Learn to Correctly Track Facebook Referral Traffic in Google Analytics

This article is in conjunction with the article Understanding Facebook Referral Traffic in Google Analytics where I explained the various Facebook referrers in great detail.

Through this article you can learn about Facebook link shim referrers and things like, what is the difference between  ‘l.facebook.com‘ & ‘lm.facebook.com‘.

In the present article, I will explain how to correctly track and interpret the Facebook referral traffic in Google Analytics.

Not all mobile traffic from Facebook is actually from mobile devices

You may be under the impression that all of the traffic from m.facebook.com, mobile.facebook.com or lm.facebook.com is from mobile devices. But this is not always the case.

First of all, you can access the following so-called mobile websites directly through your desktop:

Go ahead and try it yourself. Once you have visited the website, check the Facebook referrer data. You will see Facebook traffic from mobile websites.

You can also confirm my observation by applying a ‘desktop and tablet traffic’ and ‘mobile traffic’ advanced segment to Facebook referrer data:tablet and desktop traffic

From this data, we can conclude that people do access the mobile version of Facebook from desktop devices.

One reason could be that some people are forced to use the mobile version of Facebook when JavaScript is disabled on their browser.

I came to the conclusion because the Facebook desktop version stopped working the moment I disabled JavaScript in my browser:

javascript required

Here, reloading the page, won’t solve the problem and I don’t want to log out.

So next best thing I can do is click on the ‘mobile-optimized website’ link and go to the mobile version of the Facebook website from a desktop.

It is during this time, I discovered the full URL of the link shim page. Whenever JavaScript is disabled, you can see the full URL of a link shim page on mouseover an external link.

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Facebook traffic can be labelled as direct traffic in Google Analytics

Facebook traffic can end up as direct traffic, esp. if your website is not on HTTPS. Facebook’s mechanism of passing referrer data from an HTTPS website to an HTTP website is not foolproof and referrer can drop during a redirect from an HTTPS website to an HTTP website.

Whenever a referrer is not passed, the traffic is treated as ‘direct traffic’ by Google Analytics.

Moreover, Facebook is accessed by people using a variety of apps (on both desktop and mobile) and not all of these apps (esp.the mobile one) send referrer data. Following are the two most effective way to preserve Facebook referral data:

  1. Move your entire website (both desktop and mobile version) to secure connection (HTTPS). Referrer data is more likely to pass from one HTTPS website to another.
  2. Always tag your Facebook ad campaigns.

Tracking Facebook referrers via custom channel grouping

In order to track Facebook traffic in Google Analytics, follow the steps below:

Step-1: Navigate to All Traffic report (Acquisition > Source / Medium) in your GA view:

all traffic report

Step-2: Type ‘Facebook’ in the search box on the reporting interface and then press enter. You will then see all of the Facebook traffic:

type facebook

facebook referrals

However, this is not the best way to look at Facebook traffic data every day. So what I suggest is to create a custom channel grouping just for Facebook. Follow the steps below:

Step-1: Navigate to the ‘Admin’ of the main view in GA and then click on Channel Settings > Channel Grouping under the ‘view’ section:

channel grouping

Step-2: Click on the ‘New Channel Grouping‘ button:

channel grouping button

Step-3: Create new channel grouping with the following configuration:facebook channel

Channel Grouping Name: Facebook Channel

Channel Name: Facebook

Define Rules

Source / Medium contains facebook

Step-4: Click on the ‘Done’ button. Your channel group settings should now look like the one below:

facebook-channelStep-5: Click on the ‘Save’ button. Your Facebook channel will now appear in the channel grouping list:

facebook-channel2

Step-6: Navigate to Acquisition> All Traffic > Channels report.

Step-7: Select ‘Facebook Channel‘ from the drop-down menu and then click on the ‘Facebook’ link as shown below:

facebook channel2

You can then see all of the Facebook traffic sources:

facebook traffic sources

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Himanshu Sharma

Digital Marketing Consultant and Founder of Optimizesmart.com

Himanshu helps business owners and marketing professionals in generating more sales and ROI by fixing their website tracking issues, helping them understand their true customers' purchase journey and helping them determine the most effective marketing channels for investment.

He has over 12 years of experience in digital analytics and digital marketing.

He was nominated for the Digital Analytics Association's Awards for Excellence. The Digital Analytics Association is a world-renowned not-for-profit association that helps organisations overcome the challenges of data acquisition and application.

He is the author of four best-selling books on analytics and conversion optimization:

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