Twitter Delivers You 4x More Traffic Than You Think. Here’s Why …

Posted on Jul 15, 2011 | 29 comments

Twitter Delivers You 4x More Traffic Than You Think. Here’s Why …

This article originally appeared on TechCrunch (this version is slightly different).  Most web publishers measure where their traffic is coming from using an analytics package such as Google Analytics, Omniture or Core Metrics.

These were good packages in the pre social media world at helping figure out who was driving your traffic.

Today they’re wrong. Terribly wrong. And figuring out who is referring your traffic is a very important part of determining how you allocate your marketing budgets. It is almost certain that Twitter is driving much more of your referrals than you think.

Possibly up to 4x more.

Here’s the story of why:

Take a look at the Google Analytics log for for yesterday. I had 8,502 visitors yesterday of which 1,669 are listed as “direct.” Direct traffic are people who typed in my URL directly. As in they weren’t referred by anybody.

But look at the second line. This says “direct – / – twitter” and shows 1,423 referrals. Line 5 says / – twitter” for 712 referrals and line 9 shows for 170 people.

What does that mean?

I use a product called to track all of my social media sharing behavior. I’m an investor in the company. What does is it allows publishers to be able to track each individual share behavior to a level of granularity that almost no other campaign tracking tool allows.

If I weren’t using then line 2 would have shown up as “direct” traffic and I would have assumed that I was getting a lot more direct traffic than I really was. I would have assumed I was 36% direct and just 10% via Twitter when the reality is that I’m 20% direct and 27% via Twitter.

In fact, the actual Twitter referrals are generally up to 4x as much as people think is happening. And the same is almost certainly the same for most publishers in terms of understating referrals.

This is a problem because publishers might then under invest in Twitter campaigns relative to others because they don’t get “last mile attribution” right.

This happens with other marketing campaigns, too. Often you hear a radio ad, see a TV ad or read an article in a magazine and you type the results into Google to find out more details about the product or service. The problem is that marketers assume that Google drove the traffic. They did not. So you ramp down your TV or print campaigns and suddenly your search volume goes down.


Last mile attribution is very important to understand marketing ROI. For the above problem the best company I know of is called Convertro (I’m not an investor).

In the social media world that tool is

And the problem is even worse than I described. Twitter is an amazing generator of social hooks to websites. Some of that comes from or other Twitter clients. But since many other websites pull in Twitter data, including links, you don’t always know who is referring the traffic to you.

Case in point: LinkedIn. 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 in the same way as I described the loss when you cancel your TV commercial.

So when I see MG Siegler announce that LinkedIn is sending more traffic to TechCrunch than Twitter – I’m not so sure. I understand why he would think that – Google Analytics tells him so. But I’ll bet a hefty amount of LinkedIn clicks were originated on Twitter. And I’ll bet a whole lot of TechCrunch “direct” traffic is from Twitter.

Here’s how works.

First, we generate a unique URL for EACH share behavior. So if you click on a “Tweet this” button on a website to send an article to your friends, that link is individual to you and to that exact share. If you were to click it again to share the same article we’d generate a new link again.

This allows more precision in tracking performance. It allows us to track time of day as well as do things like track which copy converts better if you want to a/b test Tweet copy.

We also cookie users so that we can better track who it was that drove viral adoption of campaigns. It could be that one influential person send a Tweet but he doesn’t have a lot of followers. If Ashton Kutcher follows that person and suddenly shares if with his 7 million followers it would start to snowball.

As a market you still want to know what drove Ashton’s share. It’s the snowball effect, which is why Jonathan Strauss, the founder of, actually named the company “Snowball Factory.”

So there you have it. The story is never quite as simple as the data might lead you to believe. It’s why sophisticated marketing tracking programs are important. It’s why clients like GroupOn, Zynga, Gilt Groupe and TopSpin Media are using

If you want to read a more detailed assessment of the 4x Twitter phenomenon and why it’s likely driving more traffic than you think, please check out Jonathan’s post on the topic.

Image courtesy of Fotolia.

  • buy essay

    interesting thoughts

    p.s. funny picture)

  • Piotr Canowiecki looks like usefull product. 
    One from your portfolio?

  • Dave W Baldwin

    It is great to see accuracy as illustrated via  The Twitter campaigns will blossom.

  • Matt Zinger

    simply awesome

  • Bernhard Haidinger

    Great article as usual! Thanks Mark

  • msuster

    Yes. As disclosed in the article.

  • AF

    Great post. Where do you find the time blog while you’re trying to find the next big idea? Or are you hoping the best idea will go to you because of your blogs?

  • Matt Munson

    Great post Mark.  We’ve wrestled with this exact problem in the last week @  Will check out  Sounds like a great product.

  • Sarah Carr

    Why would GA read Twitter referrals (as line 2 in your screenshot) as Direct Traffic anyway? I’d love to think that my Twitter referral stats are much greater than what my GA account shows.  Thanks for a great post and the insight!

  • Joris Van den Broeck

    It would be interesting to see a comparison of google analytics & awesome (now we have to take your word for it that number 2 visits don’t show on google analytics). Looks like a cool product.

  • J.G. Moore

    You can do this in Google Analytics – – Google is just copying ANYTHING they see others doing and add these features to current products. Content is the only thing Google can’t “do.”

  • Adam Moore

    Great points! Thanks. I have been to that point a few times where you are ready to disregard some social media…. but our site was built on the back of social media so I know that’s not a good idea.

  • RacerRick

    I think Google Anal intentionally drops a lot of referrers into the “direct” bucket.

    Often I’ll watch Chartbeat and see where people are arriving from and then go back later and look at GA and there’s just “directs” and no details.

    I think Google does it on purpose to screw Twitter/Facebook/Linkedin.

  • Anonymous

    OK let’s try it out. @theregjoe:twitter  hit me

  • Hugo Bernardo

    Great post! is a great tool! I don’t necessarily agree with your parallel between a TV Commercial and Linkedin. The traffic coming from Linkedin is being generated through Linkedin; all Twitter does is allowing you to cross-post. If you didn’t have a Twitter account and posted exclusively on Linkedin, Linkedin would still generate the same volume of traffic. I do agree though that traffic generated by Twitter (and probably facebook and linkedin) is understated.

  • Driving Under Influence

    Yeah! It probably because Google don’t want the user to get notified with traffic which is coming from these social media websites. Urging users to dislike social media.

  • Business Partners

    About…It’s a great tool, indeed. Very thorough with the analytics. Twitter indeed does bring traffic. And even when  it doesn’t lead to click-throughs, it leads to eye-throughs. Sometimes, one might see an interesting headline on the Twitter Timeline that doesn’t doesn’t lead to a click, but brings visibility to both the source and the and the news highlighted…as does LinkedIn…

  • электромонтажный инструмент

    Ash, very much enjoyed your take on this common struggle and I read this post at just the right time to make some shifts in my own flow. Looking forward to reading more.

  • электромонтажный инструмент

    Ash, very much enjoyed your take on this common struggle and I read this post at just the right time to make some shifts in my own flow. Looking forward to reading more.

  • thiet ke profile

    Thanks MarK

  • Mauricio

    You make me understand. Great post of helping me. You helped me so much.

  • Property Tax Law

    WoW! Your screenshot shows how Google has been playing with webmasters with it’s webmaster tool, perhaps it’s another way of suppressing it’s competitors.

  • LukeG

    I think it’s even more extreme than that. I know Strauss & love the stuff they’re working on, but for now you’re only getting stats on explicit shares from the tweet buttons on your site, and additional basic GA data from There’s some evidence that accounts for as little as ~50% of the traffic volume from the Twitter ecosystem, with the rest coming from almost-impossible-to-track clients; there’s still a lot of dark data out there.

    That said, is definitely on the bleeding edge of social analytics and attribution.

  • research papers

    Pretty interesting site you’ve got here. Thanks for it. I like such topics and anything that is connected to them.

  • Anonymous

    Don’t forget the incorrectly attributed traffic. Case in point: I digest Twitter on my phone, even while at the office. However, I don’t like to read full articles there, so I will frequently type the shortened link into my browser and save it to read later. Twitter doesn’t get the credit.

  • Jeff Hoffer

    I disagree that LinkedIn is the source of the traffic.  Without Twitter, many would not post updates to LinkedIn.  Those who primarily post updates to LinkedIn don’t go through Twitter to do it.

  • Jeff Hoffer

    As from the blog post, the problem stems from reading the URL-Referrer HTTP header and discerning the source from that.
    Twitter’s website (mobile and regular) use pop-ups when external links are clicked, for many browsers this causes the URL-Referrer to be empty.
    Even worse, the Twitter mobile apps (Twitter’s and the others out there) use embedded browsers so the click is not coming from a browser page at all, so there cannot be a URL-Referrer.
    What I found in my own analysis is even worse, the embedded browsers are not consistent across Twitter’s own mobile apps, and the iPhone App in particular uses the same UserAgent string as Mobile Safari, so you can’t tell where it came from.

  • Jeff Hoffer

    I believe Twitter is tracking all of this link activity on their own and showing it to their investors which is how they can justify their $8B valuation without much of a revenue model.

    FB has the “like” button populated all over the web to pull everyone into FB.
    Twitter has specific Twitter feeds embedded all of the web which I think is much more powerful for publishers.

  • melardenio

    nice pics..well all i can say is that twitter and fb really helps us drives traffic.

    but i haven’t experience 4x traffic from twitter