Have you noticed that your referral traffic from Twitter has basically completely dropped off since July 2011?
If so, you aren't alone. I was staring in disbelief this week at referrals to our customers from Twitter, trying to understand why it was completely obliterated when I remembered something: this past fall, Twitter started wrapping all links in their new URL shortening service, http://t.co, and in the process (though initially hidden), doubled their credited traffic to our servers!
Many marketers have known for some time that tracking Twitter sources has been elusive using referrer data, with some estimates being as high as 75% unaccounted for:
- mobile and desktop clients (like Tweetdeck) don't show Twitter as the referrer
- RSS feeds, including syndicated tweets appearing on other websites, or newsreaders, don't show Twitter
Of course, there are solutions to track managed Twitter campaigns without using referrer, but they require you to manage the link that gets tweeted. Eloqua customers use query strings and cloud connectors, and there are ways to set this up in many other Analytics packages, too.
So, this August, Twitter introduced a proprietary URL shortening service, called T.co. Every link in every tweet is now goes first through T.co - even if the resulting URL is longer than the original! With this brilliant, if somewhat surprisingly tardy, move, Twitter has killed two birds with one stone:
Bird #1: get credit for their referred traffic. Like it or not, people look at their referral traffic to determine who deserves more of their attention. With up to 75% of their traffic going uncredited, this is sure to be a boon for Twitter's profile amongst content publishers.
Bird #2: start gathering the whos and whats of their click data necessary to roll out Twitter Web Analytics to the masses. Hitherto, Twitter had no sturdy mechanism for tracking who clicked what link and where it went - no longer. Now, Twitter should eventually be able to open up their API to give you data on any link to your site, whether the link was part of your campaign or not.
Of course, there is some collateral damage to this one-time overhaul. Marketers unaware of this change need to change their reports to focus on the new domain. Goals or targets based on previous referral data should probably be revised. URL shortening services need to adjust their business strategy and differentiation. Twitter naysayers need to adjust their arguments, at least numerically.
The story for content producers remains the same: with Twitter now able to provide data not just on hot tweets and hashtags, but hot content and who is interested in it, having great content is more important than ever. Hello again, Twitter!