If you’re one to check your analytics on a daily basis you may have noticed a pretty sharp increase in referrals from Twitter’s “t.co” domains. We noticed it almost immediately on Wednesday but naively didn’t pay much attention.

A few days later and with the t.co domain suddenly our number no 1 domain source of referral traffic, it was time to pay some attention to exactly what had happened.

What Happened

In the simplest of terms, from last Wednesday, all links (longer than 20 characters) posted on Twitter.com or any Twitter client have been wrapped with a t.co URL. This means all analytics tools are picking up ‘t.co’ as the referrer as opposed to a particular twitter client (Twitterrific, Tweetdeck etc.) or just twitter.com.

Twitter’s public explanation for wrapping all links in a t.co URL is to protect users from malicious sites and scams. The side effect, and Twitter definitely knows this, is that analytics tools will now categorise all traffic from both Twitter.com and all Twitter clients as traffic coming from Twitter. Whereas before it would be divided amongst all the various twitter clients (usually just as “direct traffic”) and specific pages on Twitter.com – never directly from the tweet.

If you haven’t already, I suggest you check which domain has sent you the most traffic since Wednesday – compare Twitter’s T.co vs. Facebook.com vs. StumbleUpon for example – I think many of you will now find Twitter ranks number ONE.

What This Means

Frankly, a lot of things.

Firstly, in the eyes of the media, Twitter is a truly influential source of traffic

Twitter will now be recognised as a hugely influential source of social media traffic. Where as before, because it was only possible to track traffic coming from Twitters web interface, it was impossible to truly measure the impact Twitter brought through referrals. Going forward, you’ll begin to see the influence the entire Twitter ecosystem (and specific tweets) have on the traffic to your site. StumbleUpon and Facebook have duked it out for king of social media traffic but for many sites, that may have just changed… (see next point)

Facebook and StumbleUpon, the battle is on on.

Until now, Facebook and StumbleUpon have commonly been known as the biggest drivers of social media traffic. With this change, my money’s on that changing drastically. Make no bones about it, this is a genius move from Twitter.

Brands and Businesses

For brands and businesses that have yet to see the true value of Twitter, expect to be impressed. Twitter just stepped up and demanded to be noticed. If you weren’t convinced of the physical traffic Twitter drives, you should definitely notice it now.

Twitter might finally launch its analytics product

With this in place, it’s very possible we’ll finally see Twitter’s analytics product launch. And with that, a great way for Twitter to monetize.

Bit.ly and social media analytics tools

This also means tools like bit.ly who market themselves on the analytics they provide will need to step up their game and attempt to provide a far more improved service. One of the benefits of using bit.ly was being able to track traffic from your tweets – in real time. Now, with t.co, that isn’t necessary and you’ll be able to track those links using tools like Clicky (that offers real time tracking). Where there is serious potential for bit.ly and other analytics tools however is in the next point…

Narrowing down which specific tweet brought the traffic and who tweeted it.

You can also now quickly discover which specific tweet – sent by whom – brought that surge of traffic. Doing that before was a really cumbersome process. Simply grab the URL from your analytics, e.g. this one: http://t.co/ISHbpUw and search Twitter with it:

Screen Shot 2011 08 21 at 01.37.36 520x173 Twitter Just Got the Respect it Deserves

This means the ability to detect which tweets and Twitter users specifically sent you the most traffic, a smart area for an analytics tool to venture into. Twitter itself has said “Link wrapping provides an opportunity to learn how users engage with links contained in tweets. After the full t.co rollout is complete and our analytics has crystallized, we’ll be offering a set of APIs that developers can leverage to enrich their applications with gathered data.”

That sort of data is invaluable to publishers and other sites alike to track down who their most influential link sharers/tweets actually are.

Starting to see why this is a game changer and perhaps more importantly,why Twitter just got the respect it deserves?

Thanks to Sean Percival and Dennis Goedegebuure for their contributions to this article.