Referrers are a poor way to attribute traffic from social sharing.
Referrer analysis is based on the outdated metaphor of the web as a network of links between static pages that could only be navigated by browsers. Today’s web is built around social streams and other APIs that are consumed via dynamic web applications, desktop clients, mobile apps, and even other web services, all of which render referrers obsolete as an attribution mechanism.
And in the case of links shared on Twitter, it’s very misleading: the referral traffic one sees from Twitter.com is less than 25% of the traffic actually driven by Twitter.
Twitter is the perfect storm for referral traffic
We looked at awe.sm data from the first 6 months of 2011 spanning links to over 33,000 sites, and the numbers were astounding:
only 24.4% of clicks on links shared on Twitter had twitter.com in the referrer;
62.6% of clicks on links shared on Twitter had no referrer information at all (i.e. they would show up as ‘Direct Traffic’ in Google Analytics);
and 13.0% of clicks on links shared on Twitter had another site as the referrer (e.g. facebook.com, linkedin.com).
We need better social plumbing for the social, liquid web. We need to measure the ripples spreading — a measure of flow through social networks — not the number of links in pages referencing other pages.