Advertisers, Watch Your Referrals
At True Interactive, we use tools such as Google Analytics to monitor and measure everything we do. And doing so includes keeping close tabs on referral traffic. Referral traffic consists of visits that come to your site from sources outside of Google’s search engine. When someone clicks on a hyperlink to go to a new page on a different website, Google Analytics tracks the click as a referral visit to the second site. Referral traffic is a recommendation from one site to visit another — like an assist from one basketball or hockey player to another leading to a score.
Referral traffic helps you understand how people find your website. With good referral data, you can understand, for instance, whether your Facebook or Instagram pages are sending traffic to your site (and how much traffic).
But you need to keep a close watch on how Google Analytics measures referral traffic in order to get a true measure. Recently, for one of our clients, we noticed that Google Analytics was reporting a sharp increase in referral traffic from payment sites such as Affirm and Paypal. When we looked under the hood, we noticed that Google Analytics was giving those payment sites credit as the referring sites for customer transactions.
Now, payment sites are essential for a transaction to occur. They make the web more seamless by making online checkout happen faster. Customers making purchases on ecommerce sites probably don’t even notice when they’re referred to a third-party payment site to complete a purchase. But that doesn’t mean Affirm or Paypal should get credit as the referring site. Affirm ensures the purchase happens easily. But Affirm becomes part of the picture after a customer has decided to make a purchase, not before.
Fortunately, we monitor Google Analytics data closely. We acted quickly by adding the third-party payment sites in question to the referral exclusion list, or a list of domains whose incoming traffic is treated as direct traffic (instead of referral traffic) by Google Analytics. We were able to course-correct quickly enough to ensure that we continue to provide our clients accurate data.
The lessons here:
- Watch your referral traffic closely.
- If you find a spike in referrals for third-party payment sites, take a closer look at your referral exclusion list. The payment system might be getting an inordinate amount of credit that another site should be getting credit for.
How closely do you monitor your Google Analytics data?