Google Analytics is unarguably powerful for a wide variety of different forms of website analysis, but step off of your own site and it becomes a little harder to track visitors, where they arrive from, and how they found you in the first place.

Luckily, there are several ways that you can identify social media referrals in your data – and not all of them even need any action on your part in order to set them up.

In-built Social Reporting

Google Analytics’ own in-built social reporting has become much more advanced in recent years, and now includes goal-orientated analysis of social referrals that can help you to decide the value of each visitor.

Simply look under ‘Traffic Sources’ for the ‘Social’ segment, which can give you an overview of the referrals you receive from each social network, the pages viewed by those visitors, and even the ‘flow’ of each visitor through your site, from page to page until they left.

Define goals for your site and you can also see your conversion rate for each social network.

Social Plugins

Of course, social networks are not one-way traffic, and your site might also include buttons to allow visitors to directly share your pages with their friends, fans and followers.

Google +1 interactions are tracked by default, while developers can use the _trackSocial method to add Facebook, Twitter and other button-based social share interactions to their Analytics data.

Once you’ve done this, you can see more clearly how visits to your own site allow individuals to build buzz surrounding your brand, and how social networks work to mediate this and drive more traffic to your site.

Advanced Segments

Advanced Segments are a means of defining specific parameters for your analysis, and can be used not just for social media campaigns, but for any specific promotional activity you may carry out.

The easiest way to create custom segmentation is to append the string ?spref= to the end of your URL, followed by a unique character code – typically tw for Twitter, fb for Facebook and so on.

Use this amended URL each time you link to your site on the relevant social network – so while on Twitter your inbound links might look like http://www.example.com/page.htm?spref=tw, on Facebook you would link to the same page using http://www.example.com/page.htm?spref=fb.

In Google Analytics, you then create an Advanced Segment with the rule Include Page Ends with spref=tw or whatever character code you decided to use.

Apply this to your data, and you can drill down to display only referrals achieved via the relevant social network or promotional campaign – a quick and easy, but powerful way to exclude other traffic without deleting the data, so you can truly see how well your social efforts are working.