Major Websites like Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn can send massive referral traffic.

But did you know that you don’t automatically get credit for all of that in Google Analytics? It is true!

You could have many more people visiting your website and never even know it.

What is the Main Issue?

There are really three things that cause issues with tracking social media.

One is URL shortening services, the other is something called “Dark Social Media” and the third is applications.

Ready to learn about this? Let’s go!

URL Shortening

When it comes the URL shortening services, it cannot also carry the social referrer with it.


As an example, if you follow this path:

[click on Twitter]>>[link shortening service]>>[final destination site].

The analytics tools you are using cannot follow the whole path and Twitter is lost as a contributor. By the time the user gets to your site, it is counted as direct traffic.

The problem is that web analytics tools can’t follow that whole path because the referrer (the thing that says where traffic is coming from; in this case, Twitter) gets lost in the middle.

Dark Social Media

According to Social Media Examiner, “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.”

Dark Social Media

So basically if you post a link to Twitter and then someone clicks on that link inside Hootsuite (a login based system) you would not be able to see that traffic, it would look like direct. Or if someone took that link from Twitter and texted it to someone or emailed it to someone, that would also get lost.

Mobile Applications

So now we have the third issue, apps.

When looking at applications from major websites like Twitter, Facebook and Google, we also lose the referrer and that traffic is counted as direct.

Mobile Applications

According to Search Engine Land, “The first click from within the Facebook app to a web URL initiates a new browser session. The request gets recorded by Google Analytics as a “direct” hit to the “/” home page (regardless of actual page requested), and without referrer. Bummer.”

What Can you Do About It?

The best way to deal with this issue is by creating a custom campaign URL with the Google URL builder tool.

Google URL Builder

Now, when you use this tool you need to make sure that you are very deliberate about how you tag your URLs. For example, if you have one URL that you are sharing on a variety of “sources,” you will need to make sure you tag each source independently.

Your Twitter URL would look like this:
Your Facebook URL would look like this:

If you are worried about your URL being too long, you can always shorten your custom URL with a tool like You will still be able to track it correctly, because the URL has been tagged specifically for where you are sharing it.

Measuring Your Success

You will now be able to see all of the traffic generated from that URL in Google Analytics > Acquisition > Campaigns.

What to Do Now?

So now we have shown the problem and how to solve it.

But an issue still looms, who is going to take the time to do this with every post?

Unfortunately, most marketing professionals either will not make the time or they simply do not have the knowledge I am sharing with you right now. This means that most marketing professionals will continue to operate off false data and think that social media is less valuable than it really is.

Even when looking at our own site, Ignite Visibility, I see that 20% of our traffic is direct and only 7% is from social media. There is absolutely no way that is true.

How much higher would social media traffic and goals be in Google Analytics if I started tagging every URL?

That is the question we all need to ask ourselves.