by Doug

25/02/2011

Internet Marketing

How Self Referrals Harm Your Web Analytics Data

Google Analytics? Check. Multiple or Subdomains? Check. Tracking code working properly? Erm…

If your website uses Google Analytics and has multiple domains or subdomains and your cross domain or subdomain Google Analytics tracking code is not set up correctly you will see ‘self referrals‘. Self referrals are really quite bad: they will harm the quality of your Google Analytics data and will prevent you from seeing the value of your traffic sources.

What is a self referral and why is it bad?

Assuming you have two sites under two domains: a.com and b.com where a.com is your store front and b.com is where payments are processed, a self referral will show up in your Google Analytics data as a.com appearing as a traffic source. Fine, you think, I know visitors go from a.com to b.com to pay for goods so what’s the big issue? Well, as users go from a.com to b.com, the original traffic source the user came to the site from will be replaced with a.com as a referral.

This is quite bad if you’re using paid traffic sources to drive traffic to your site. Any returns from investments made in your AdWords will not show in Google Analytics. You won’t see who those genuinely hot referral sites are and you won’t see what keywords users are using to find your site on Google/Yahoo/Bing. This lack of visibility is not good for measuring your return on investment and will hamper optimisation efforts.

In simple terms you want to know what advertising = sales. With self referrals this information is lost.

How do I fix self referrals

The causes of self referrals can vary and can be tricky to solve. There are plenty of resources out there on the interwebs to help or you can give us a call on 0845 5000 408 to see if we can help. Dudes, srsly, if you have this problem get it sorted!

Case Study

One of our clients had a serious self referral problem. They couldn’t accurately attribute goal conversions to traffic sources (advertising). The value from their Adwords investment was invisible. We identified the causes and fixed them. Now, look at the difference it made to the data. The screen shot below shows three sparkline graphs from Google Analytics from the Traffic Sources report. Notice how half way along the graph line the referring sites traffic diminishes and the direct and search traffic increases? This did not happen by chance. This is when the self referral issue was nailed:

Having nailed the problem, the goal conversion can be correctly attributed to the right traffic source. It turns out AdWords is actually a really hot source of conversions! The keyword insights from the traffic sources report were pretty enlightening too.

Fixing your self referrals problem could tell you exactly what ROI you’re getting from your advertising

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