

Installing Google Analytics

If you do not yet have Google Analytics connected to your website you’ll first need to sign up for Google Analytics (it’s free), you can sign up below along with resources to help you install it on your website:

Once you install the code, you’ll be able to start tracking your traffic, paying attention to numbers so you can figure out how your audience engages with your content, the social sites you should be exploring more, and the ones you may want to rethink or ditch.

There is a ton of information that Google Analytics supplies, and while it feels overwhelming, there are key places to focus on to inform your decision making in your online marketing.

Google Analytics Home

When you first log in to Google Analytics the first place to visit is your Home page. This is an overview page, a sort of snapshot of what's going on with the traffic to your website. To keep things a bit simple, were just going to focus on the top half.

Understanding Social Media Metrics in Google Analytics

When you're on your Google Analytics Home page, you'll see a graph with numbers and terms at the top. These are good numbers to pay attention to within your Google Analytics at a glance. We'll discuss what the specific terms Users, Sessions, Bounce Rate, and Session Duration mean below.

You can adjust the time frame in the lower left corner of the graph to get an overview of your traffic for specific time periods, it always defaults to the past 7 days though.

Terms to Know & Track in Google Analytics:

Before we dive in, there are terms you should know. Google Analytics uses specific definitions to define activity, and while Google offers Help Pages, they're not always super concise on what these mean. And to be quite honest the terms Google uses have changed often over the years, and become a bit confusing to keep straight.

Below I discuss the main terms to know, and I've hopefully made them a little more understandable.

Get to know your social media metrics in Google Analytics and use them to help you!

Users

Are the actual visitors to your website. Google counts users by assigning a unique ID to visitors to your website. This number includes l userithin the given time frame, combining both Users and New Users (below).

New Users

Are brand new visits to your website. They have never been identified as visiting your site before. But this is a nebulous term, because these users could be visiting from a library computer, a phone, or some other access point they have never used before but may have previously visited your site.

Sessions

Google describes sessions as “a group of interactions that take place on your website within a given time frame. or example a single session can contain multiple page views, events, social interactions, and ecommerce transactions.” If someone visits your site, and then leaves and then comes back within 30minutes that is counted as 1 sessio. Sessions are the overall visits to your site. Number of Sessions Per User (below) are included within this number too.

Number of Sessions Per User

This is defined by the amount of time a user spends on your site. default, a session lasts until there's 30 minutes of inactivity.

Pages Views

Is the average number of pages viewed during a session.

Pages/Sessions

The average amount of pages a user engages with.

Average Session Duration

Is the average amount of time a user spends on your site.

Bounce Rate

Is the percentage of sessions in which a user has left your site after interacting with ly one page. This percentage varies greatly depending on your site. Google averages industries/platforms differently:

  • 40-60% Content websites
  • 30-50% Lead generation sites
  • 70-98% Blogs
  • 20-40% Retail sites
  • 10-30% Service sites
  • 70-90% Landing pages

Having a high bounce rate is not necessarily a bad thing. Read more on what Google says about high bounce rates here.

The above percentages give you an overview of the health of your website's traffic, but these are averages. There are ways to keep your bounce rate lower, but we'll chat about that later in another blog post. If you're interested in learning more, give Google a search.

Adjusting the Time Frame and Date

Next thing to learn is that you can adjust your time frame and dates on all of the views within Google Analytics. You'll find it on every page in the upper right corner.

One thing to keep in mind is that you can't see your stats from the current day - only from yesterday and before.

Get to know your social media metrics in Google Analytics and use them to help you!

This is helpful because it allows us the ability to compare traffic on days, weeks, and years (depending on how far back Google Analytics has been used). This can give great insight into trends and growth in your online presence overtime. 

Fiddle around with the date to get an idea of the traffic growth you've created!

I installed Google Analytics in the beginning of 2013, so I can compare my growth over the past 5 years if I wanted to - and believe me, I do. 😂

Acquisition Overview

One of the most important places to first become acquainted to in Google Analytics is Acquisition Overview. This is the general view of all traffic that comes to your website. And it gives you some neat data.

To get to Acquisition Overview, go to Acquisition (1.) in the left hand column, then click on Overview(2.).

(We'll only be focusing on social media traffic in this post, but if you want to dive deeper to see where all of your website traffic comes from Referral is a great place to start. You'll find that in Acquisition as well.)

Understanding Google Analytics for Social Media

Acquisition → Overview → Social

Now let's take a look at all the traffic that comes to your website via social media.

Once you're in Acquisition Overview, click on Social (see 3. above) to drill down to see where traffic is being generated from.

Checking in on this at least once a month, is an excellent way to measure how your content and overall marketing is performing on social platforms.

A few things to keep in mind as you look over this page:

  • This page is split into 2 different areas: Explorer and Social Network. Explorer is a visual graph of all of your social media traffic, and Social Network is a table listing out each social network with various data (see image below).

  • All of the data you see here is traffic that finds your website through social media. This means it's the content that you share on social as well as content others are sharing from your site.

  • Just like all of the pages on Google Analytics, you can adjust the date here as well.

  • The social platforms that appear here are the only sites actively driving traffic back to your website. If you do not see a specific social media site here, that means it's not driving traffic to your site. (For instance, Tumblr is not on the list above.)

  • Each social network is listed in order of the its significance (biggest driver of traffic).

Alright, so now we're ready to dive into what we see here in the Social Network area.

Understanding Social Media Traffic within Google Analytics

Let's take a look at the numbers and terms we're given in the below table and discuss what this data can tell us.

The main areas we'll be focusing on to gauge activity from social media are Users, Bounce Rate, Page Sessions, and Average Session Duration. (Refer to my above definitions above if you've forgotten what they mean.).

Social Network

Under Social Network are the social sites that drive traffic back to your site.

Understanding Social Media Metrics in Google Analytics

Acquisition Section

The Acquisition Section is the traffic to your webiste.

Users: 

This tells us how many visits we're getting from a social network.

What we can learn: Right away we see that our biggest driver of traffic is Pinterest in leaps and bounds above everything else. It's almost 70% of the social traffic during this time period. Next is Facebook with less than a quarter of traffic compared to Pinterest. Then we have Instagram and Twitter at neck in neck. And finally we have LinkedIn with barely a blip.

Looking at the above, Pinterest is by far the biggest driver of traffic here. We should explore what's working for us there and how we can leverage this even more.

Next we need to look at our content strategy when it comes to Facebook - what's going on here? If it's part of our strategy we need to step it up - if it's not then we might want to look further into posting here because traffic is coming to our site from there. So we shouldn't ignore this.

Instagram and Twitter are basically the same. So we should analyze what we're doing here - and if we are posting consistently on these channels we need to see what's happening here and how we can improve it.

Behavior Section:

Bounce Rate:

This shows the percentage of people that leave your site after interacting with 1 page.

What we can learn from this example: Pinterest has a pretty high bounce rate which means they're leaving pretty quickly and not exploring the content more. While Twitter's readers are engaging with more content.

Bounce rate is a weird number, it really varies between industries so while it's a good number to focus on don't obsess over it. One way to improve your bounce rate is to make sure all of your content has links leading to other content within the content your readers are looking at.

Pages/Session:

This shows an average of the pages your users are interacting with.

What we can learn from this example: Pinterest users are accessing roughly around 1 page of the website's content, whereas Facebook and Twitter users are reading almost 2 pages and more. That says the traffic from FB and Twitter is a little more valuable than Pinterest in content engaged with. Let's take a look at the duration they spend on the site to see how valuable they might be.

Average Session Duration: 

This tells us how long a user spends on our website.

What we can learn from this example: Out of the traffic referrals, Twitter's audience is spending much longer hanging out on our website with almost 3 minutes! Facebook is the next runner up. So what this tells me is that we might need to consider focusing a bit more on Facebook and Twitter over the next quarter and sees what happens. While Pinterest traffic doesn't spend a lot of time engaging with or spending time on our site we're still getting an enormous amount of traffic compared to all of the other social sites, so we need to keep doing what we're doing here.

Tracking Your Growth

There are more areas within GA are that are valuable and worth checking out and I encourage you to explore those. Remember, Google is your friend! 

The areas we covered in this post are the best places to begin to get to know and to track your social media traffic.

Don't let these numbers scare you!

Get to know your traffic, watch for trends, behavior, and growth. It's all really interesting and can help inform your decisions on social media. Plus you can watch all of the hard work you're doing by watching the growth of your audience over time.

Speaking of which; don't just check it and forget it! You should be tracking your growth on the first day of the month for the previous month, then quarterly, and then at the end of the year to look at all of your growth over the past 365 days.

By paying attention to all this data that's offered it will not only help inform your decisions on social media but give you a deeper look into how well your content does and how you can apply this information to your future strategy!

Questions? Let me know below!

Meighan O'Toole

Always all in.