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Are You Sure You’re Not Getting More Twitter Traffic Than You Realize?

Analytics programs may be getting it wrong

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Social media analytics firm awe.sm has a very interesting post explaining why webmasters might be getting a lot more traffic from Twitter than they realize. This has sparked some interesting discussion around the tech blogosophere, and quite frankly, it might make you care a little bit more about your Twitter presence.

Do you think Twitter’s an important tool for driving traffic? Comment here.

To make a long story short, the report indicates that your analytics software is not counting all of your Twitter referrals as Twitter referrals, largely because Twitter itself is accessible through so many different channels via its API. This includes third-party clients, and other sites that serve tweets.

After looking at its own data for six months, spanning links to over 33,000 sites, awe.sm found that :

  • only 24.4% of clicks on links shared on Twitter had twitter.com in the referrer;
  • 62.6% of clicks on links shared on Twitter had no referrer information at all (i.e. they would show up as ‘Direct Traffic’ in Google Analytics);
  • and 13.0% of clicks on links shared on Twitter had another site as the referrer (e.g. facebook.com, linkedin.com).

That last 13% would account for sites that post tweets. For example, people tying their Twitter account to their Facebook and LinkedIn accounts, so that tweets appear there automatically – a fairly common practice. While technically, traffic from these would still be coming from Facebook or LinkedIn in a sense, they are also the result of a link originally being tweeted.

awe.sm Twitter stats

As VC and entrepreneur Mark Suster notes, “Many Tweets are now being sent to LinkedIn and then the publisher assumes that the source of the referral is LinkedIn. In some ways it is because that’s where your user engaged the content. But get rid of the Tweet and you get rid of the referral traffic…”

“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,” explains 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.”

“If you’ve spent the last few years wondering why the proportion of ‘Direct Traffic’ to your site has been on the rise, the answer is the growing usage of non-browser clients, especially on mobile,” he adds. “And since 2/3 of Twitter consumption is happening in desktop and mobile clients*, it’s safe to say that a lot of your ‘Direct Traffic’ is actually coming from Twitter.”

One area where Twitter won’t help you, at least currently, is Google’s realtime search. The two company’s don’t currently have their previous deal in place. It remains to be seen whether the two will come to terms again. If Google+ gets big enough, Google may decide it can simply do without the Twitter firehose. Likewise, Twitter might want to withhold it for competitive reasons. Some people are already spending less time using Twitter, as a result of Google+‘s emergence.

There are ways you can optimize for Twitter traffic. For example, as we’ve referenced in the past, Shéa Bennett at Twittercism, came up with an equation for retweet optimization. The concept is basically: consider Twitter’s 140-character limit, consider your user name, and consider how many characters you need to leave free for the person retweeting it.

“When sharing links and content, I always ensure I leave a minimum of 12 characters at the end of each and every tweet,” he wrote. “This is a great habit to adopt. Otherwise, those wanting to retweet you are forced to edit your submissions so that they can give the proper credit. Because of this extra work, many times, they simply won’t bother retweeting you at all.”

Of course promoting your Twitter account on your various web presences, and including prominent tweet buttons on your content can help as well.

Are you getting significant traffic from Twitter? Let us know in the comments.

Are You Sure You’re Not Getting More Twitter Traffic Than You Realize?
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  • http://www.LAokay.com Adsense Publisher

    Great article!

    This is very important information as if you are an Adsense publisher you may be getting a bunch of what appears to be direct traffic when it’s actually coming from legitimate sources, but to Adsense and Analytics it appears to be direct traffic. So if say 90% of your traffic was originating from social networking sites and you created the links in such a way that they didn’t show a correct referring site Google might think you’re getting an unusually high number of direct traffic and click through rate for direct traffic and ban your site and or your Adsense account.

  • http://www.carsuk.net John

    Interesting article.

    Many of our tweets are linked to a story on our site, and we use Pretty Link for URL shortening. That means we track every incoming link from out Twitter account or retweets where the link is left intact.

    Even though we know that many of the retweets lose our shortened URL, we still see an average of over 300 visits a day from Twitter via the shortened URL we attach to the Tweet

    GA, on the other hand, shows but a handful of visits from Twitter.

  • http://www.localbiznovascotia.com Paul – Localbiznovascotia

    Good question! I get good traffic when ever I use Twitter. I sometimes wonder if its as good as it seems. Sometimes it comes down to how long did I take to come up with the 140 char phrase? The better it is the better the results. I never clued in to the “if you want to be retweeted rule!” I guess it makes sense to leave room!

  • http://www.sweetbusinesses.com/2011/07/16/will-you-let-your-dreams-die-2.html Teasastips

    That’s an interesting perspective. I have noticed a lot of Direct traffic in my GA; I was happy to see it, even though I wasn’t sure of its origin. Maybe that is the reason behind the rise in my page rank. Great post. Thanks for the insight.

  • http://gcdblog.info Gcdblog

    Oh yes! I’m joining to to twitter! because I can’t login facebook or Googe+. But Twitter is verry good!

  • http://www.twitterfollowerspacks.com gr

    My dream is to grow my twitter traffic to my webste!

  • http://www.tidbitsforhealthyliving.com Rita

    Yes, I definitely think twitter is a good source of traffic. It has a snowball affect. I have seen an increase in traffic to my site, http://www.tidbitsforhealthyliving.com.

  • http://www.webartistuk.com/ London Web Designers

    You know what? I think i might give twitter a chance….i havent even had an account opened up with them yet but i think its about time i did…lol

  • http://www.no-win-no-fees-lawyers.com/ No Win No Fee

    Twitter is great if you know how to use it…i myself do use it and find that it does generate traffic

  • http://MyNYCBirthday.com Bill Gaines

    Chris, this is an excellent article and really highlights some of the issues that tracking programs in general have. We have recently noticed an issue with LinkedIn, and this really expounds on the issue nicely. Thanks!

  • http://www.quipeutlefaire.fr Jorge

    Interesting! Do you know if twitter is thinking about fixing this issue? Can it be “fixed”?

    • http://awe.sm Jonathan Strauss

      The “fix” for this issue would be for Twitter to rewrite all outbound clicks to show a referrer of Twitter.com. However since much Twitter consumption happens off Twitter.com (~75% in fact ;-) ), they can only do this once they’ve fully rolled out t.co to wrap all links shared on Twitter, which won’t be for a little while.

      The disadvantage of a “fix” like this for us data geeks is that it will hide all the interesting data on where the links are really being clicked that made this analysis possible.

      • http://www.quipeutlefaire.fr trouver un peintre

        Well, I dont think that will be happening any time soon :)

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    kanbena7ob movis mb3

  • http://www.simplyclicks.com Simply Clicks

    This is a good post. I get traffic from LinkedIn that may have got there via Twitter. I also receive emails based on what people have been exposed to via Twitter buttons. I guess its a typical last click attribution problem.

  • http://get-business-online.com/ Gal

    Let’s just hope some new web standard will allow better tracking soon.

  • http://www.nokriinfo.com Nokriinfo

    Awesome tip, thankxxxx….

  • http://translatetraducciones.com TranSlate

    This is the second nice tip we have read from you this morning, thanks Chris. I do have a question on how much impact Retweets and Mentions have, and if they help drive traffic to your site.

  • http://www.seo-theory.com/ Michael Martinez

    He doesn’t understand what “Direct Traffic” means. It doesn’t just represent “non-browser clients” (in fact, many so-called “non-browser clients” do pass user agents). Direct Traffic can represent people clicking their bookmarks, following links from HTTPS sites, cutting and pasting URLs into the search bar, opening new browser windows, etc.

    • http://awe.sm Jonathan Strauss

      Hi Michael, in this case I was speaking specifically about “Direct Traffic” on links that we know definitively were shared to Twitter. So, all that traffic should theoretically be attributed to the initial Tweet responsible for sending that link into the world.

      And you bring up a very good point about HTTPS sites, which I do mention in the footnote to the full blog post (note the asterisk in the section Chris quoted):

      twitter-drives-4-times-as-much-traffic-as-you-think-it-does/”>The full list of sources of clicks with no referrer information (i.e. ‘Direct Traffic’) not only includes mobile and desktop clients, but also web-users who have https security enabled for their Twitter accounts (which strips out referrer information).

  • http://www.nationwidestrippersconnection.com/ Lauren

    Great post and information. I use twitter and was wondering if it was even helping me, glad to know that it is.

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