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

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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 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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