Does Twitter really want content sites to know how much traffic it drives?

Microblogging service's new analytics tool promises to offer clearer picture of referrals

I've been on Twitter, personally and professionally, for about four years now.

I was an early and enthusiastic champion of the service in the workplace, putting together long "how to" primers for co-workers on a corporate intranet, and getting into public arguments with cynical colleagues regarding Twitter's potential value.

Yet as a "content professional," I've always been disappointed by the low amount of traffic Twitter has driven to my personal and work blogs. We're talking about maybe 2% of the total.

It's not because I don't use it enough -- I tweet everything I post -- nor is it because I'm unaware of the little tricks you can use (hashtags, etc.) to get your tweets read beyond your own follower base.

I can't tell you how often I've been excited to see a linked tweet get bounced around the Twitterverse, only to become disappointed when the traffic generated turns out to be a small fraction of the retweets.

The obvious reason is that people frequently will retweet something with a link without ever actually clicking on the link to read the content. For them the tweet is enough.

I do that all the time. Everyone who's reading this has done the same thing. It's not a crime or a breach of Twitter etiquette. We're all busy.

But as someone who would really like to see Twitter push traffic to my content, it's a real comedown.

I've discussed this with many other people in online publishing, and I've never had anyone tell me Twitter is a big source of their traffic. Not a single one. Most still cite Google as the No. 1 traffic referrer, by far, while some swear by Facebook.

Twitter maintains that content producers aren't getting an accurate view of traffic referrals from the microblogging service because tools haven't been available to properly reflect the traffic generated by Twitter (possibly in part because of the numerous platforms and link-shortening services people on Twitter use). That may be; I honestly don't know.

The company hopes that its new Web Analytics tool will help content sites get a clearer (and more impressive) picture of how much traffic is driven by Twitter. In a blog post introducing the service, Twitter's Christopher Golda writes that the "product provides three key benefits":

* Understand how much your website content is being shared across the Twitter network

* See the amount of traffic Twitter sends to your site

* Measure the effectiveness of your Tweet Button integration

Most content producers will get a chance to test Twitter Web Analytics "within the next few weeks," Golda writes, after the tool is rolled out to a small pilot group.

I'm anxious to see what it tells us, though I'm not terribly optimistic because Twitter by nature encourages extremely brief and shallow interactions -- not a criticism, a characterization -- similar to overhearing or participating in cocktail party chatter with strangers, or channel-surfing with a TV remote.

The danger for Twitter here is that the new analytics tool will confirm the worst fears of content site publishers. And for a company struggling to build a viable revenue model, that wouldn't be a good thing.

We'll find out soon enough.

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