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My community has grown in fits and starts over the years. There are long lulls of a stable user base, then we get an influx of users over the course of 3-5 days. Some of those users end up sticking around and the stable user base grows a bit and enters another lull. The process repeats several weeks or months later.

The problem is, I have no idea where these influxes of users are coming from. I'd love to reach out to the areas of the internet they come from, but I don't know where to reach.

We've tried talking to the various waves of users, but no one really remembers how they ended up here in the first place. Once and a while someone can point to a Facebook post or a Twitter message where we are mentioned, but so far none of those have been posted around new waves.

How can I track inbound traffic and user retention so that we can plan our out reaches?

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Four things come to mind regarding inbound traffic origin:

  1. Configure Google alerts on the name and URL of your community. That will not give you direct links, but at least you'll notice when and where you are mentioned.

  2. Your site analytics should be able to give you a list of referers, i.e. the previous URLs where your users came from. This may be the most direct indicator.
    E.g. to do this in Google Analytics read these articles

  3. If your website analytics software does not already do this for you: Convert the IP addresses of your users to country location. Very rough, but again, at least it's some info.

  4. Several software packages are able to count/list pingbacks from the referer information. If you e.g. use Wordpress, this supports them.

As far as user retention is concerned, again, web analytics software usually can give you the percentage of repeat visitors. The precision depends on what the software tracks - it can be very crude like only IP address (lumping all visitors behind a router together as one), but they often use better tracking (cookies or browser fingerprinting) to distinguish actual individuals.

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  • I thought about the referrers, but it doesn't seem that reliable to me. Or it's not a path to exactly where the community was mentioned but instead just the generic top level domain (facebook.com. That isn't helpful). I will dig some more into the analytic platform we do have. Maybe there is more to it than I realized. It seems most of your suggestions revolve around that. Thank you. – Mary McOwen Dec 13 '16 at 20:42

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