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 following so called mobile websites directly through 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 mobile version of Facebook from desktop devices.

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

I concluded that, because 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 desktop.

It is during this time, I discovered the full url of link shim page.

Whenever JavaScript is disabled, you can see the full URL of a link shim page on mouse over 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 a HTTPS website to a HTTP website is not foolproof and referrer can drop during a redirect from a HTTPS website to a 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 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 the 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 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. You 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:


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

Related Articles


What is the difference between Digital Analytics and Google Analytics?

99.99% of course creators themselves don’t know the difference between Digital analytics, Google Analytics (GA) and Google Tag Manager (GTM).

So they are teaching GA and GTM in the name of teaching Digital analytics.

They just copy each other. Monkey see, monkey do.

But Digital analytics is not about GA, GTM.

It is about analyzing and interpreting data, setting up goals, strategies and KPIs.

It’s about creating strategic roadmap for your business.

Digital Analytics is the core skill. Google Analytics is just a tool used to implement ‘Digital Analytics’.

You can also implement ‘Digital analytics’ via other tools like ‘adobe analytics’, ‘kissmetrics’ etc.

Using Google Analytics without the good understanding of ‘Digital analytics’ is like driving around in a car, in a big city without understanding the traffic rules and road signs.

You are either likely to end up somewhere other than your destination or you get involved in an accident.

You learn data analysis and interpretation from Digital analytics and not from Google Analytics.

The direction in which your analysis will move, will determine the direction in which your marketing campaigns and eventually your company will move to get the highest possible return on investment.

You get that direction from ‘Digital analytics’ and not from ‘Google Analytics’.

You learn to set up KPIs, strategies and measurement framework for your business from ‘Digital analytics’ and not from ‘Google Analytics’.

So if you are taking a course only on 'Digital Analytics’, you are learning to use one of the tools of ‘Digital analytics’. You are not learning the ‘Digital analytics’ itself.

Since any person can learn to use Google Analytics in couple of weeks, you do no get any competitive advantage in the marketplace just by knowing GA.

You need to know lot more than GA in order to work in digital analytics and marketing field.

So what I have done, if you are interested, is I have put together a completely free training that will teach you exactly how I have been able to leverage digital analytics to generate floods of news sales and customers and how you can literally copy what I have done to get similar results.

You can sign up for the free training here: https://learn.optimizesmart.com/registration-web-class

I truly hope you find it helpful.  

My best selling books on Digital Analytics and Conversion Optimization

Maths and Stats for Web Analytics and Conversion Optimization
This expert guide will teach you how to leverage the knowledge of maths and statistics in order to accurately interpret data and take actions, which can quickly improve the bottom-line of your online business.

Master the Essentials of Email Marketing Analytics
This book focuses solely on the ‘analytics’ that power your email marketing optimization program and will help you dramatically reduce your cost per acquisition and increase marketing ROI by tracking the performance of the various KPIs and metrics used for email marketing.

Attribution Modelling in Google Analytics and Beyond
Attribution modelling is the process of determining the most effective marketing channels for investment. This book has been written to help you implement attribution modelling. It will teach you how to leverage the knowledge of attribution modelling in order to allocate marketing budget and understand buying behaviour.

Attribution Modelling in Google Ads and Facebook
This book has been written to help you implement attribution modelling in Google Ads (Google AdWords) and Facebook. It will teach you, how to leverage the knowledge of attribution modelling in order to understand the customer purchasing journey and determine the most effective marketing channels for investment.

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 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 which 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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