February 9, 2017
TL;DR version: When you see “?from=timeline&isappinstalled=0″ in your Google Analytics, that means you are getting traffic from Chinese social network WeChat. For the whole story, see the details below.
While examining the channels section of your Google Analytics dashboard, you may have wondered if all those direct visitors actually typed in your URL and navigated straight to your website. You may have also noticed that some of the destination URLs or landing pages for direct visitors had mysterious parameters added to the end of your web page URL. Today I will explain what you need to know about ?from=timeline&isappinstalled=0 in Google Analytics.
The Mystery of ?from=timeline&isappinstalled=0 in Google Analytics
When I first noticed these direct visitors, I ignored them and assumed that they were spammers like the Russian “Secret.ɢoogle.com You are invited! Enter only with this ticket URL. Copy it. Vote for Trump!” guy.
Yet these visitors caught my attention after our direct website traffic spiked. Almost all these new visitors’ destination URLs had this mysterious parameter at the end that started with “?from=.”
I drilled into the data and discovered that 100% of these visitors were on mobile devices. Some of them stayed long enough to read the article, and some of them bounced. In other words, they acted like any other normal visitor.
But who are they? Why did they visit IVANNOVATION.com exactly? And why did they cause my Google Analytics dashboard to record extra parameters after the URL?
So we researched the Chinese sources, and today we will reveal the mystery of ?from=timeline&isappinstalled=0 in Google Analytics to the English-speaking world.
Who are these visitors?
Not only are these visitors not spammers, they are not even direct visitors.
They are social visitors. What social network? WeChat.
WeChat (微信) is a Chinese social network that began as a voice messaging app. Young mobile users, who found typing messages (in Chinese) bothersome, latched onto an app that would allow them to send each other short audio messages using their voices rather than their fingers.
WeChat added social sharing features like those on Facebook, and it ballooned in popularity. Now WeChat has 846 million monthly active users (as of Q3 2016). Compared to Facebook at 1.65 billion monthly active users and Twitter at 317 million monthly active users, WeChat is a major social network on the global stage.
When WeChat users click on your article shared via the WeChat app, your Google Analytics dashboard will display the destination URL with a variation of ?from=timeline&isappinstalled=0 at the end.
What do the parameters mean?
If you look at ?from=timeline&isappinstalled=0, you will notice there are two sections: the ?from= section and the isappinstalled= section.
The string, isappinstalled, means that the user’s device has the WeChat app installed. The value after isappinstalled should always be 0.
There are several variations of the parameters that come after ?from= in the URL. Here is each variation with an explanation.
- message: a user sent a message to another user with a text link and no image (See (A) in the image below.)
- singlemessage: a user sent a message to another user with a link and an image (See (B) below.)
- groupmessage: a user posted a link with an image to a WeChat group (微信群). (See (C) below.)
- timeline: a user posted a link with an image to his or her “Moments” feed (朋友圈). (See (D) below.)
Here are all the variations that we have seen on our Google Analytics dashboard.
So when you see “?from=timeline&isappinstalled=0″ in Google Analytics, you can be sure that these mysterious visitors are not spammers. As a matter of fact, they are real people, interested in your content, and coming to your website from a Chinese social media network.
What types of articles from your website are popular on WeChat? Do you have any special tricks to manipulate how these visitors appear in your Google Analytics dashboard? Please share your ideas below.
Darren Jansen, Business development and content manager for IVANNOVATION has a lifetime love for tech and languages. At IVANNOVATION he helps software developers get professional localization for their apps, software, and websites. On his time away from the office, he can be found hiking the Carolina wilderness or reading Chinese literature.