Why is the number of link clicks on Google Analytics different to the number on social media?

Noticed that the number of link clicks registered by social media is different to the number noted by Google Analytics? Why?

A link click has long been used as one measure of success in terms of social media engagement. 

It’s a signal that the reader has noted the content and found it sufficiently interesting and relevant to click the link to find out more. Typically the link will take the reader to a specific page on a website.

A high number of link clicks suggests you are getting to the right audience with the right type of information and the channel will tell you how many people clicked. However, that initial interest is only a starting point.

Just as important is to track what those readers do when they have reached the website. How long do they stay? What do they read?  Did they actually download that datasheet or leave their contact details for further information? A well-structured social media campaign will set specific goals and be able to demonstrate if they have been met.

Using that degree of analysis it becomes possible to make better judgements as to the value of different channels in terms of delivering the right audience.

Facebook may have driven 300 people to the page at a 20p per click cost, and LinkedIn 5 people to the post at £12 per click. But if the Facebook visitors simply bounced off, whereas the LinkedIn visitors travelled through the site, spent minutes reviewing the content you want to promote and then used the contact tool to get in touch – it’s clear where the value lies.

Paid advertising

All very logical so far.

One challenge in this process is the disparity between the number of link clicks registered by the social media channels and the number recorded by Google Analytics.

We have seen this phenomenon for a while, but the disparity is growing. It happens across all channels, but Pinterest seems to be the worst. For one campaign we worked on, Pinterest was registering over a thousand link clicks, but the linked page on the client’s website was recording a fraction of that number.

We don’t know why this is happening and, not surprisingly, neither the social channels nor Google is providing an explanation.

Our solution is to use campaign tracking links.

What are tracking links?

A tracking link is a unique URL used for a single marketing activity. They are generated by third party URL builders and there are several to choose from, but whichever you go for, make sure they integrate with Google Analytics.  We use tracking links in social media campaigns and for content posted on other websites.

When a web visitor has used one of the links to get to a website, that journey is recorded by Google Analytics. (Note that data for the tracking links is found in Acquisition>content in GA).

It is then possible to track the behaviour of the visitors driven by each individual link, building an understanding of which piece of content on which channel is achieving the results you are looking for.

This degree of insight is a hugely valuable tool when deciding the best places to focus promotional budgets.  It also reduces the disparity between the clicks recorded by the social media channels and those which appear in Google Analytics – one way to solve the mystery of disappearing link clicks.


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