Quantifying Your Website Activity
5 Tips for Understanding Website Referral Traffic
The first step in gathering website metrics is to install and begin leveraging tracking tools on your website. Google Analytics is arguably the most popular analytics package available for individual site owners and it is offered at no charge. Google Analytics will provide key metrics such as bounce rate, time on site, and pages viewed on your site.
If you have not set up a Google Analytics account for your website, refer to a step-by-step guide for setup. Referral traffic is one of three main statistics tracked by Google Analytics. The others are search traffic, visits from a search engine, and direct traffic to a domain.
Referral traffic is Google’s method of reporting on website visitors that come to your site from sources outside of the Google search engine. When someone clicks on a hyperlink to visit a page on a different website, Google Analytics tracks the click as a referral visit to the second site. The originating site is called a “referrer” because it refers traffic from one place to the next.
- Generating Referral Reports
To view referral traffic sources, first log in to your Google Analytics account. Click the Reporting tab in the navigation panel at the top of the screen. In the left-hand navigation panel, click Acquisition, then All Traffic and then Referrals.
A graph will display showing referral traffic for a one-month period. Below it, a table displays the names of domains referring traffic to your site, as well as statistics on how visitors react to what they find.
A sample Google Analytics referral report follows.
- Building Referral Traffic
Google Analytics helps you track website activity that results from links you build into your website pages, the bookmarked sites you submit content to, your social media posts, and other referral traffic sources. Google reviews the source of each traffic referral and reports statistics about user behavior. Referral traffic also can take the form of tracking code placed on other websites, including banner ads placed via Google AdWords which include a referral code linked to a specific marketing campaign.
- Understanding Referral Tracking
Referral traffic is generated through a website visitor’s browser, so this information is tracked and passed via the HTTP referrer. The referrer identifies which site a visitor comes from as well as where they are currently browsing. When someone clicks on a link to your site, the visitor’s browser sends a request to your server. This request includes a field with data about the last place the person visited. Google Analytics then captures this data and reports it to you as a referral domain (such as Twitter.com or Facebook.com).
- Leveraging Referrer Statistics
Google Analytics presents statistics such as bounce rate (how many people come to your website but leave without spending much time there), the percentage of visitors that are new to your site and the average time spent by users from a given referral source.
According to Google, one way to figure out which traffic source is your best producer is to search for key values that are important to you. For example, if you want readers to view your articles, look at statistics such as pages per visit and total time spent on your site to determine which sources send the best traffic to your site.
- Addressing Spam and Reporting Inaccuracies
Data spam has always generated inaccuracies within Google Analytics reports. The problem is significant as the main impact is on referral traffic–those highly qualified visitors (leads) you receive from building partnerships, affiliate references, and placing links within social media discussions.
When you view the inflated impact on your referral visitors only, spam can account for as much as 50% your reporting results. Refer to an online guide for reducing spam referral traffic for details on how to prevent referrer spamming.
Google Analytics is a comprehensive tool for viewing and utilizing referrer data–adding to your understanding of how customers find your website and what they do once they get there. Once you are familiar with analyzing referral traffic, you can begin identifying which external sources are most valuable in helping your business achieve its goals, proving once and for all which content and marketing channels add the most value.