Back in April 2012 I wrote a piece outlining the new Social Reports in Google Analytics. Since then the Google Analytics team have released so many updates and improvements across the platform that it’s time to have a complete refresher on this area of the reports to help you understand and get the most out of the awesome data that is available.
The reports are beneficial to everyone – regardless of how big or small your social media activity might be. They include information that’s great for SEO as well as helping you understand what to do with your social media activity.
So what’s in the box?
Quick view of conversions through social and top referring networks, URLs and sources
Where your social traffic is coming from
Data Hub Activity
What people are saying and sharing about your site on Google’s social platforms
The pages of your site that gain social traffic and the stats for these
Links to your website from other websites
Which social networks have generated conversions, their value and any assisted conversions
Interactivity with social buttons on your pages
How social visitors explore your website’s content
So let’s now look at each of these in more detail, starting at the beginning of course.
The first thing you’ll notice are the circles. These represent how many conversions your website has had in total, within that how many of these were impacted by social media and within that how many conversions happened when the last visit to the site came via social media.
If you see a big grey circle you’re not yet tracking conversions and should set up goals or ecommerce tracking ASAP! Conversion tracking really helps you work out what’s successful and what’s not – whether it’s form completions, time on site, transactions or anything in between!
It’s interesting to see the size of the circle that social conversions takes up, if it’s large then your social media is on fire, if it’s small then you need to increase the size of your social strategy.
This example shows two different websites, one has a much higher average conversion value but sees a much smaller percentage of social conversions than the other. If the second example were to step up their social media campaign even more they could be highly successful and generate very good additional revenue from it.
The summary shown to the right of the image outlines the top statistics:
- Total visits to the site
- Total number of social visits
- Total conversions from all sources
- Conversions that included a visit to the site via social media at some point in the visitor’s journey
- Conversions where the last visit to the site before a conversion was from social media
Below this there is a summary of the top 5 results for the top referring social networks, shared URLs that have the most visits and top social interactions on the site (if tracked). These all link through to the main reports so I’ll focus on those rather than explaining them in detail here.
This report is all about where the social traffic came from to get to your site and the pageviews, visit duration and average pages per visit as a result. Hovering over each social network shows the URLs that have been used to compile this data, for example, Twitter is traffic from both t.co and twitter.com.
The hub sign alongside a result shows that this network is a Data Hub that Google has data for. You can find this in the Data Hub Activity report.
Understanding which sites send the most traffic and then reviewing the additional data to compare the interaction and ‘stickiness’ of visit from each platform is beneficial for planning your social media strategy and identifying which sites will be strong. Those with good average visit duration and number of pages per visit suggest that the users from these platforms will engage more with the content and could be more valuable, obviously depending on the context of the site. This should also be compared with conversion data which we will come to shortly.
To get a quick idea of which platforms are sending the most traffic, click the pie chart button to the top right of the data and you will then see a lovely breakdown of visits by social network, like so:
Taking the report further, there may not be any additional tabs to view different metrics however, by clicking a social network you can then see the breakdown of activity behind this. Mainly, which URLs brought the traffic and the different engagement data for each.
Data Hub Activity
Google is always looking for more data to help them provide better services etc, so here’s where the benefit comes in – activity on the social websites that Google owns and those that choose to share their data with Google can then be reported on in Google Analytics. From +1s and discussions on Google+ to bookmarks shared on Delicious or Pocket.
When I first saw this report I was a little worried about privacy. You can clearly see names and faces for people sharing content on some of the platforms, however, Google is not breaking its own ‘do not collect personally identifiable information’ policy. This data is not to do with the users activity on your website, it’s users activity on other websites which have privacy policies in place that allow for the collection and sharing of this data. That debate is for another day…
So when your website is shared on these platforms, your report will start to look a bit like this:
* I’ve blurred the non Koozai names and faces as although Google is happy to share them with me I’m not going to rely on these people being happy for their activity to be shared further.
Brand Monitoring and Building
There are a number of really cool things to do with this report. Let’s start by quickly accessing the activity on whichever platform it is, this is done by clicking ‘More’ on the right hand side and then selecting View Activity:
This takes you to the post, where you can then +1, comment or share it (depending on the platform). Saying thank you to people sharing your content or answering any questions they may have about it is highly beneficial and this GA report is great at helping you monitor these brand mentions.
You can use the filter box above the report to break it down for a specific URL if you want to see the social activity relating to just one page of your site, or a selection of pages that share a common string in the URL.
For those social shares that did not include any conversation there is the Events report (blue link above the data). This shows the individual shares and activity on sites like Pocket where the focus is bookmarking rather than conversations.
I like these reports for keeping an eye on brand mentions and getting in touch with people who share or bookmark your content. It is also good to see whether you could get conversations going or share links on platforms that do not have much activity on them at present.
Taking it further, clicking ‘More’ and ‘View Ripple’ will show you all of the people who have shared that URL, how big their influence was and who shared based on shares by others.
This image shows the ripple for a previous blog post of mine which was shared twice by me (hence two circles). When Aleyda Solis shared it there were 4 reshares of her post, this meant she had the most reach. The stats at the bottom and the graph are interesting and could be beneficial to your reporting. I also like this view as it shows all the conversations in one place, making it easier to get in touch with people who shared the content.
This report is all about the Shared URL – i.e. the URL from your website that was promoted on social media which then became the landing page for the visitors who followed the link. I like to think of this report as the one that shows what content worked and what didn’t work on social media. Looking at this I can see which posts generated the most visits, pageviews and data hub activity. As well as reviewing the on page engagement (duration and pages per visit). Each statistic is great in its own right and one that excels in one area may not always be strong in another.
In this example you can see what the pageviews for the 1st and 5th most visited URLs are much higher than others, this is due to the context of the pages as they are more top level pages compared to the others which are blog posts.
The second most visited URL saw a huge amount of activity on Data hubs compared to the result below it, however this amount did not bring in many more visits in comparison. This really proves that not all metrics are created equal. You need to analyse the whole picture to make decisions.
Use this report to find not only what starts the ball rolling on social media but also what brings the good traffic. A combination of these is great for a social media strategy! For posts that you thought were genius but where the results don’t reflect this, check what activity was undertaken and see if it’s a fair comparison to what was done for posts that were more successful. Sometimes it will be the content that goes down well and sometimes it will be the social strategy that worked despite the content not being as good.
Then again, you can never fully estimate how people will react to things! Once content is live on your site there is a certain amount of hoping that it goes down the way it was intended and that the results are what you hoped for.
Why Did This URL Do That?!
To find out more about how each shared URL came to gain those metrics it is beneficial to click the link. This shows a breakdown of the social network data for the link, meaning you can now see which platform sent the most visits and where all the data hub activity took place.
For the example in the image above where data hub activity was so high, this is then shown to be from people bookmarking the post on Pocket, which itself only led to a handful of visits in the time frame. Notice how a bit more data makes the story behind it fall into place?
There’s also an additional tab here which shows the Social Network and action; this breaks down the data hub activity to show which platforms saw shares, +1s, comments, posts, bookmarks etc.
Trackbacks (AKA Links)
The heading here almost says it all, Trackbacks is what Google Analytics terms links. This means you can see other websites that have added links to your content as well as the date, URL and number of visits generated from this.
As with any link reporting, it won’t be 100% comprehensive, but it’s nice to have an overview here and it is also good that you can see links that did not send any traffic rather than relying on the referral sites report alone.
The More button in this report allows you to filter results to just see links for that page of your site, to view the page of the site or to view the page on which the link is located.
This is where the Google Analytics social report gets juicy!
Here you can see how many conversions each social platforms generated and the value of these. When you’re managing a social media campaign and know what revenue or leads you need to bring in this is great for comparing and working out which social platform had the most investment and which ones had the best or worst ROI.
I’m hoping that Universal Analytics and the use of Custom Dimensions and Metrics will soon be used by more people in order to view this sort of data alongside profit data to help with ROI reporting, but that’s a post for another day!
The basic report here is great for understanding platforms, conversions and value. To see a better breakdown of the data I add a secondary dimension for Landing Page URL which then highlights which pages have led to the conversions by bringing the visits to the site:
Now we really know what content works and what doesn’t!
It’s not all about the last touch…
As some of you will know, Google Analytics reports conversions against the traffic source which led to the user’s final visit to the site before a conversion (contrary to AdWords which works on first click attribution and not when the final source was direct).
So what about all the other visits the user made before converting? What do they count for?
Google is kind enough to provide us with reports that also show whether or not a traffic source may have impacted the users journey before conversions. In the case of social reports, this can be found through the link above the graph
Clicking this takes you to a report that compares how many times each social network assisted a conversion by being part of the journey, to how many times social was the final point of contact the user had with the site before converting.
The value of this report is that some traffic sources assist conversions more than being the last point of contact for conversions. If you were to stop this activity because the standard reports show they don’t generate conversions you’d be likely to see a drop in conversions. Reporting on assisted conversions is very beneficial when it comes to justifying marketing spend.
To simplify the report, in the final column “Assisted / Last Click or Direct Conversions” a number above 1 means they have assisted more than being the final touch point before conversions. Below 1 means they are more often the final touch point before a conversion.
Additional Dimensions To Help You Understand Social Conversions EVEN Better!
In addition to the standard reports available, as described above, you can enhance the reports further by adding secondary dimensions to show even more detail. Some great ones for the social reports are:
- Path Position relative to Conversion – to breakdown the data by when this visit fitted in the users journey
- Days before conversion – to analyse how many days it took before this conversion happened
Both of these reports can help you work out how many days is optimal in social campaigns and what activity leads to quick conversions. Using this information will help you improve conversion rates of your social media campaigns.
There are three sections to this report:
- Social Entity
- Social Source
- Social Source and Action
The Social Entity Report shows which page of your website was shared and how many times this happened. This is great for working out which pieces of content get shared the most directly from your website.
The Social Sources report removes the information about which page was shared but breaks down which sharing buttons were used. By default, Google Analytics can track the Google+ and +1 buttons, however extra code is required in order to track other social sharing and following buttons such as Twitter and Facebook. Some social plugins will include this tracking with them, so you may not need to add this if you’re using a plugin or tool to manage your social buttons. As shown here:
On this website the ShareThis social buttons are being used and you can see that Email is the most used. The data here should be used to help you decide which sharing and follow buttons to use and how prominent to make each one. The audience of every website is different so you won’t always just want to feature the big three.
Social Source and Action takes the previous page one step further by breaking down the platform’s button and letting you know whether users were clicking to share or to like. Each social campaign will have a different strategy and you may be looking for more likes than shares or vice versa, so consider which posts generate which type of activity.
To analyse one specific page’s interaction start on the Social Entity report and click the page you want to analyse, this then takes you to the Social Source report for this page alone and allows you to also review the Social Source and Action report for this page. Once you’ve found out what you need to about that page you can then use the drop down at the top to review another page.
Additionally, in the Social Source reports it is handy to swap the view from a pie chart to the Comparison chart as this quickly and easily shows you which buttons have above and below average interaction.
This report is very visual and is there to help you understand how users move through your website. In this instance, it shows you which social network the traffic came from and which pages were viewed sequentially.
There is often too much data in these reports to gain actionable understandings from it, so I would suggest clicking on a channel which you have been actively using and selecting “View only this segment”. This then makes that one channel easier to review and helps you understand whether or not the users coming in as a result of your promotional activity on this channel acted in the way that you expected them to or not.
To get plain data from this report, click the bit you want to analyse and select “Group details”. This gives you a table of the top activity.
You can also customise the report using the cog button next to the segment at the top. This can help you review data relevant to a specific campaign or other segment that is important to you.
Is The Data Accurate?
Now this is always a big question, and often the answer is “not completely”. We do what we can to make the data as accurate as possible but, as with every report, there are some things that get in the way. With social reports (as well as all the standard reporting foibles) there is the issue that often when links are shared on social media the referring source isn’t carried through properly. To help increase the success rate of keeping the referring source, ensure the sharing buttons that you build into your website include the utm tracking data to tag the links that are created with the traffic source you want. Some tools will do this automatically so just test it or check the code.
Additionally, why not gather more data by adding Event Tracking to the social buttons?
So there you have it, you can now fully understand what’s on offer in the social reports. The final point to note is that I also recommend setting social media objectives and having relevant and business specific KPIs to match these to. Getting X amount of shares means nothing to a director. Instead, getting a high level of engagement and increasing customer loyalty through social media might help you get more social media budget.
And finally… there are other tools out there that are also beneficial for tracking social media activity. Have a look around and it might be that you’re best off choosing a couple of tools to give you the best reporting suite for making the most of your social media activity.
It would be great to hear what methods you use for monitoring social media activity and which of the Google Analytics reports you like the best. Please feel free to comment on this post with your thoughts and the other methods you’d recommend. One tool can’t suit us all!
Nabeel Pasha (Best SEO Expert) is experienced in working with SEO and Social Media, helping businesses find their voice in competitive markets. He loves digital media and finding innovative uses for it, with a keen interest in how creativity on the internet can help shape success.
Visit for more details: http://costeffectiveseoexpert.blogspot.com