Understanding Social Media Metrics in Google Analytics

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

I am a huge stats nerd. 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. How are they finding me? Where are they coming from? Gah, I loved it!

That was 10 years ago, and much has changed. The major shift is that we now have social media to drive traffic back to our sites. We also have MUCH stronger tools like Google Analytics.

First a few questions:

  • Do you track your social traffic (or your website traffic) on Google Analytics?
  • Do you know what specific stats to pay attention to?
  • Do you know how to read the more granular data that's available there (bounce rate, sessions, average session, etc)

If you answered no to any of the above. You're not alone. Many people have no idea where to look, or if they do they don't look deep enough.

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

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

Main Page

Understanding Google Analytics

When you first log in to GA you come to the Overview page, and you're given 3 statistics: Sessions, Average Session Duration, and Bounce Rate. These are the biggest numbers to pay attention to within your GA - but not necessarily the most important. These numbers give you a broad overview of the traffic on your website.

(Just a note, I'm using a clients GA dashboard with their permission, they get a good amount of traffic, and their analytics should not be used as compare and despair.)

Definitions to understand within GA:

GA uses specific definitions to define activity, and while Google offers Help Pages, they're not always super concise on what these mean. I've hopefully made them a little more understandable.

  • Sessions: Google describes sessions as "a group of interactions that take place on your website within a given time frame."  And as "The period of time a user is active on your site or app.", but for the sake of not confusing anyone think of sessions as visits. (Google changed the terminology from Visits to Sessions in 2014.) An actual session last roughly 30 minutes -- so if someone visits your site, and then leaves and then comes back within 30 minutes that is counted as one session. Sessions are the overall visits to your site - New Sessions are included within this number too.
  • New Sessions: These are brand new visits to your website, Google tracks them as first time visits, but honestly this number is nebulous and unreliable due to the many ways people now access content (on their phone while on a bus, at an airport, at work, etc). Take this with a grain of salt, but like all data use it to inform your overall view of your traffic.
  • Users: To keep it simple a user is a visitor to your website (Google changed the terminology from Visitor to User in 2014.) This is tech speak, and you'll often now hear people that use and visit websites and apps called users.
  • Average Session Duration: Is the average amount of time a user (visitor) spends on your site.
  • Pages/Session: Is the average number of pages viewed during a session.
  • Bounce Rate: Is the percentage of sessions in which a user has left your site after interacting with only 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

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.


One of the great things about GA is you can adjust the date. You'll find it on every page in the upper right corner.

The only real issue is that you can't see your stats from the day of, but you can track all the way back to when you first installed GA to see your growth. This is helpful because you can compare days, weeks, and years. So be sure to mess around with the date so you can get an idea of the growth you've created!

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

Acquisition Overview

A place you should become familiar with within GA is Acquisition Overview. To get to Acquisition Overview, go to Acquisition in the left hand column, click on Overview. This is the general view of all traffic that comes to your website. And it gives you some neat data.

We'll just 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 it in Acquisition as well.

Understanding Google Analytics for Social Media

Acquisition → Overview → Social

Let's take a look at all the traffic that comes to your website through social media platforms. This is an excellent way to see what social sites your content does the best on.

Keep in mind that these numbers include all the links to your website generated through social media, so it's the content you link to on social as well as content others are sharing from your site.

You can also find this information in Acquisition → Overview → All Traffic → Channels → Social. With both pages you get different visuals with the data: graphs and timelines.

Channels_-_Google_Analytics 2

Channels → Social

Next we'll click on Social to see where the traffic is being generated from. Under Social Network are the sites that drive traffic back to your site:

Understanding Social Media Traffic within Google Analytics

 The main areas to focus on to gauge activity from social media are (refer to my above definitions if you've forgotten what they mean. 😉):

  • Sessions: 
    • This tells us how many visits we're getting from a social network.
    • What we can learn: Looking at the above, Pinterest and Facebook are the biggest drivers of traffic. We should explore what's working for us there and how we can leverage this even more. Whereas Google+ and LinkedIn offer almost no value. Content is shared most on Pinterest and Facebook. If we are spending time on Google+ or LinkedIn we may want to rethink our strategies there, or abandon them completely.
    • Bounce Rate:
      • This shows how engaged the audience is with the content they accessed.
      • What we can learn from this example: Pinterest has a pretty high bounce rate while Twitter users are more engaged with the content and hang out on the website longer.Bounce rate is a weird number, it really varies between industries so while it's a good number to focus on, but not obsess over. One way to improve your bounce rate is to make sure all of your content has links leading to other content within your site to keep a user interested and engaged.
      • Pages/Session:
        • This shows an average of the pages your users are interacting with.
        • What we can learn from this example:Facebook and Pinterest users are accessing roughly around 2 pages of the website's content. Whereas Twitter users are clicking through to 2 or more pages.
        • Average Session Duration: 
          • This tells us how long a user stays on our content and website.
          • What we can learn from this example: Out of the traffic referrals, Twitter's audience is engaged longer with the content hanging out and reading for over 2 minutes.

Landing Page

Another interesting area to check out is Landing Page. This area can be found in two different places, but the second place gives you more interesting information. Both pages demonstrates the content that is performing the best.

The first area is Acquisition → Overview → All Traffic → Channels → Social, then click on Landing Page. You'll see the top performing content on your site for that 30 day period (you can change the date to any time frame in the upper right corner). This gives you an overview of what content is doing best on social media from your site, and it's a great way to see what's popular within that time frame.

Understanding Social Media Metrics and Traffic within Google Analytics

You'll find the second Landing Page area in the left hand column, scroll down until you get to Social then click on Landing Pages. This area will also show you the content you saw in the previous Landing Page, but the difference is that you can click on each individual URL and it will show you the social networks it's performing on. Neat, right?


By paying attention to this content you can examine what your audience is engaging with, where it's doing best, content you may want to be writing more about, products that are doing well, etc.

As we discussed above, pay attention to Sessions, Bounce Rate, Pages/Session, and Avg. Session Duration to get a more detailed view of how these links are performing.

Tracking Your Growth

There are more areas within GA are that are valuable and worth checking out to show you website traffic, I'll cover those at a later date. For now the areas we covered in this post are the best places to get to know and to track your social media traffic.

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 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 at the end of each month for the past 30 days, and then at the end of the year looking at all of your growth over the past 365 days. By paying attention to all the 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.

Questions? Let me know below!

Meighan O'Toole

Always all in.