Categories
Explainer Public

Google Analytics: Referral Exclusion List

Don’t put gmu.edu in your referral exclusion list!
Doing so will mean that you won’t see referral traffic from any gmu.edu websites.

What is a referral?

A referral is an instance of a user following a link from an external website to your website.
For example, When a user follows a link from example.com to yourwebsite.com that traffic is typically assigned a source/medium of “referral / example.com”

Source/Medium can be Overridden

Changes in source/medium or campaign overwrite previous values. When this happens, Google Analytics automatically begins a new session.

What is the Referral Exclusion List?

Sites on this list are not counted as referrers in cases where they typically would be. If example.com was on your referral exclusion list, traffic arriving at your site from exmaple.com would instead be assigned a source/medium of “(direct) / (none)”.

Ok fine, so now that traffic is direct traffic from the ether, rather than referral traffic from example.com. How does that help?

It makes much more sense when you put it together with another less-known feature of GA…

Direct traffic Does Not Override a Pre-existing Source/Medium Value

Google Analytics will never overwrite pre-existing source/medium values with direct traffic.
This means two things:

  • You traffic will maintain it original source/medium
  • Since the source/medium does not change, the new pageview does not begin a new session.

Summary

Adding gmu.edu to your referral exclusion list is masking referral traffic from other gmu.edu websites, which is probably not what you want for an individual website. You probably think of your site as separate from other gmu.edu websites, and want to see referrals from them.
Adding gmu.edu to the referral exclusion list is appropriate in the case of the university roll-up property, in which we want to treat all Mason sites as “one big site”.

The Problem

The core website analytics had been misconfigured by including gmu.edu on the referral exclusion list.

Compare:
Account: Mason Office of Communications and Marketing 01
Property: www2.gmu.edu
View: [PROD] Default 1.0 (2007-12-12)
Report: Acquisition -> All Traffic -> Referrals
Date Range: June 4, 2017 – June 10, 2017
Notes:

  • This is while gmu.edu was mistakenly on the referral exclusion list.
  • Note that we see no referrals from other mason websites?

Date Range: June 25, 2017 – June 28, 2017
Notes:

  • This is after gmu.edu was removed from the referral exclusion list.
  • Note that we now see referrals from other mason websites,as we should.

Examples

Example 1 – Mason Core Website:

The Mason core website DOES NOT include gmu.edu in its referral exclusion list, because we want to treat it as a separate website from other gmu.edu websites.

Account: Mason Office of Communications and Marketing 01
Property: www2.gmu.edu
View: [PROD] Default 2.0 (2017-06-25)
Date Range: NA
Report: Real Time -> Traffic Sources
Filter: Medium = “Referral” (click to filter)
Notes:

  • We are seeing referral traffic from other gmu.edu websites.

Example 2 – University Roll-Up:

The Mason core website DOES include gmu.edu in its referral exclusion list, because we want to treat all gmu.edu websites as though they were a single, large website.

Account: Mason Google Analytics Roll-Up
Property: Mason Google Analytics Roll-Up
View: [PROD] Mason Roll-Up 2.0 (2015-12-08)
Date Range: NA
Report: Real Time -> Traffic Sources
Filter: Medium = “Referral” (click to filter)
Notes:

  • We are not seeing any referral traffic from other gmu.edu websites.
  • We are seeing the actual original referral information from when the user landed on the first gmu.edu website in their session.
  • Traffic moving between gmu.edu subdomains does not cause the referrer to change, and thus does not start a new session.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *