Url Shorteners
Url Shortener

Shortened URLs and Analytics Risks

Bit.ly and other URL shortening services are fantastic, right? With the touch of a button, you can change a cumbersome, lengthy (and, let's face it, ugly) URL into a short, manageable URL. You may also look at fast statistics to see how many people clicked on your shortened URL.

isn't it cool? that isn't true.

Many marketers and social media specialists are unaware that hastily reducing URLs to publish on social media might cause serious problems. You're affecting Google Analytics' primary data for your website, which is far more essential (and telling) than any one-time analytics data you'll get from that URL shortener.

In reality, depending on URL shorteners to enhance the social management process might actually harm social media in an organization by removing critical social traffic data from Google Analytics. If your supervisor or customer notices skewed results, such as fewer sessions and conversions from social media than should be ascribed, he or she may determine that social media isn't worth continuing.

shortened urls cause issues

So, how does this take place? Consider the results of an infographic that was predominantly marketed over social media with a shortened URL. For each landing page, the statistics are broken down by Source/Medium.

As you can see, the dominant source is Direct, with only three clicks originating from Twitter, according to Google Analytics (note that in this case the source showed up as twitter.com, possibly from a URL tagger as will be explained later, but generally Twitter links show up as t.co). Wow, that wasn't exactly a strong Twitter showing, was it?

The shared URL received 47 clicks, according to Bit.ly. Although there are some differences between bit.ly and Google Analytics (the GA view shown below filters out sessions from some IP addresses, and bit.ly is less strict about tracking bot clicks), it's safe to say that the majority of the 44 direct sessions recorded were misattributed and are the result of users clicking on the link via Twitter rather than visiting the content directly. This indicates that the content garnered far more Twitter views than was previously stated.

You can see how easily a URL shortener can harmed your ability to pinpoint a proper source because direct traffic mixes together any sessions where Google could not identify a specific source. The source is lost in the process of forwarding the URL from bit.ly to yoursite.com, and it is simply perceived as a straight visit. Some shorteners, such as Twitter's t.co, will correctly pass on the referral source, but the source may not always come through on its own. Social visits from abbreviated URLs are not counted in the Social part of analytics, in addition to not appearing correctly in referral reports. Marketers can utilize this part to gain a good look at sessions, conversions, and other information from social media referrals, but it's useless if the data isn't accurate.

After clicking on Twitter to segment exclusively to that channel, the snapshot below shows Twitter referrals in the Social > Network Referrals report. The second link on the list is the identical infographic from the previous report, with the same three visits.

assuring the accuracy of data

How do you make sure this doesn't happen to you and that you obtain accurate data from links you share on social media now that you've witnessed the detrimental impact URL shorteners may have on your GA data? To begin with, you don't have to shorten links in the first place. When consumers click the links, you're more likely to see the correct source if you use the true version of the URL. Twitter uses t.co to automatically shorten URLs, so you don't have to worry about exceeding your character limit. T.co, for example, reflects visits from Twitter in this referral report.

Shortened URLs aren't an issue for Facebook, which has a long enough character restriction in postings that they don't need to be shortened. Also, if you have access to Google Metrics, which provides more comprehensive and reliable data, you don't need to worry about the extra analytics you can acquire from shortened URL services.

You may, however, opt to utilize a URL shortener. Perhaps you're concerned that long URLs would appear cluttered on Facebook. If you designate your links with campaign criteria before shortening, you can still utilize a shortener and get accurate analytics data.

Tagging URLs before sharing is an excellent practice to adopt even if you don't use a URL shortener. For a variety of reasons, referral data is frequently lost, particularly for mobile visits (see this article for more details). You don't have to rely on the app or browser to successfully deliver referral data to Google Analytics when you tag your ads.

Because a tagged URL in a social media post can appear extremely large and clunky, tagging combined with a URL shortener is a sensible strategy.

Go to Google's URL builder to include these parameters.

Then, in the 'Campaign Source' field, type in the social media site where you'll be sharing the link (in this case twitter.com for Twitter). The term 'medium' should be used to describe any link shared on social media, rather than the specific site or source.

Although the 'Campaign Content' section is optional, we've provided a shortened title for the item being shared in order to provide additional information in the analytics. Finally, 'Campaign Name' is a more broad category for any blog connections.

After you click 'Submit,' a final URL will appear, which you can copy. Copy the URL and paste it into your favourite URL shortening provider to get your shorter URL. This URL (for example, bit.ly/*****) will then redirect to the final link, which will have all of the necessary tracking elements. As a result, you'll be able to see visits that are correctly credited to Twitter.

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