How to Track Instagram Referrals and Paid Traffic in Google Analytics

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How many times a day do you check your Instagram? What are your friends posting about? Instagram is the world’s dominate photo sharing network — over 500 million people worldwide use it daily to share images and videos with each other. However, there’s more to Instagram than being the world’s largest photo album. Businesses, whatever their size or activity, use the service to engage with their audiences through compelling visuals, raise interest and awareness about the brand, show off their products and tell inspiring stories.

And then, there’s the task of tracking what exactly people do after they click that link in your Instagram profile or hit a button in your promoted post and land at your website. Which leads us to the main question, Can you use Google Analytics for Instagram?

In fact, Google Analytics and Instagram didn’t really go well together up until recently, Instagram traffic ending up under (direct) in Google Analytics reports. The reason was that with mobile or desktop apps, no referrer information is passed in the header, making it difficult for Google Analytics to attribute traffic to apps. If you want to learn more about the causes of inflated Direct traffic, see our other blogpost.

Big kudos to the team behind Google Analytics, for making constant improvements to tracking across mobile apps and websites! It’s been about a year since Google Analytics started displaying Instagram in its reports. Truth be told, and it better be only us who faced this — there’s still a portion of unidentified traffic coming from Instagram. Fortunately for all of us, there’s a solution.

1. Track Instagram traffic in Google Analytics with UTM tags

The most reliable way to measure Instagram traffic in Google Analytics so far is to add campaign tracking parameters (a.k.a UTM tags) to destination URLs. Not only does this apply to Instagram, but also to any external source that’s meant to drive traffic to your website. UTM tagging is a proven practice to ensure that Google Analytics interprets that traffic exactly the way you want it to. Take a look at one of our blogposts for more information.

But let’s get straight to the details, shall we?

For starters, decide where exactly on the website you want your users to land — a homepage, an “About us” page, a certain product card, etc., — the one you think would make the best fit for your goal.

As a sidenote, you may also want to run a special promo, or show the content you consider most useful, for your Instagram visitors only. In this case it would be a great idea to create a dedicated Instagram landing page on your website. If you decide to do so, make sure that this page is mobile-friendly, as most people will open it from within their mobile Instagram apps. Also, use noindex and nofollow to make sure the page doesn’t appear in search engines and people don’t click on it accidentally from anywhere but Instagram.

Next, tag your URL with the following three campaign parameters and their values:

  • utm_source=instagram identifies Instagram, the source of your traffic.
  • utm_medium=social identifies the medium of your traffic. Make sure to use lowercase to ensure that your Instagram traffic goes into what Google Analytics defines as the Social channel. cpc is a typical value to use with paid advertising.
  • utm_campaign=profile provides more specific details about the traffic source or the campaign. You can replace profile with any utm_campaign value you prefer.

Note that Google Analytics is case sensitive: utm_source=Instagram and utm_source=instagram will be reported as different traffic sources. The same applies to all UTM values, and you may want to be consistent in tagging your URLs.

Make sure you separate campaign parameters from the URL with the question mark, and place an equal sign between the parameter and its value. Separate each parameter-value pair with an ampersand.

Sounds complicated? Let the Campaign URL Builder tool do the job for you.

As a result, the full campaign URLs should look somewhat as follows:

  • https⁣://www.mywebsite.com/?utm_source=instagram&utm_medium=social&utm_campaign=insta_profile
  • https⁣://www.mywebsite.com/little-black-dress/?utm_source=instagram&utm_medium=cpc&utm_campaign=sunday_sale
  • https⁣://www.mywebsite.com/about_us/?utm_source=instagram&utm_medium=social&utm_campaign=instagram_profile

When someone clicks on such links, the parameters you add are sent to Google Analytics, and the related data becomes available in your reports.

The described method has only one downside — you’ll eventually end up with a really long URL that isn’t pretty on an Instagram profile. You could use a link shortener, of course, but people often associate shortened links with spam accounts so we wouldn’t necessarily recommend that. Instagram itself may also be cautious about shortened links. What can you do instead?

In order to prevent lengthy, confusing links, your best bet would be to take a 301 redirect approach. In simple terms, you place a pretty, short URL, for example, mywebsite⁣.com/instagram, in your Instagram profile, but whoever clicks on this URL will be forwarded to the link that has relevant UTM tracking parameters in it. If you aren’t familiar with 301 redirects is or how to set them up, talk to your webmasters — they know for sure what to do.

Another benefit of the 301 redirect is that Instagram deems such links more trustworthy than shortened ones, which means less risk of being flagged as a spammy account.

So, now that you’re sure Google Analytics tracks your Instagram traffic correctly, what’s next?

2. Get Instagram advertising cost data into Google Analytics reports

If you’ve ever run an Instagram promotion, you should already know that those campaigns are actually managed from within Facebook Ads Manager. You can see campaign stats in Instagram or Facebook, but what about Google Analytics? That’s where OWOX BI Pipeline steps in. The tool automatically uploads the data about costs, clicks and impressions from Facebook and other non-Google ad services to Google Analytics. This enables you to measure costs and conversions for all your advertising services, including Instagram , side-by-side in your Google Analytics reports. This also means saving a lot of your time whenever it comes to analyzing the ROAS and other advertising performance metrics. Give it a try for free and see for yourself.

Instagram paid traffic in Google Analytics Cost Analysis report

3. Сombine referrals in Google Analytics

If you use Instagram to drive website visitors, and Google Analytics to analyze those visits, you might have noticed that Instagram sometimes splits the traffic into instagram⁣.com and l⁣.instagram⁣.com. The “L” letter appears when users pass through a Link Shim before arriving at your website.

A Link Shim is a tool designed to keep users of Facebook and Facebook-owned Instagram warned of malicious or spammy websites, and to protect their personal information, such as IDs or usernames, from being disclosed in the referrer URL. When sending users to an external website (especially to non-encrypted HTTP websites), Link Shim temporarily redirects them to a non-HTTPS webpage and overwrites the referrer to hide any personally identifiable information. Thanks to this, Link Shim actually preserves the relevant referrer data that would otherwise end up under (direct) in Google Analytics. However, it also leads to Facebook and Instagram traffic being split across multiple referrers in Google Analytics reports. Facebook may also send m.⁣facebook.com and lm.⁣facebook.com, “M” standing for “mobile” in both cases.

If you feel that having multiple referrers for one platform is more hindrance than help to your analytics, you can spruce them up by applying a Search and Replace filter to your Google Analytics view. Here’s how to do it:

Important: Make sure you always have an unfiltered view for each property. Filters are irreversible: once you apply them, you won’t be able to unfilter the data.

  1. In the Admin section, select the view you want to apply the filter for. Click Filters in the column below.
  2. Click +Add Filter and give it a distinct name, e.g., All Instagram Traffic.
  3. Set Filter Type to Custom, and select the Search and Replace option.
  4. Configure the filter as follows:
    1. Set Filter Field to Campaign Source.
    2. Enter (.*\.|^)?[I|i]nstagram($|\.com) in the Search String field.
    3. In the Replace String field, enter Instagram.

      Note: To tidy up Facebook referrals, enter (.*\.|^)?[F|f]acebook($|\.com) and Facebook, correspondingly.

    4. Optional: click the Verify this filter before saving, to quickly see how the filter will work. You might see the “This filter would not have changed your data” message — this merely means that there is no matching data in the 7-day sample of data used for the verification.
    5. Click Save to apply the filter.
  5. Pat yourself on the back for getting neater reports :)

How do you measure Instagram performance? Try merging the data from all of the non-Google services you use, in a single interface with OWOX BI Pipeline.

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