Tracking bit.ly (and other short URLs) in Google Analytics

- July 8, 2009

Yesterday, during my normal browsing / question-answering time over on the Google Analytics Help Forum, I ran across a thread where a few folks were not seeing traffic from their bit.ly URLs in their Google Analytics profiles. For those of you who do not know what they are, or might have seen them somewhere before, bit.ly is a URL shortening website, where you can enter in a long URL and make it very short. Websites like bit.ly, SnipURL, Tiny.cc, and several others have become mega-popular over the last few years, as they have become vital in allowing people to share links via Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn. I’ve even started to see them appear in some newsletters and promotional emails as well.

While bit.ly type websites are great, they actually present an analytics tracking challenge. These sites typically redirect users from their website to your destination website, which causes Google Analytics to treat any visitor clicking on one of these links as “direct”, even though they really originated from your Facebook page, your monthly newsletter, or a press release (So technically, not tagging these URLs will also pollute your direct traffic segment, which was our blog post from earlier in the week).

So, what can you do to properly track your shortened URLs in Google Analytics? Take the following 4 steps for short URL tracking success:

1. Grab Your Destination URL – Copy the URL of the page that you ultimately want your visitors to land on.

Example: http://www.website.com/page.html

2. Run it through the Google Analytics Tool: URL BuilderThe URL Builder Tool will append the necessary query parameters to the end of your destination URL. This is the same page that is used when marketers want to track their non-AdWords cost-per-click traffic in GA.

Example: http://www.website.com/page.html?utm_source=facebook&utm_medium=social-media&utm_content=status-update&utm_campaign=social-media-traffic

3. Run your new URL through bit.ly (or your favorite URL shortener) – Copy your newly created URL and paste it into the URL shortening tool – you should now have a very short, but analytics-trackable URL.

Example: http://bit.ly/MrOle

4. Test your short link – Click on your short URL and make sure the long string of query parameters that you copied from step 2 appears in the address bar of your favorite browser. If the query parameters are there – and your destination page has the Google Analytics Tracking Code correctly installed – you should begin to see visits from your short URL in your All Traffic Sources report, within the Traffic Sources section. It’s a bit of a manual process – especially if you have a lot of short URLs everywhere – but it’s completely worth the time that it takes to run them through the URL Builder and appropriately track the visits off of these links in Google Analytics. The hard part will be figuring out what to use for the Source, Medium, and Campaign dimensions, because that is what is going to control how the data appears.

My advice: use a short, common-sense naming convention, and you really can’t go wrong.

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