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The Indirect Impact of Social Media - Social Stats in Google Analytics

Social media is often hyped in the news as a way for businesses to generate a quick return. In our experience, however, engaging with social media delivers more benefit in the medium to long term. In fact, over time, social media can be having a positive impact on your business that you may not even be aware of.

In previous blogs we’ve discussed the indirect impact social media can have on brand presence and on search engine optimisation (SEO). In the blog on brand presence, we mentioned how more people became aware of a business as their online following grew on social media platforms. This led to more searches on the business name in search engines and more direct visits to their website. 

Within Google Analytics you can track the impact of social media. Google highly values social media, as can be seen by the regular updates to the criteria they use to rank websites, which are known as Penguin and Panda updates. The Penguin updates in particular highly value social signals; this is where websites have had hits from social media platforms. By regularly using social media to drive hits to your website, you can improve your search engine optimisation and Google presence.

Within the revamped Google Analytics are “Social” stats within Network Referrals. Using these, we have recently noticed that for some businesses we deal with there often seems to be a correlation between visits via “social referral” (i.e. visits from other social media platforms to their website) and “all visits” (i.e. visits from all sources to their website). See one example below. This clearly shows that there tends to be an increase in overall visits to a website when there is an increase in hits from social media platforms (even though one doesn’t directly account for the other).


To further illustrate this, three points in time have been highlighted by red circles:

  • The first circle highlights 12 hits via social referral on a particular day. On that same day there were 264 hits overall, which was an increase of 57 hits from the previous day.
  • The second circle highlights 17 hits via social referral on a particular day. On that same day they had 373 hits overall, an increase of 186 hits from the previous day.
  • The third circle highlights 34 hits via social referral on a particular day. On that same day they had 223 hits overall, an increase of 78 hits from the previous day.

Each point highlighted for “social referral” has led to a significant increase in overall hits. We checked back on the activity behind one of these circles, the second one, and found that the business released a special offer via their social media platforms that day. This led to the spike in direct hits and in hits via Google referrals (where visitors had first Googled the business name or the product relating to the special offer) as you can see below.

There was an increase of 108 direct visits hits from the previous day (from visitors either typing in the website address or, more likely, going to it via their favourites).                              

There was an increase of 39 hits from previous day via the Google Search engine (organic search traffic).

Thus it seems that activity on social media can be a good way to trigger your followers to revisit your website. Each time this happens Google picks up on it due to the Penguin updates. Over time this can have a significant impact on your presence within their search engine (although this is also dependent on what your competitors are doing to improve their presence).

Therefore when tracking how social media is working for your business, it is important to track both the direct and indirect impact. More often, it is through tracking the indirect visits that you can see the greatest return.


Chris Wood - digital marketing specialist

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