A simple guide to using Google Analytics to find your most effective social networks.
Many bloggers have fallen into the trap of thinking that if they offer people more social sharing options, then more people will share their content. Well, as we’ve outlined in our previous article, The Paradox of Choice, when you give people more options, they take less action.
This is why we’ve always encouraged our users to choose only the most effective social sharing buttons for their readers. And although this might feel counter-intuitive to a lot of bloggers, all one needs to do is look at some of the most popular blogs in the world and see that they are following this exact advice:
- Neil Patel: 4 share buttons
- The Verge: 4 share buttons
- Mashable: 2 share buttons
- Lifehacker: 2 share buttons
- Gothamist: 3 share buttons
- Smashing Magazine: 2 share buttons
- CoSchedule: 4 share buttons
- Buffer: 3 share buttons
These are sites with massive amounts of traffic and lots of data to help them make intelligent decisions when it comes to getting better results.
Now, there are plenty of sites out there who offer many more share buttons, and that’s just fine for them. If your site is successful at getting people to take action across multiple different social networks, then of course do that.
However, you should always listen to your own data. And in all the cases I’ve seen, limiting the sharing options has led to an increase in sharing and higher volumes of quality traffic.
Quality being the most important word there.
So let’s walk through how you can utilize Google Analytics to find your most effective social networks in order to limit your sharing options and produce better results.
Step 1: Social Traffic Report
The first thing you want to do is determine which social networks are sending you the most traffic. To do this, go to your Google Analytics reporting and navigate to:
Acquisition > Social > Network Referrals
I recommend setting your date range for at least a year so you can see the greater scheme of things. You may have had a big influx from one network in a given month, but not in any other month. So it’s important to get a wide range to see the full picture.
In this report you’ll see a table of social networks sorted by the number of sessions you recieved from each network. This is the first thing you’ll look at.
The number of sessions and pageviews tells you how well your content has been driving traffic on that network. Understanding that every social network has a different culture, this shows you whether or not your content is the right culture fit for a given network.
Secondly, you want to look at the Average Session Duration— this is actually more important than the number of sessions being sent. This metric tells you how long a visitor from that networks stays on your site once they land there.
What you don’t want is to be getting a boat load of traffic that leaves your site after 5 seconds. That’s completely worthless traffic.Don't optimize your website for worthless social traffic. Click To Tweet
What you want is traffic that sticks around long enough to consume your content. So if you see a network that has low Avg. Session Duration, consider it a non-sharing option.
Take note of your top 3 networks at this point. Which social networks are sending you the most session and also have a good relative Avg. Session Duration?
Now, if your #3 and #4 networks are very close in terms of sessions and have a decent Avg. Session Duration, then maybe keep them both in mind as we move on to the next step.
Step 2: Goal Conversions
Now, here’s where the rubber meets the road. Sure, a social network may be sending you traffic and maybe that traffic is even sticking around long enough to consume your content.
Is that traffic converting? Is it growing your email list? Are these sessions leading to sales? Are they sharing your content and growing your reach?
This is how we separate the petty fluff from the important stuff.
First and foremost— you do have Google Analytics Goals set up, right? If not, here’s an article that can walk you through it.
If you have not had them set up until this point, skip to the Total Events section as the following wont be very useful for you.
Since there’s not an easy way to navigate to a report which will show you all we need to evaluate here, I’ve gone ahead and created a Google Analytics Dashboard template that you can apply in a few clicks to get the data we’re going to be looking at here.
Just enter your name and email below and I’ll email you this Dashboard template plus one other that will help you determine the ROI of your social media efforts.
Once you’ve applied this Dashboard template you will see the following widgets active:
- Sessions by Social Network
- Sessions and Average Session Duration by Social Network
- Sessions and Goal Completions by Social Network
- Sessions and Goal Conversion Rate by Social Network
- Sessions and Total Events by Social Network
Since we’ve already covered the first two, we’re now going to focus on the latter three.
Goal Completions and Conversion Rate
The reason you want to evaluate these two metrics is because you may be getting a high number of conversions, but it’s taking you far more sessions to accomplish it.
For example, if you got 100 conversions from Facebook but it took you 10,000 sessions to accomplish that (1% conversion rate), it may not be as valuable a network if you got 50 conversions out of 500 sessions from Twitter (10% conversion rate).
In other words, it may just be easier to drive more traffic from the networks that are giving you higher conversion rates. In the example above, gaining 100 more sessions from Twitter would yield 10 more conversions as opposed to 100 more sessions from Facebook yielding 1 conversion.
In the same vein, if you lost 1,000 visits a month from Facebook that means you’d lose an average of 10 conversions. But to make it up with your Twitter traffic you would only need to get 100 more sessions to make up for the loss.
Are you tracking with me here? Or is that too much math?
Bottom line is, don’t let the sheer volume of sessions or conversions be the sole deciding factors. Take into account the conversion rates each network is yielding.Don't just look at how many sessions a social network sends you, consider the conversions it brings.Click To Tweet
Total Events by Social Network
If you’ve been taking advantage of Social Warfare’s Button Click Tracking feature, you’ll be able to utilize this final metric. If there’s anything that comes close to the importance of conversions, it’s the importance of whether or not sessions are leading to more shares of your content.
In order to scale your efforts beyond your own personal action, you need people to be sharing your content for you. Word of mouth advertizing is 1,000 times better than paid advertising. So you want to be sure that the sessions that are coming in are leading to shares going out—which in turn leads to more sessions coming in.
So I’ve also created the final widget to show you which social networks’ sessions are driving the most share events.
All Things Considered
Let’s take a quick recap of all the data points to consider when evaluating which social sharing buttons to offer:
- How many sessions are each social network sending?
- What is the average duration of those sessions?
- How many conversions are coming as a result of each social network?
- What is the conversion rate of each network?
With all the previous data points considered, you can then make the most educated choice about which social sharing buttons will be the most effective on your site. Our highest recommendation is to limit the options to four buttons or fewer.
However, my challenge to you is this— test limiting your share button options and track your results. Do a 30-day experiment and see what happens if you only offer 3 share buttons. If you’re up for this challenge and track your results, we’d love to hear about it and maybe even highlight your results on our blog!
All you would need to do is benchmark where your stats are at currently and after 30-days look at how they’ve changed. Then you’ll be able to clearly see how this change has impacted your site, whether positively or negatively.
Using this level of data intelligence, you can offer your visitors the most optimal sharing options that will yield, for you, the most valuable results.