When it comes to Internet traffic, there are a lot of “rules” going on behind the scenes. These rules allow users to access or display certain information about sites, and also protect users from coming into contact with malicious or spam content. The Facebook Link Shim tool helps to combat this.
Facebook have used the powerful Link Shim tool since around 2008. The way it works is that each time a link is clicked on their site, the link shim will check the URL before directing the user on to the requested link/site. The URL is checked against a continually updated internal list of known malicious links, as well as lists provided by external partners such as McAfee and Google.
Facebook are very conscious that they don’t want to send users to sites, via their own, which are known or suspected as malicious. They also want to protect their users and prevent them from inadvertently displaying personal information. The link shim allows sophisticated real time checks to protect their site users from inadvertently accessing malicious content or displaying their personal information. If a malicious site is detected, an interim page will be displayed in order to warn and protect the user.
If social media traffic is an important part of your marketing and/or eCommerce, then statistics relating to web traffic will be crucial in determining how many visits are coming from social media sites, like Facebook.
For website owners to understand how people found or reached their site, the best way to tell is by looking at the ‘referrer header’. Data is sent between browsers by HTTP protocol. If the data is sent securely, the protocol shows as HTTPS. However, when people are on a HTTPS (secured site) and click a link to a HTTP (unsecured site), the browser doesn’t include a referrer header. A significant number of clicks to HTTP sites will be recorded by Analytics at the destination site as being unknown.
The good news is that an effect of the Facebook Link Shim is that the traffic originating from Facebook is tagged with a referrer header, being Facebook, instead of coming from an unknown source.
Many website owners may have noticed these new referrals showing up since early 2014 when checking their Google Analytics. This is because Google Analytics is now recognising link shim referrals from Facebook, and correctly analysing and classifying the link as originating from Facebook. This gives a more accurate overview of where traffic is originating from for website owners, and in relation to Facebook, whether time and money spent in advertising or marketing is paying off.
However, links are only recorded in Google Analytics if they occur in a straight line. Users who have certain privacy settings or blockers are also sometimes not recorded. As a result, Facebook is more accurate when looking at results.
Ultimately the Facebook Link Shim is there to protect users and provides valuable information via Google Analytics about site traffic. It will enable businesses that use Facebook for advertising and marketing to make better decisions based on a more accurate picture of referral traffic from the site.