How to Track Instagram as Social Traffic in Google Analytics

Although I spend most of my work time at my laptop, I love paper notebooks.  I’m a fan of the bullet journal technique, and when I started to get back online again I was inspired by Kara of Boho Berry, a popular bullet journal blogger, to set up a blog journal like hers.  It’s a pleasant, grounding way for me to keep track of all the tasks I have to do, and to celebrate achievements as they happen.

When I saw Kara mention in last month’s stats roundup some problems she was having with Instagram traffic in Google Analytics, it got me thinking.

Google doesn’t count Instagram as social traffic

The fundamental problem is that Google doesn’t count Instagram traffic (i.e. from clicks on the link in your profile) as “Social” traffic.

This means you can’t find Instagram in your Analytics reports under Acquisition -> Social, alongside Facebook, Twitter, and all the rest.  If you have conversion goals set up, the handy Social Value analysis excludes Instagram conversions, so you can’t easily see how much value Instagram’s bringing to your site through either contributed or last-click conversion goals.

screenshot of the social overview report in Google Analytics
The extremely handy Social Overview report in Google Analytics. The numbers here are ludicrously small because my site hasn’t launched yet!

Why on earth doesn’t Google count Instagram as a social network? It’s most likely because Instagram traffic almost always comes on a mobile device, and happens in such a way (launching Safari from within the Instagram app, on my iPhone) that it doesn’t pass a referrer from one app to the other.  With no referrer, Analytics can’t tell where the visitor came from. This is part of the problem known as “dark social” in the analytics world.

If a social network has a huge preponderance of dark social traffic, Google probably won’t bother showing it in the social report, as the figures would be zero or close to it. You might get a rare click from an Instagram profile on the web, but the numbers would be misleadingly low and probably cause more confusion than they’re worth.

So, although Google’s failure to show Instagram social traffic is explicable, it’s really frustrating, especially for those with large Instagram followings.

The simple Instagram landing page technique

Kara, who has 54,200 Instagram followers, cares a lot about how much traffic she gets from that channel.  She linked to a simple solution to the problem from Elle & Company Design. The steps, in short, are:

  1. Create an Instagram landing page on your site, but don’t link it from anywhere else on your site.
  2. Tailor the content for Instagram visitors, eg. display recent blog posts and a newsletter subscription form. Focus on mobile-friendly design.
  3. Link to it from your Instagram profile.
  4. Visits to this page, from Instagram, will show up under Behaviour -> Content -> Landing Pages in Google Analytics.

This is great!  It means you can see how many people visit your site from Instagram, as well as other stats like bounce rate, or which pages they visited next.

On the other hand, there are some downsides to this system.

Firstly, you can’t be 100% sure that people came from Instagram.  Your page might wind up accidentally linked somewhere else, or find its way into the search engine results.

Secondly, you have to go to two different places to find your social stats: Behavior -> Content -> Landing Pages for Instagram, and Acquisition -> Social for everything else. This makes it hard to see Instagram traffic in the context of social traffic overall.

I set out to find ways to fix, or at least improve, both of these problems.

Improvement #1: Reduce the risk of non-Instagram traffic to your landing page

You only want traffic that actually comes from Instagram to count as Instagram traffic, right? One important step, not covered in the “simple” landing page solution, is to make sure that your Instagram landing page won’t end up in search engines.

To do this, I use the Yoast SEO WordPress plugin, and use the settings on the landing page’s edit screen to set “Meta Robots Index” to “noindex”.

Yoast SEO noindex screenshot
“Noindex” means that search engines won’t index this page, so it won’t show up in search results.

This will seriously reduce the likelihood of your landing page getting out into the wild somehow, and of you winding up with misattributed Instagram traffic in your analytics. Easy peasy!

Not using WordPress? This isn’t a WordPress-specific feature. You can set the meta noindex tag using whatever method works, from directly editing the HTML to using whichever features your website publishing platform offers.

Improvement #2: getting Instagram traffic to show up in Analytics’ social media report

This turned out to be way easier than I thought it was going to be!  The key is campaign tracking., which you probably ought to be doing anyway to reduce your “dark social” traffic.

Here’s how.  First, create a campaign tracking URL with the following settings:

  • Website URL = your landing page
  • Campaign medium = social
  • Campaign source = instagram.com
  • Campaign name = instagramprofile

You should end up with a URL something like http://example.com/instagram/?utm_source=instagram.com&utm_medium=social&utm_campaign=instagramprofile

Next, use the Redirection WordPress plugin to create a 301 “Permanent” redirect so that anyone who comes to your landing page is redirected to that tracking URL.

instagram redirection screenshot

 

Save the redirection and test it by clicking on the link from Instagram.  Your browser should redirect you to the campaign tracking URL.

[well]Not using WordPress? You can create a 301 redirect using your .htaccess file, or whatever other method your website supports.  For bonus points, you might use mod_rewrite to only do the redirect if the referrer is blank, indicating dark social traffic; if your landing page accidentally gets linked from somewhere else, this will avoid categorising clicks from there as being from Instagram.[/well]

Now, when you go into Google Analytics, you will find Instagram listed alongside Facebook, Twitter, and other social networks under Acquisition -> Social.

If, hypothetically, another social network comes along that’s not showing up in Analytics’ social report, you can go through the same steps again.

Enjoy!

Final note: when I posted about this on inbound.org, several people asked why it was necessary to set up an Instagram landing page.  After all, you could just create a campaign tracking URL linked to your site’s homepage and use that in your Instagram profile (perhaps using a shortener like bit.ly first to make it less lengthy).  That will certainly work!  However, there are enough benefits to having an Instagram landing page anyway, such as creating content targeted to Instagram visitors, that it would be worth doing even if you didn’t set up the campaign tracking redirect. Landing page and campaign tracking, together, make it extra powerful.

7 thoughts on “How to Track Instagram as Social Traffic in Google Analytics

  1. I’m assuming the campaign tagging would create a more complete/accurate counting than you already get in “Acquisition->Referrals?” Otherwise, why not simply use the latter?

    1. Doug, Instagram doesn’t show in Acquisition->Referrals because Instagram doesn’t send a referrer header. Quoting the post:

      “Instagram traffic almost always comes on a mobile device, and happens in such a way (launching Safari from within the Instagram app, on my iPhone) that it doesn’t pass a referrer from one app to the other. With no referrer, Analytics can’t tell where the visitor came from. This is part of the problem known as “dark social” in the analytics world.”

      Even if it did, the benefit of my technique is that all your social traffic now shows up in one place (Acquisition->Social) rather than having to dig for it in two places. You also get the benefit of reports such as contributed conversions, pictured in my blog post, which doesn’t exist for Acquisition->Referrals.

  2. This is one of those rare gems that you find online, read it, think of yourself “why didnt I think of this before?” and then you look for the social sharing buttons to share with your followers the freshly acquired intel.

    and look …

    and look …

    and look 🙂

    PLEASE add social sharing to your blog.

    Have a great week!

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