A little over a month ago, we talked about how many websites might be getting a lot more traffic from Twitter than they realize. This is largely due to the way analytics programs handle links from the many available sources of Twitter curation.
Essentially, as social media analytics firm awe.sm pointed out, analytics software has not been counting all Twitter referrals as Twitter referrals, mainly due to the fact that Twitter is accessible through a variety of channels via its API. That includes third-party clients and other sites that serve tweets. Many people link their Twitter accounts to their Facebook or LinkedIn accounts, for example, so in such cases, Twitter may have really been driving some of the referrals from those sources.
“When a user clicks a link in any kind of non-browser client, from Outlook to a desktop AIR app to the countless mobile and tablet apps, no referrer information is passed for that visit and your analytics software basically throws up its hands and puts the visit in the ‘Direct Traffic’ bucket,” explained awe.sm’s Jonathan Strauss, the author of the report. “The assumptions behind this fallback behavior show just how arcane referrer analysis is — if a visit didn’t come from another webpage (i.e. no referrer data), someone must have typed the URL directly into their browser address bar.”
According to The Next Web, starting last Wednesday, "all links (longer than 20 characters) posted on Twitter.com or any Twitter client have been wrapped with a t.co URL. This means all analytics tools are picking up ‘t.co’ as the referrer as opposed to a particular twitter client (Twitterrific, Tweetdeck etc.) or just twitter.com."
So, you may now be seeing more "t.co" traffic, which is a better indicator of the traffic you're really getting from Twitter. That said, it doesn't appear to be a perfect representation. Just looking at our own Analytics, we can still see referrals from other Twitter-related sources, but t.co is certainly more prominent now.
"Link wrapping provides an opportunity to learn how users engage with links contained in tweets," Twitter says in the t.co FAQ. "After the full t.co rollout is complete and our analytics has crystallized, we'll be offering a set of APIs that developers can leverage to enrich their applications with gathered data."
In June, Twitter began rolling out automatic link shortening on Twitter.com. After 13 characters of a URL are entered, Twitter will show a message letting the user know that the link will be shortened, and the link will be assigned a t.co URL, though the link will still appear to be a shortened version of the original.