As Twitter has become an increasingly important part of the media strategy for content producers such as newspapers, TV networks and other media players, measuring the impact of a tweet has become even more important — so that those companies can show that spending time on Twitter has actual business value in terms of driving traffic and engagement. Until now, using analytical tools like Bitly’s link-tracking and Chartbeat’s dashboard have been the only way to do this, but Twitter has just thrown its own offering into the ring: an analytical tool-kit the company announced on Tuesday that can track tweets and links across the network.
In many ways, what Twitter is releasing — in a rollout that will see certain corporate partners of the service get access to the analytics, followed by a broader public launch over the next few weeks — is Twitter’s version of the analytics that Facebook provides for users of both its pages and the ubiquitous “like” button. Just as brands and publishers use those tools to track who is engaging with their content via Facebook, Twitter’s dashboard shows who is interacting with a site’s content either by tweeting or retweeting a link to it, or by using the Twitter button the company offered for websites and publishers since last year.
How effective is a Twitter link?
The analytics rollout clearly seems intended to demonstrate just how effective Twitter is for publishers and content creators when it comes to distributing their content and engaging with users. That’s undoubtedly a big part of the company’s marketing effort for brands and advertisers as it continues to roll out ad-focused features such as Promoted Tweets — which Twitter said on Tuesday will be coming to users’ timelines soon (based on algorithms that try to determine which promoted tweets are most relevant to a particular user’s interests).
The analytics are a direct result of Twitter’s acquisition in July of a small Y Combinator-funded startup called BackType (founded in Toronto), which provided a lot of the kind of tracking and analytical tools that are now being offered as part of this rollout. In a blog post at the Twitter blog, BackType co-founder Chris Golda described the company’s reasoning behind the new offering:
Twitter is a powerful platform for websites to share their content, and drive traffic and engagement. However, people have struggled to accurately measure the amount of traffic Twitter is sending to their websites, in part because web analytics software hasn’t evolved as quickly as online sharing and social signals.
The reality is that a lot of analytical tools still don’t take into account the kind of social activity that occurs on Twitter, even though that activity drives a significant amount of traffic and engagement for websites — according to a presentation by the company’s director of web business development at Disrupt, the network drives 100 million clicks a day at sites across the web. Traditional tools such as Google Analytics, comScore and Omniture can track pageviews and hits, as well as a user’s activity within a site, but they fail to capture the kind of social link-sharing that occurs on Twitter and Facebook.
Building on Twitter’s link shortener
That’s why many publishers have turned to services such as Bitly and Chartbeat to do this, so that they can see who is interacting with their content in real-time (Chartbeat also recently launched a news-focused service called Newsbeat with even more Twitter-related features). Bitly has had built-in analytics for links that are shortened using its service for some time, which was a big part of the reason why many websites and publishers used it to shorten their links when they started using Twitter.
Last year, however, Twitter started rolling out its own link shortener (t.co) and “wrapping” all links on the network — even those that had already been shortened by another service — with the t.co shortener. This was an obvious move into the territory occupied by Bitly, which pioneered the link-shortening business (a product of John Borthwick’s New York-based Betaworks incubator, as is Chartbeat). Twitter said that it didn’t launch the service to try and take over Bitly’s business but to offer a consistent experience for links, and to cut down on malicious links and other spam (for its part, Bitly has said that it is doing just fine without being the default link shortener on Twitter).
One obvious outcome of the introduction of the t.co shortener, however, was that Twitter gained control over all the links passing through its network as part of the more than 200 million tweets that get sent every day, and therefore was able to start tracking and analyzing that data, as a way of showing just how valuable Twitter can be for content creators. Because many users are posting with different clients and through a variety of third-party services, it has been difficult to get a true picture of how big a role Twitter plays in terms of driving traffic and interactions with content.
The new analytics dashboard will make it very obvious how effective (or ineffective) Twitter is, including showing which links were getting the most activity and when. While it may not directly impact Twitter’s revenue — since the company is offering the service free of charge, and will also be rolling out an API that allows other services to integrate Twitter tracking — it is clearly a big part of the company’s pitch to advertisers and content companies that its network needs to be a crucial part of their online strategy.