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BACK TO BASICS: Getting to Know Google's Social Analytics

by Jessica Lee, April 17, 2012

Estimated reading time:
10 minutes

Top takeaways:
• New social reporting can better assist in understanding social media ROI.
• Tie monetary value to conversions coming from social media activities.
• New features identify what social networks are the most valuable to your goals, who is sharing your top content and how they share it.
Over the past few weeks, Google has rolled out its new social reporting in Google Analytics. The new Google reports allow for data discovery about social marketing with ease. Track how social marketing efforts play into site conversions and see the monetary values assigned to those conversions. Understand what social networks are driving the most traffic, what those users do when they arrive at your site, and how they are sharing the content they love. And the best part? It’s all free.

In this article, we’ll take a high-level look into some of the features that the new social analytics reports have to offer to your social media ROI tracking.

Social Analytics Reporting Overview

When you first log in to Analytics, you can access all the new social reporting under:

Traffic Sources > Sources> Social

First, make sure you’re viewing the new version of analytics; you can tell if you’re in the new version or not by viewing a link on the top right corner that will say either “Old version” or “New version.” If it says “Old version” that means you would have to click that link to revert back to the old version, so you’re in the new.

new version old version

Also, if you’re not an administrator on the site’s analytics, we’ve found that could affect your access to the new reporting right now. 

There are six major reporting functions underneath the new social tab:
  • Overview: The Social Value graph on the overview page shows conversions from social actions. You can see how conversions via social measure up against total conversions happening on the site. Here, you can also get a brief overview of the other reports, such as the top-referring social network, the most-shared URL and the most-used social share buttons on your site.
  • Conversions: See the total number of conversions occurring from individual social networks and the monetary value assigned to them. These conversions must be tied to site goals that you set up in order to show accurate reporting. These reports also show the different types of conversions – whether it was an immediate conversion or a conversion that happened at a later time.
  • Pages and Sources: These two reports work together to help you understand how users from various social networks engage with your site. Measure individual social network performance against site metrics like visits, pageviews, average visit duration and pages per visit. It also helps to identify top-performing content across social networks. 
  • Social Plugins: Identify which social share buttons people are using on your site and which content is shared with what social buttons. 
  • Social Visitors Flow: Access a visual representation of where users go on your site once they enter in from individual social networks and where they dropped off. 
Now, we’ll take a closer look into each one of these reports and the ways you can use them in your social media marketing strategy. Once inside Analytics, Google offers educational messages about its new reports like the one you see below, to guide you through the new reports.

Social Overview Education GA

And if you ever need more information about any of the social reports, you can select the link on the left-hand side of the screen for any given report that says “about X report.”

About X Report GA

Conversions Report

Perhaps one of the most intriguing reports for marketers and site owners is the Conversion report. This report allows for quantifying social efforts by tying monetary values to the conversions that occur from individual social networks. This report paints of a picture of what social networks are contributing to the bottom line and in what capacity. This data can then be used to understand how to allocate resources to social efforts. (The following snapshot is from Google; click on the image to be taken to original source.)

Conversions Data GA

To track conversions, you must have goals set up in your analytics with monetary values associated with them. For ecommerce sites, the monetary values might be a little easier to assign than say, a B2B company. But, Google gives one example in its Analytics support section of how to set up goal values if you’re not working in ecommerce.

The Conversions report shows immediate conversions, dubbed: “Last Interaction Conversions” (when someone visits the site and converts in that visit), and “Assisted Conversions” (when someone visits the site, leaves without converting, but returns later to convert during another visit).

From the Conversions report landing page, you can select an link named “Assisted versus Last Interaction” in the upper-left corner of the graph; this is where you can view the value each social network has played in conversions. This tells you if a social network functioned as a driver of direct conversions or assisted conversions. Google assigns a value to each social network in this equation; a value close to zero shows the network worked in more of a direct-conversion capacity; a value close to one or above shows the network performed more of an assist conversion role.

Conversion Assisted or Direct GA

Pages and Sources Reports

The pages and sources reports give more detail on how content is performing across social networks, what social networks are driving traffic and what kind of conversations are happening around that content. Understand that it’s easy to get lost in all the data, so the best way to become familiarized is to go in Analytics and start digging and decide what the most important metrics are for your business.

The Pages Report

The Pages report gives data about how content is performing via social networks. Some of the same metrics that you might be used to are housed here, like pageviews, average visit duration and pages per visit – but with additional social layers. These additional social layers include “Data Hub Activities” and the “Activity Stream” (which we’ll cover later on), and the ability to see which days the visits from social networks peaked and fell against overall site traffic, allowing you to form hypotheses about your social marketing’s impact.

Traffic from Social GA

Below that graph, there is a table that gives you the option to select individual URLs from a list. If you click on any one URL, the traffic data graph above is applied to that piece of content only. You can then see the social network that drove the most visits from that URL. There, you can also view some of the same metrics like pageviews, average visit duration, Data Hub Activities and how many pages the user went to per visit.

Pages Content Drill Down GA

This is helpful in potentially gauging the behavior of users across various social networks. Do people who come from Twitter on average spend less or more time on your content than say, a StumbleUpon?

The Activity Stream

This report also includes an exciting feature: the activity stream. The activity stream allows you to access who is sharing your content, what they are saying about it and how it’s being shared – whether it’s an original link posted to their network or a reshare.

This data is only accessible for certain “Social Data Hub” partners of Google. A Data Hub Partner is a social network that has partnered with Google to integrate its activity stream with Google Analytics. More than 20 networks are already participating in the Analytics Social Data Hub.

It’s no surprise that Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn are absentee in this list, but you can bet Google Plus isn’t. Offering thorough data about the Google Plus community in Analytics is another enticement by Google to drive people to participate in the search engine’s budding social network. In fact, in the Q&A portion of a recent session at Search Engine Strategies New York, Googlers hinted at the ability to integrate other Google Plus data into Analytics such as Google's Ripples tool.

You’ll know if Activity Stream data is available when you see the Social Data Hub icon next to the social network’s name in the table.

Data Hub Partner Icon GA

Once you choose the social network, choose the Activity Stream tab on the top left above the graph (next to the Social Referral tab). From here, you can scroll down below the graph to see who shared what and how.

Activity Stream GA

To recap, access the Activity Stream this way:

Pages > Select URL > Select Data Hub Partner > Select Activity Stream

On this snapshot, you can see icons to the left of the person’s picture. The link means they shared via an original link. The arrows indicate a reshare – in this case from using the +1 feature in Google Plus.

Data Hub Activities

The Data Hub Activities column in the Pages report shows what types of social actions were taken on any given URL (remember, this is for data hub partners only). So for example, how the content was shared on Google+, giving data for number of comments, number of +1s and number of unique posts.

If you want to view what social activities took place on a URL, under the Social Pages report, do this:

Pages > Select URL > Select Social Network (choose Data Hub Partner) > Select Social Network and Action link

Data Hub Activities Google Plus

The Sources Report

The Sources report shows how many of the site’s total visits per day, weeks or months are from social sources and what social networks those are. For each social network, you can view metrics like pageviews, average visit duration and pages per visit. This helps to benchmark what your social network return looks like now by answering the question, Where are the primary networks that people are coming from to my site and what content is driving them there?

Sources Report

In the “About Social Analytics” help file, Google suggests using the Sources report to see which social networks refer the highest quality content, and to increase your investment in those social networks that perhaps have fewer visits, but higher quality traffic.

The Social Plugins Report

If you have social share buttons on your site, Google Analytics now provides data about which buttons are being used for what content. The landing page of the Social Plugins report offers a graphical snapshot of what days had the most sharing and what content is associated with the most “social activities,” or shares. When you select a URL, you can see the social-sharing activity occurring from your site:

Social Plugins GA

The Social Plugins report can help uncover patterns about where your community resides and what that community wants with regards to content. And this data can make it much easier when looking to choose social share buttons for your site.

The +1 button data is already integrated into Analytics. To set up tracking for the other social share buttons, follow Google’s directive, which gives the code and steps to take in order to start tracking other social share buttons.

Social Visitors Flow

The Social Visitors Flow report is a helpful data visualization that shows where users came into the site, where they went next, where they may have dropped off and where they ended up last.

Social Visitors Flow GA

This graph can show the behavior of different users coming from different social networks. You can focus in on one network versus another by hovering over the social network and choosing choosing “view only this segment” in the floating menu.

View Only This Segment GA

Data from this graph can even help you identify potentially poor-performing pages for conversion optimization. If visitors always tend to drop off at a certain page, what can you do to make that page stickier and convert those visitors?

Google’s Tips for Evaluating Social Sources

As with any other metrics you may be tracking on your site, you must decide what metrics are the most important to your business with regards to social. It’s easy to get lost in the mounds of data, so focusing on the most important few are going to help keep you focused. Google gives some good tips on evaluating social sources in its Analytics help section if you’re just starting out.

For more on Analytics, visit Bruce Clay, Inc.’s Web Analytics pages.

For permission to reprint or reuse any materials, please contact us. To learn more about our authors, please visit the Bruce Clay Authors page. Copyright © 2012 Bruce Clay, Inc.