Social Insights From Google Analytics

Published September 3, 2014
You’re spending the time investing in social media – updating, tweeting, sharing, liking and applying filters. But is all that activity driving website conversions or is it failing to make an impact?
Do you even know?
We may understand the importance of active social media profiles and a regularly updated website, but most of us still have trouble connecting the dots from social to Web. If you’re linking back to content on your site via social posts, you want to know how many people are actually clicking through to that content and what they’re doing on your site after the click. If your primary focus is social engagement, not linking sharing, you want to find out how that’s affecting your bottom line.
Thankfully, Google Analytics offers a Social section to provide easy access to this data. Here, stats are broken down to the level of social network, as well as specific URLs shared. Each of the reports mentioned in this article can be found by going to Acquisition > Social from the main reporting review. What can Google Analytics’ Social reports tell us about our visitors? We’ll break it down below.

social insight from google analytics


How Social Users Find You

As part of measuring results from social media, you need to understand which social networks are driving users to your site, as well as which networks provide the most engaged visitors. Use the Social > Network Referrals report to see which social networks your visitors have used to find your site. You’ll see a list of the top networks that drove traffic, as well as engagement stats like session duration and pages/session.


google analytics social network referrals


When reviewing this report, make sure to take into account all metrics. Don’t just look at the volume of sessions, but also the quality of traffic. In this example, we see that Facebook drives the majority of sessions, but YouTube actually provides more engaged users, with more than twice the average time spent on the site as Facebook (3:38 vs. 1:15) and more pages per session (2.86 vs 1.55). This brand should use this information to capitalize further on creation of quality online videos, since YouTube has proven to drive users who will spend time going through site content.

Where Social Users Land

When sharing links to blog posts, infographics, event, and offers, it is important to measure the success of social sharing in driving users to this content. Looking at a list of social media channels is not enough; you need to review data for specific pages visited, starting with the initial touch point.

The Social > Landing Pages report shows where users from social media make their first point of contact with your site. When you first view the report, you’ll see a list of URLs sorted by sessions, allowing you to determine the most visited landing pages from social. From this report, you can then determine which posts you should put more effort toward sharing, as well as what types of content performed the best.


google analytics social traffic landing pages


To see more details for a particular page, click its URL to see a breakdown of how many sessions each social channel drove to that page. In addition, using the graph in this report, you can easily compare how much traffic came to that page from social media vs. other channels, as well as how long people continued to click through from social posts after your initial share of a link.


google analytics social referral specific url


In this example, we’ve clicked on the URL for the brownie recipe to see more specific statistics. You can see this link shared to a large audience starting August 21, with Facebook providing by far the most volume of sessions, followed by Pinterest, and then Twitter. On that day, a significant quantity of people clicked to see the recipe, and the volume tapered down in the following days.

Which Social Users Convert

Of course, when we talk about social media, it’s not all about traffic and engagement. Ultimately, you want to see how much value you are getting from social media, and the Conversions report can help you to see that. The Social > Conversions reports allows you to see data for conversions coming from your social users. Depending on your brand’s goals and strategies, social media’s role in the marketing funnel may not focus on driving immediate conversions, but you can still gain crucial insight into your brand’s performance by looking at conversions tied to social.

If you can tie monetary values to conversions on your site, such as an average value of a lead or the revenue from an ebook purchase, conversion values will appear in this report, allowing you to tie real or estimated revenue figures to each channel. You can then get a better picture of how well social media is contributing to profit. See Google’s documentation for more information on understanding and setting up conversion values.


google analytics conversions from social referrals


In this screenshot, you can see a list of conversion totals tied to their respective channels, along with conversion values. Here, you can understand the benefit of adding conversion values. Facebook, of course, drives the most value by sheer volume. However, note that while Pinterest provided more conversions than Twitter, Twitter generated significantly more revenue. Again, this data serves as a reminder to never look at one metric alone, but to always compare multiple metrics in determining your website’s performance.

We’ve looked at how social users found your site and what pages they land on. Let’s move on to see how they browse through your site beyond the first page.

How Social Users Navigate

When you share a link to a blog post from social media, ideally, you’d like your audience to move beyond just reading that one article. You want them to dig deeper into your content and to stick around. This is why it’s important to review what pages on your site are leading users to paths into other pages on your site.

The Users Flow report, which shows the most common paths users take through the site, may be familiar to you from the Audience section of Google Analytics. The Social section of Analytics contains its own version of the Users Flow report broken out by social network, allowing you to see specifically how social users browse your site. In addition, you can gain insight about how the behavior of users varies by network.


google analytics user flow for social referrals


In this example, we can see that Facebook has driven a significant chunk of traffic to the Blog/Video section of the site, along with some specific posts. In contrast, Pinterest has driven most users directly to the Recipe section.

We can also see that most people who continue to browse the site arrive through the homepage or main Blog/Video page, while those landing on the Recipe section or specific posts are more likely to just bounce off without continuing. To act on this data, we may consider adding a “suggested recipes” feature to each recipe to encourage Pinterest users browsing Recipes to continue their site interaction and open up a new path for them to explore.


If you’re taking the time to invest in social media, you must understand how to track it and how to use the data you receive. The Social reports within Google Analytics help us get the right data about our social users, providing numerous reports with insights into sessions, engagement, and conversions from social users. To go beyond this article and make sure that data from social media enters Google Analytics properly, see our articles on consistent tagging and the dangers of shortened URLs.


When the client first came to you, you talked up the value of Google Analytics. You emphasized the importance of seeing where your traffic was coming from. You went on and on about how Google Analytics can show traffic sources to pinpoint whether people came from search, social media or a specific site referral, and how valuable this data was. You sold them on it, so much so that your client looked forward to receiving that first report, the magical day when they would finally understand where visitors were coming from.
But then the report came, and it looked like this:



It showed that 10% of your client’s traffic came from “(direct)/(none)”. What does this label mean? How do you explain Direct traffic to your client? Better yet, how do you explain “none”?
Let’s take a closer look at understanding Direct traffic in Google Analytics and how we can address it with clients.
Digital marketers spend a lot of time focused on PPC and SEO campaigns in order to drive desirable traffic to a website. The phrases we’re ranking for and bidding on get meticulous attention, so much so that we often forget about some of the other ways that visitors find us.

We put a tremendous amount of the effort we put into reviewing organic search data and PPC campaign performance in analytics. But how closely do we monitor referral reports?

If that’s not a channel you review regularly, you may be missing out on seeing traffic that is coming directly from links you’ve obtained around the web, local business listings, news mentions, and more. Many times, links are only considered as a means to an end, a metric that Google uses in determining how to rank sites in the SERPs (search engine results pages). But the fact is, many of a site’s links may be directly contributing to its traffic.

In this article, we’ll review how to look at referral reports in Google Analytics, and some of the many ways to use that data to better inform your web marketing decisions.


Remember how your mom told you not to stand too close to the television because it might hurt your eyes?

The same rules can apply to data. If you’re too close, you may miss the patterns and trends that are crucial to understanding your website’s performance. You can’t judge a site’s performance looking at data in the bubble of a single day, you must consider any day’s traffic compared to the days before and after.

Google Analytics makes it fairly easy to analyze trends over long periods of time. But it also allows you to stand right in front of that TV, to look at more granular levels of time, right down to the hour.
There’s a better way to get that close to the data, without burning your retinas. We’ll cover how to analyze traffic effectively in today’s post.