Owned vs. Earned Social Media Traffic in Google Analytics


You just haven't earned it yet babyToday I’m going to show you how to measure your owned social media traffic and your earned social media traffic. First, some definitions:

Owned Social Traffic – a visitor that comes to your site by clicking on a link that YOU shared on a social platform (Facebook, Twitter, etc.)

Earned Social Traffic – a visitor that comes to your site by clicking on a link that someone else has shared on a social platform

Here’s a quick guide on defining paid, owned and earned media that is applicable to what I’ll be talking about.

Tag, you’re it

To be able to measure owned vs. earned, you need to do something special to the links YOU share. You need to tag them with some extra information. So instead of sharing this:


You add some campaign parameters (in a way that Google Analytics recognizes) to indicate the source, medium and campaign. So you end up with one very long URL like below (which we’ll deal with in a moment):


Sources and mediums and campaigns, oh my!

For the utm_source, this is the social network on which you’re sharing the link. So if you’re sharing the link on Twitter, the source is twitter. It’s important to be consistent. These parameters are case sensative – Google Analytics makes a distinction between Twitter (with a capital T) and twitter (lowercase t). If you’re not consistent, you wont be able to easily roll up all of your data from each source into one report.

For the utm_medium, this should be social.

And for the utm_campaign, indicate either a marketing campaign that the tweet is part of, or the type of content you’re sharing. For example, blog posts are often commonly tweeted or posted to Facebook when they’re published, but it’s not necessarily part of a marketing campaign. For tweets with links to blog posts, consider using blog as the campaign.


Once you’ve added those campaign parameters to the URL, you’ll need to shorten it for 2 reasons:

1. So it doesn’t take up precious characters (in the example above, you’d only have 44 characters left for the actual tweet!)

2. So it doesn’t look so ugly. Purely aesthetic.

Bit.ly is a great tool to shorten links (my favorite) and there are many other options out there, like Google’s URL shortener (goo.gl) and ow.ly.

Of course, if you’re doing a lot of sharing on a lot of networks, you won’t want to manually create a unique shortened link for each piece of content that you’re sharing on each social site. That would get tedious and time consuming. Fortunately, I’ve built a tool to do this for you. All you have to do is enter the URL you’re sharing and it automatically creates the shortened links to share on Twitter, Facebook, Google+ and LinkedIn.

You can get that tool here, or read more about how it works on the Tracking Social Media with Google Spreadsheets post.

Reporting owned vs. earned

Once you get in the habit of tagging your own shared social links, you’ll be able to segment them in Google Analytics using Custom Segments. In a second, I’ll share the custom segments with you to do this. Then you can apply those custom segments to your Social Sources report, like below:

Owned vs. Earned Social Media Traffic

This graph shows visits to the site from owned social media in orange, and visits that resulted from other people sharing our content – earned social traffic – in blue. Below the graph we get the breakdown of owned vs. earned for each social source:

Owned vs. Earned Social Media Traffic

This is a great way to begin doing some correlative research to see how your sharing impacts not only traffic to your site, but other people’s sharing of your content.

Here are links to the custom segments. Keep in mind, these will only make sense in the context of the Social Reports, and you have to tag your links to make these work.

Owned Social Traffic

Earned Social Traffic

Check, check, is this thing on

Is this something you care about? Are there other areas of measuring social media that’s you’re more concerned with? Let me know in the comments!


Jim Gianoglio is a Manager for the Analytics & Insight department. He works with implementation, analysis and training of Google Analytics and Google Tag Manager. Before focusing on analytics, he led the SEO campaigns of Fortune 500 companies in the insurance, retail and CPG industries. Things you didn’t know about Jim: he’s biked from Pittsburgh to Washington DC in 41 hours, roasts coffee beans and has done voiceovers for TV commercials.

  • Lauren

    The links to the custom segments for owned and earned are broken!

  • Thanks for the heads up Lauren!

    They should work now 🙂

  • Hi Jim,

    You can actually go a step further this time looking at the Social Media traffic. There are actually four types:
    * Owned – as you said, the links that you shared
    * Paid – links that you are paying for on social media websites
    * Shared – links shared on social media by visitors clicking on a share button
    * Organic – other links shared on social media by people other than yourself.

    The first three should all be tagged as you describe but I would use the source or campaign field to identify the type of social media traffic. Sharing buttons can be enhanced so the URLs automatically contain the GA campaign parameters.

    Using a profile filter, you can identify traffic with a medium of “referral” and a source that matches a regex like facebook|twitter|youtube|etc. The medium for this traffic is then changed to “social media” and the source or campaign changed to “organic social media”.

    Then all of your social media traffic is grouped together under a single medium and you can click through to see the breakdown of it – no need for segments.



  • Wade@Buy Facebook Likes

    A lot of people spread themselves too thin in their social media strategy. I recommend starting out with one platform and using analytics to determine where you can improve. Great informative post.

  • Your spreadsheet tool for creating bit.ly links is really handy. Here’s a Chrome extension that does a similar thing – it reads the URL of the page you are on, lets you add campaign parameters and then transforms it into a bit.ly link, using your own account: https://chrome.google.com/webstore/detail/google-analytics-url-buil/gaidpiakchgkapdgbnoglpnbccdepnpk

  • Santosh

    Google Analytics is best tool to measure 🙂 i always prefer google analytics, its free and impressive

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