Social media is tricky as an investment. Everyone knows it’s beneficial to use, but the returns aren’t always obvious. You can see traffic coming in, but you don’t necessarily know what traffic comes from where. All the other returns, the less tangible elements of brand recognition and trust building, are a lot harder to identify.
There are, thankfully, a lot of different methods you can use to track your social media traffic and performance. I’m sure you know and even use a lot of what’s on this list, but here are some you probably haven’t seen before. Let me know what you think! I’ve done my best to make sure all of these options are free to use, so feel free to try them out and see what you think.
Everyone has to start somewhere, and for me, for this article, I’m starting with the tried and true classic: Google Analytics. Everyone knows GA, because everyone uses GA. It’s the absolute baseline for analytics, to which all others must measure up.
Google Analytics is decent for tracking social media traffic. You can see referrer data, which is more than you can say for some other traffic sources. However, data is not real time, and it’s often sampled for higher volume sites. These are tangible drawbacks that make it harder to accurately measure your social traffic on a day to day basis.
One way you can improve the accuracy of Google Analytics is to pair it with Google’s UTM Parameters. Putting UTM attributes on your social media links allows you to measure those specific links more accurately. It’s a good way to get more precise data that helps you optimize your social presence.
Right up there with the “you should already be using this” of Google Analytics is Facebook Insights. Facebook Insights is the built-in analytics Facebook gives to anyone who has a Page. It gives you a giant pile of information about the demographics, habits, and interests of your audience.
The primary drawback with using Facebook Insights is that it’s relatively imprecise. You can drill down to a lot of specific information about groups of people, but you can’t see specific information about specific people. Facebook has so much personal data that they need everything to be more or less anonymous for privacy reasons.
That, and the obvious issue, which is that Facebook Insights only gives you information about your Facebook audience. It’s not an all-around social traffic monitor, it just shows you traffic from Facebook. You also need to make sure you have the Facebook tracking pixel installed on your site on every page you want to track, otherwise Facebook won’t report data about that page and its usage.
Twitter Analytics is the same thing as Facebook Insights, but for Twitter. Of course, since Twitter doesn’t have nearly as much personal information about individuals as Facebook, you don’t get to see nearly as much data. You have to set up Twitter Cards to make the most of Twitter Analytics, and they’re going to throw CTAs at you over and over until you convert into an advertiser, but it’s still some useful data.
Twitter Analytics has the same major drawback as Facebook Insights, which is the focus on one single social network. You have to use all three of the analytics apps I’ve listed thus far if you want a reasonably comprehensive view of your social traffic from just Facebook and Twitter. If you’re using Instagram, Pinterest, Google+, LinkedIn, or other social networks, you have to find even more solutions to add them to the list. It can get pretty complicated pretty quickly.
Piwik is a self-hosted analytics solution, which means rather than hooking your site up to some third party script to measure your data, you measure it and keep it yourself. This can be a lot of data and a lot of code, so you need a good server to run it, and you’re responsible for keeping your analytics secure. You don’t need your data to be leaked to the public, right?
Piwik has a lot of data it can analyze, and since it’s open source, there are a lot of extensions and plugins you can download to use for your site. I’m certain you can find something that will give you a good amount of insight into your social media traffic. The main downside is just how much it takes to maintain; since you’re doing everything yourself, you need to keep an eye on not just the data, but the service as well. You’re responsible for uptime, for bugs, for maintenance, for patches, and for security. That’s often too much work for the average user.
Clicky is a very simple analytics solution that is free to a point. You can run it as long as you have fewer than 3,000 daily views. You’re also limited in the amount of data it will show you if you don’t want to pay for a pro-level version. You can see referrer and search data, you get some audience segmentation options, you get mobile analytics, and not a lot else. Unfortunately, any of the more advanced features, like split testing, data exports, or real time analytics are all locked behind the paywall.
Since I’m writing this about free solutions for tracking, I’m limiting my recommendation based on what’s available for free. I can’t say that this is a great solution, but it works if you want something simple, and you can always upgrade to their pro version when you have a budget, or move away to a more complex analytics solution.
As the name might imply, Open Web Analytics is another open source offering. Like Piwik, you do need to have server space to run and maintain it, though it’s very lightweight. Unlike Piwik, you have a huge amount of features with OWA, up to and including some pretty robust social referral tracking. Plus, their dashboard is nicely designed, and you can create reports for whatever data you want on hand readily available.
Of course, if you don’t really want to have to maintain your own analytics system, this isn’t the solution for you. Uptime is a very real concern; if your script has issues or your server gets overloaded, you’re going to lose the data you would otherwise have measured. You have to monitor the app to make sure it’s actively recording session data, and fix any issues right away.
GoingUp is meant to be a bit of a gateway drug into the services the site offers for optimization and SEO. You get some decent analytics out of it, including a heatmap and your visitor tracking, but most of it is aimed at showing you where it finds flaws in your marketing and where you can use their services and tools to improve. If you have the mental fortitude to resist their calls to action, you can get some decent analytics out of the deal. If you find yourself giving in to marketing fairly frequently, you might want to look elsewhere.
The only reason I recommend looking elsewhere, by the way, is just how basic their tools are. Having them all bundled together is nice, but at the same time, everything they offer is offered by other, more reputable tools. You can look at their features and make your own decision, of course, but I wouldn’t necessarily recommend it.
Google Analytics does a good job of showing you visitors who arrive on your site, and where they came from. However, when it comes to measuring specific data about people directly on your site, it can sometimes fall flat. That’s where Inspectlet comes into play. They don’t necessarily measure data about your incoming users; they measure what those users are doing on your site once they arrive.
Inspectlet tracks mouse movements and clicks, as well as visitor session information. If you find yourself wondering how people use your site, and don’t necessarily care where specifically they came from, this is a good window of insight. It won’t stand on its own, though, so you really need to use it in conjunction with other analytics that can measure off-site performance.
GoStats is one of the more minimal possible choices for on-site analytics. You can see some basic usage data, visitor traffic, a visitor counter, and some basic data about individual users that boils down to basically just their browser and computer technical info, their geographic location – or at least the endpoint of their VPN – and referrer data.
As far as free services go, this one is why a lot of them have a bad name. They offer their minimal service for free, they don’t do much in the way of support, and that’s about it. They only still exist because of how little effort and money they put into the whole thing.
Unlike basically everything else on this list, Social Mention is a different kind of app. It does its own crawling and gives you statistics about how your site looks from the perspective of your audience. You can see what sites mention you and where, you can see the general sentiment, and you can see your reach. It’s all very valuable for analyzing your presence on the social networks and blog
networks themselves, rather than waiting for that traffic to hit your site.
This is useful because sentiment helps tell you if there’s some issue with your brand prior to anything arriving on your site. You might have low social referral traffic due to negative sentiment and never notice from the on-site metrics you see.
ViralWoot is primarily a Pinterest analytics app. It shows your “pinfluence”, your reach, your activity, and your engagement, as well as various other metrics on-site that can be useful to know.
I’m really just including this because it’s a useful app for Pinterest users. I don’t use Pinterest myself, I haven’t found it all that useful, but for those of you in the right niches, it can be a great source of traffic and conversions. In those cases, it’s quite useful to be able to schedule pins, monitor pin performance, and generally have a good idea of how everything is performing.
Cyfe is a pretty bog-standard analytics app if you look at it in terms of the data it will show you. You have all of the usual post metrics, the trending usage statistics, reach, traffic sources, and all the rest.
The main benefit of Cyfe is that it hooks into pretty much every social network you want to measure. Any network that has an API that can pass analytics data is capable of hooking up to your dashboards, where you can see all of that data on hand at the drop of a hat.
The same way I recommended ViralWoot for Pinterest, I’m recommending Tailwind for Instagram and Pinterest together.
Once again, if you’re in the right kind of niche using those social networks, it can be great to see the analytics information on hand for them. I haven’t really used this one, but it looks nice, so feel free to make your own judgment call.
Crowdfire is an audience analytics app that links into multiple social networks and has a bunch of features that help you engage with and retain your audience.
You can see your fans and followers, you can see who recently followed you, who is inactive, and even set up white and blacklists for messaging. The analytics are there, and they’re useful, but they’re largely taking a back seat to the performance-enhancing features of the app. Is it useful? Give it a try and see for yourself.
BuzzSumo isn’t technically a free tool; their free version is extremely limited and only shows you information about the top trends, and only on a limited basis before they cut you off for some length of time.
Still, the information they can give you is super helpful, so it’s generally a good idea to look at your best posts from time to time.
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