Whodunnit?? Discovering Who Your Referrals Are

Discovering Referral Traffic in Google Analytics
I can remember being a kid and walking over to a neighbor’s house with my Dad to drop off the name and phone number of a company who had recently taken down some trees in our yard. Our neighbor had one that was pretty beaten up after a recent storm and he knew from talking with my dad that the company had done good work. A week or so later I watched out my window as the company we had used took that old tree down out of our neighbor’s yard and then proceeded to come to our door to thank my dad for recommending them. That was my first introduction to the world of business referrals … build relationships, do good work and get more business.


While the model of business hasn’t changed over years, the way we obtain referrals and the way we track them certainly has.The advances in technology over the last (2) decades have brought about some extremely advanced programs that can be used to track and provide details on websites delivering referrals to your website. Today we are going to dig into probably the most widely used, Google Analytics. In this post, we will show you both the multiple different ways to access referral information as well as some of the more detailed items you can glean from this program.

To start, let’s take a look at the various ways to access referral information within the program itself. The following examples are assuming you have created a Google Analytics account and have had the appropriate tracking code in place on all pages of your website (at least all of the pages you want to track).

OPTION 1: Channel Access to Referral Data
One of the most basic aspects to view inside of your Analytics Account is the Channel breakdown detail located under the ‘Acquisition’ section. This section provides general details on each of the specific Channels from which you have received traffic over the period of timed you have selected. While this is not the most direct way of obtaining referral details, it does give you a high level overview in the context of all channels providing traffic to your site. This section is accessed here (also shown in the image below): Acquisition> All Traffic> Channels


If you select this section and you do NOT see ‘Referral’ as an option, this means you have not received any referral traffic over the selected period of time. While this is uncommon, it is possible. This section will include all traffic from social channels such as Facebook and Twitter as well as any other sites you may be listed on or who may be sharing your content.

OPTION 2: Direct Access to Referral Data

Another, more direct method of obtaining details regarding referral traffic to your site is located here (also shown in the image below): Acquisition> All Traffic> Referrals


Both this direct route and the before mentioned display provide acquisition, behavior and conversion information on all traffic received via all offsite sources (with the exception of organic or social sites which are located in their own categories).

While these are the most direct and easy to use methods of obtaining referral information, they are also the most basic information provided. For those more comfortable with using the platform, there are ways to obtain additional, more detailed information. For example, while viewing the Referrals section, you can choose a Secondary Dimension to view such as ‘referral path’. Having this information can make discovering content and location of offsite links, etc. much easier.

Things to Remember:

While this data can be super useful for determining ROI, demographic details and more, it can also be manipulated so it should be monitored and cleaned on a regular basis. Fortunately, Google Analytics has tools in place that you can use to help manage this process fairly easily.

The first thing to do is to put filters in place that will help eliminate the traffic from any reporting in the future. Setting up a filtered view (see more details here) allows you to view your full traffic information without the numbers and details being tainted by false or malicious referral sites. While this is a great tool to put in place, it will only help with viewing traffic/referral details moving forward from the day you install them.


The second feature to put in place is the use of Segments. Segments allow you to view future AND historical data without being tainted by data coming from negative or useless referral sites. To find out more about setting up Segments, view Google’s detailed instructions.


Hopefully the data provided here will help you better understand both how to obtain referral traffic details as well as how to make the most of it and to help it be as precise and helpful as possible. And if you need a little help navigating your analytics, let us help.