Understanding Facebook Referral Traffic in Google Analytics – The Link Shim

We’re like white on rice with Google Analytics in our office. Our digital media account managers are consistently measuring our clients’ campaigns — analyzing website traffic and conversions, among other social media-driven KPI data. That’s why it struck us as odd when we began noticing “l.facebook” and “lm.facebook” popping up as traffic referrals to our clients’ websites. We did some research and hope this post helps better explain these two mysterious referrals from Zuckerberg’s empire.

Background on Facebook Link Shim

In 2012, Facebook Security shared a note to better explain the practice of Link Shimming to users. Here are two key takeaways:

  1. The Link Shim was implemented in 2008 to protect users from malicious URLs. For instance, if a malicious advertiser displayed a link on a post or ad and a user clicked it, Facebook would sometimes include a pop-up notification indicating that the page is suspicious.
  2. Another purpose of the Link Shim is to protect a user’s anonymity when visiting websites. Indulge Media explains that users often unknowingly display personal information in their vanity URLs on Facebook. The Link Shim creates anonymity for users visiting websites and allows Google Analytics to track the source of traffic from Facebook.

 

The Facebook Link Shim has played a significant role in Google Analytics and the ROI of social media with regard to where website traffic is coming from. Perhaps you’ve also noticed these same traffic referrals in Google Analytics and wondered what l.facebook.com, m.facebook.com and lm.facebook.com mean, and how they differ from straightforward facebook.com traffic:

Google Analytics

Our 3rd, 6th, 9th and 10th sources of traffic all came from Facebook.

After compiling some research, we’ve come to a few unofficial conclusions about how these different forms of Facebook traffic were actually generated:

  • l.facebook: This is website traffic from a desktop-accessed Facebook post (organic or paid) that was sent through a Link Shim. The “l” stands for “Link Shim.”
  • lm.facebook: The same rule applies as above,only this time users have accessed your website via a mobile device, hence the “m.”

Then why does facebook.com still appear sans “lm.” or “l.”? I make my educated guesses below:

  • m.facebook: The obvious: users have accessed a website through Facebook on a mobile device, most likely using the Facebook Mobile App. However, we are not sure why the “lm.facebook” wouldn’t apply. My guess: with the hundreds of thousands of posts a day on Facebook, maybe the Link Shim tool didn’t scan these posts. Or, maybe it is because the app has its own built-in browser.
  • facebook.com: I speculate that website traffic was directed from a desktop Facebook post or ad. But yet again, I have the same curiosity about Link Shim not scanning these posts. Some SEO experts suggest that this appears in Google Analytics from users browsing under “facebook.com” rather than the secure “https://facebook.com.” This is one mystery we may not know now, but hopefully will in the future. (Stay tuned!)

Your Website Probably Isn’t Malicious

After reading points 1 and 2 under the background of Facebook Link Shimming and learning the origins of l.facebook and lm.facebook, you may be nervous that you’re website page is being deemed “suspicious” by Facebook and deterring visitors from your website. Don’t panic, and keep reading.

The Proof is in the Analytics

Instead of Facebook traffic appearing as “none” or being funneled under “direct” traffic in Google Analytics, Google is now categorizing these traffic sources to help marketers better analyze their various campaigns. It does not mean that your website is “spam city” for visitors.

Interested in learning more on how StrataBlue can optimize social media campaigns to increase your website traffic or other goals? Tweet me at @whatupTUT