Spying on clickthroughs and debunking “influence”

One increasingly important (and uncomfortably cringe-inducing) part of the content marketer’s toolbox is “targeting influencers”. In plain English this means getting your stuff in front of an influential person in the hope that they’ll spread it onwards to their followers.

Influencer targeting can take many forms, and although marketers will tell you it’s the greatest mega-innovation ever, boiled down to basics it’s still just advertising.  Twenty five years ago if Selfridges wanted to market a new handbag they’d “target” Vogue with a fat cheque allowing them to advertise on their pages. Now they’ll target a bunch of popular fashion bloggers with freebies in the hope that they’ll mention them. Same thing, just on a different scale and with different economics involved.

A problem with targeting influencers, however, is that lots of people online are full of shit. Sure, a guy on Twitter might have 100,000 followers, but as we’ve been finding out recently those could have been bought for a few quid. Thankfully, a few of the more popular social services out there give you ways to spy on users’ true influence in terms of their ability to get their followers to interact with content.

Link shortener analytics


Google’s URL shortener has a handy feature whereby appending a ‘+’ to the end of any shortened URL exposes an analytics page, allowing you to see how many times a particular link has been clicked. Let’s take Google’s latest tweet –

So by navigating to goo.gl/FDu0V+ we can see how many times the link has been clicked. As you’d expect from a Twitter account with 5.7million followers and 50 retweets, this link has seen quite a few clicks. The timeline of clicks is also interesting – note the vast, vast majority come in the first 12 hours.

Goo.gl URL shortener


Helpfully, Bit.ly have a similar system to goo.gl, so you can take a peek at a link’s clickthrough stats just by bunging a + on the end. Bit.ly’s analytics are a bit easier to understand than goo.gl’s, and you can easily see the click breakdown by social platform, as well as more detailed timestamps on clicks. Lets take one of Bit.ly’s own links –

So the analytics URL in this case would be bitly.com/12jME5r+, which gives you –

bit.ly analytics

These analytics pages are an often-overlooked feature that can be really useful when determining someone’s true social following, and their influence amongst them. It’s not often you get access to analytical data that isn’t ‘yours’, so make the most of it.

Google+ Ripples

Currently Google+ is the only platform offering this kind of granular tracking of how content spreads. Using Ripples you can literally see the person-to-person path a post has taken while being shared around.

Lets pretend I’m marketing a third-party Google+ app, and I want to find influential people who might want to share it with their audience. This post from Google’s Vic Gundotra about the last update to the official Google+ app was pretty damn popular, with 2,257 +1’s, 335 comments and 619 re-shares.

Click the little options menu on the top-right, and choose “View Ripples”

Google+ Ripples

Which will take you to this rather fantastic tool –

Ripples viewer

Disregard the official Google accounts and what you basically have here is a list of influential people ordered by how many re-shares their post had (size of their circles) – this is their true influence and, unless they’ve been going around setting up sock-puppet accounts, can’t be faked. As you might expect, Amar Gandhi and Brian Glick are both developers who work on Google+. They’re certainly influential, and would probably be interested in an app built on their platform; they’d probably even share it with their followers! I put my marketing hat on and off I go to target them.

It follows that someone who is influential on one network is also popular on others, so you can find people you want to target using Google+ Ripples, then move your activity onto another network. One of the smaller circles, Ronnie Bincer, is a content marketer who, while a bit crazy-looking, has a very active YouTube channel with over a thousand subscribers. Another good target for my imaginary app.

In practice

The rules of logic dictate that if someone has ten times the followers of someone else on a social platform, their links should have ten times the clickthroughs, yes?

The Crunch Twitter account has around 3,800 followers, and a link tweeted this morning (this one) got 18 clicks.

“Only 18 clicks from 3,800 followers?!” I hear you cry – that’s actually pretty good. The Google link above got a clickthrough rate of 0.04%, while the Crunch link managed 0.5%. Only a tiny percentage of followers will click links, and on Twitter this is compounded by the fact that only a selection of your followers will be viewing their stream at any one time.

Another online accounting software provider, Clearbooks, has 36,000 followers – almost ten times that of Crunch. One of their links (this one) managed 17 clicks – one click less than the Crunch link and a clickthrough rate of 0.05%; ten times worse.

If I were looking to target an ‘influential’ cloud accounting software provider this would set alarm bells ringing. A quick run through the StatusPeople fake followers tool (another incredibly handy tool) reveals the probable cause –

fake followers

Less than half their followers are considered “Good” – meaning active accounts with a human being at the wheel. The rest were most likely obtained by some duplicitous means or another, and are just there for bragging rights.

Why is this important?

Google is getting better and better at spotting people gaming the system. Their Penguin and Panda updates last year caught badly-behaved SEOs with their pants down, led to precipitous drops in organic search rankings and in some cases actually destroyed businesses. Not many people saw it coming, and the lesson many people have failed to learn is that if you try to play the system you will be caught and punished eventually. As if to hammer their point home, Google issued a rare warning about fake reviews recently.

Now that it has its toe in the social water with Google+ and social signals are becoming more and more important, it’s only a matter of time before Google takes action on people faking their social profiles. If that social profile is littered with links to your business (i.e. if you’ve inadvertently targeted a fake influencer or, more likely, an agency has lazily done it on your behalf), you can bet your rankings will take a hit when it’s nuked by an algorithm change.

8 thoughts on “Spying on clickthroughs and debunking “influence”

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