What You Can Learn from Referral Paths in Google Analytics

If you’re looking at your traffic sources but not really digging in to them, you could be missing out on some insightful data about where your traffic is coming from. Referral paths can be messy, but they hold the key to the most popular tweets, influencers, and content for your business. In this post, we’re going to look at a few referral paths you should check out to learn more about specific traffic sources.

What Are Referral Paths?

In Google Analytics, when you view your Referrals under Traffic Sources, you see the main domains that traffic to your website originated from.

traffic sources referrals

When you click on any of these source domains, you see the specific pages where people found your links and clicked on them. These are the referral paths.

referral paths

While not all of these will be terribly informative, some do hold additional specific information about where your traffic is coming from.

Why not use UTM parameters?

I know one question that is going to pop up in your mind is “Why not use UTM parameters?” I agree, UTM parameters are the best way to find out exactly where your traffic is coming from, but those are available to you only when you are the one who places the link. If someone else uses your link in a tweet, post, group, etc., they probably won’t tag it for you. Hence, reviewing referral paths is a good strategy to use as a backup for finding out about links you can’t tag with UTM parameters.

Tweets on Twitter

Which tweets drive the most traffic to your website? Who tweets them? The answer is in the referral paths. Start by going to Traffic Sources > Sources > Referrals and clicking on t.co. There, you’ll find the following.

referral path

Not too interesting, right? But don’t worry, there’s a way to figure out which tweets these came from. The Campalyst Tweet Lookup Plugin is a Google Chrome extension that changes all of these ugly t.co referral paths into actual tweets. This plugin is $5 a month (unless you want to analyze only 5 days worth of data at a time).

While it doesn’t gather information for most tweets before the plugin was installed and connected to your Google Analytics account, it will work going forward. Until then, your t.co referral paths will look like this.

catalyst tweet lookup

How to Use This Information

Finding out which tweets are driving the most traffic to your website will help you identify your strongest and most influential brand advocates on Twitter. Be sure to thank them regularly when they tweet your content, and build a relationship with them so that they continue to do so.

Pins on Pinterest

You know how to find out which images from your website are pinned most often using the following URL and replacing domain.com with your domain…

http://pinterest.com/source/domain.com

But which pins actually drive traffic to your website? Now you can find out by going to Traffic Sources > Sources > Referrals and clicking on pinterest.com. There, you’ll find the following.

referral path pinterest

Except for the one labeled offsite, you can click on the outgoing link icon next to each to see the pin that drove traffic to your website.

How to Use This Information

In addition to thanking the Pinterest users who shared your image, you can use this to see what types of images get pinned. These are the types of images you will want to use again or replicate in the future. You also can encourage Pinterest users to click through to your website.

Which Images Rank in Google Image Search?

Curious about which images rank well in Google Image Search and drive traffic to your website? This one isn’t an exact science, but it will point you in the right direction. Start by going to Traffic Sources > Sources > Referrals and clicking on google.com. Then click on the /imgres referral path. Use the secondary dimension dropdown and select Landing Page under Traffic Sources. There, you’ll see the following.

referral path google images

You can click on the outgoing link icon to see the page on your website receiving Google Image Search traffic. Assuming you don’t have a dozen images on the page, you can see the image that is getting clicks.

How to Use This Information

Analyze the types of images that people click on so you can use them again or replicate them in the future. Also, look at how you optimized the image for search using specific keywords in the filename, alt text, or caption.

Posts on Blogs

If you market your business on other blogs through guest blogging, blogger outreach, or blog commenting, you’ll want to know which posts and activities bring you the most traffic. To find out, go to Traffic Sources > Sources > Referrals and click on the blog’s domain. There, you’ll see the following.

referral path blogs

Click on the outgoing link icon to see the posts where your site is linked and the activities that are driving traffic back to your website.

How to Use This Information

Besides noticing what strategy works best for your business, look at the specific ways you link to your website. Does one anchor text phrase work better than another? Did a link to your opt-in page get more clicks than a link to your homepage? Be sure to format future posts similarly to drive even more traffic.

Content on Social Voting Networks

If you submit your content to sites like Reddit, Digg, or other niche social bookmarking sites like Inbound.org or Blog Engage, then you’ll want to know not only which pieces receive the most votes, but also which pieces get the most click-throughs. To find out, go to Traffic Sources > Sources > Referrals and click on the network’s domain. There, you’ll see the following.

In the above example for referral paths from StumbleUpon, you’ll notice that a good majority come from a generic refer.php URL. But beneath that, you’ll see some specific URLs from your website that drive traffic from StumbleUpon.

Of course, some networks don’t get that specific. As another example, Reddit’s referral paths show only subreddits (categories) that your content was posted to.

referral paths reddit

Delicious, on the other hand, sometimes shows the users who have bookmarked your content.

referral paths delicious

How to Use This Information

While you might not always find out which pieces of content drive traffic back to your website from social voting / bookmarking networks, you will find out additional valuable information you can use in a social bookmarking strategy. For example, on Reddit, you’ll know which subreddits to post in. And, on Delicious, you’ll know which users have influence.

Additional Referral Paths to Investigate

Depending on the ways you market your website online, you’ll likely have a lot of other referral paths to dig into to learn more about the sources of your traffic. Here are some additional ones to check out.

  • Questions on Quora – If you notice traffic coming from Quora or other Q&A networks, click through to see the referral paths and find out what questions / answers drive the most traffic. This will help you target your activity on Q&A networks to the types of questions that will get people to your website.
  • Threads on Forums – Got a link in your forum signature? Find out which threads you comment on lead to the most visitors, and keep participating.
  • Categories on Directories – If you submit your website to directories that allow you to post a link in multiple categories, find out which categories drive the most traffic so you can aim for those categories on other directories.

There are lots of great ways to learn more about your traffic by drilling down to the referral paths. What have you learned from your referral paths?

About the Author: Kristi Hines is a freelance writer, professional blogger, and social media enthusiast. Be sure to sign up for her free mini-training course, 8 Days to Promotable Content, and learn how to create content that people love to share! You can also find her on Google+ and Twitter.

  1. The Campalyst Tweet Lookup Plugin looks pretty sweet. Do you know how it works with the new way Analytics has been organized?

    Today I logged into Analytics and could no longer see a Traffic Sources > Sources > Referrals > Domain report.

    It’s now buried under Acquisition > Social > Network Referrals. Analytics organizes the report by shared URL, which you have to click if you want to see the Full Referral path.

    Surely there’s an easier way to get to the full referral path, isn’t there?

    • Gotta love it when Google Analytics changes everything up after I put an article live. :) I’m actually going through all of the new stuff now, so there will be a post about where everything moved to next week. :)

    • Hello, Justin!

      Apologies for a slow response (had our heads down addressing the changes in Google Analytics:).

      We have released the new version today, which supports Custom Dashboards and Reports. So instead of looking for referrals just add a Custom Dashboard from Plugin homepage https://www.campalyst.com/plugin.

      Hope you will enjoy it!

      Sincerely,
      Jay

  2. Nice how to info. Thank you for being so detailed!

    Carlin Statnton

  3. Such a solid way to to find new influencers. I know we are working hard on ways to promote content to the places with the most leverage, and finding and growing relationships with people that already share is a great way to do that!

    Thanks Kristi :)

  4. This is quite interesting and informative!

    We have launched a price comparison shopping engine PriceBlaze.com. You will find it cost-effective and pro-active in services..
    People from all over the world are invited to pay a visit to us @ http://www.priceblaze.com

    Thanks,
    Jack

  5. Love this post – the Twitter info is so useful – thx for sharing

  6. Thanks for this informative post. Is there any application/tool, which can do all such analysis for website traffic?

    Digging each aspect and finding details is a difficult task, especially when you have a good traffic coming to your website.

    • You can set up reports / dashboards to pull your referral paths out individually – just do some preliminary research on which ones you want, and then set up a report to pull it automatically. I’m not sure if the tweet lookup plugin would work with a report, but you’d get the rest of the data you’re looking for.

  7. Nice article. Interesting look at information that can be easy to get in the practice of quickly skimming only. I like the use of the Twitter referral URLs.

  8. this is very help full article for me
    I want to ask a question that my traffic is very low before some days plz suggest me some help full articles about this

  9. Great stuff, will have to spend some extra time on Google Analytics but… I really did not know this. Thanks again for sharing!

  10. Primo as always Kristi. I have just started doing the Google Analytics course in their new Academy. It’s not bad, but very general so far. Up to Unit 4. Seems to get into the nitty gritty now. But I guess you probably know most of this by now
    I also tried out some of Ana Hoffman’s free dashboards last night – pretty sweet. Saves me setting them all up!
    keep up the excellent work
    ashley

  11. Kristi, many thanks for mentioning our Tweet Lookup Plugin! We have released the new version of the plugin today and now it supports Custom Google Analytics Dashboards and Reports!

    Happy to give you the access to the PRO version (for free of course!:).

    Sincerely,
    Jay
    CEO and co-founder

  12. Excellent post! Thank you very much for this tips. I had no idea I can get this sources of information on google Analytics!

  13. Is there a way I can see where the person went to next? If they exited or which page they went to next in the funnel?

  14. Hi. Is there a way to determine which of your visitors actually click on an AdSense Ad? It is nice to know where visitors are coming from, but I’m more interested in those that actually click on an AdSense Ad. Haven’t seen this in any of the forums, but I may just be bleary-eyes from staring at the computer all day.

  15. Thanks, It’s a great article

  16. Excellent article, Kristi! I’d always wondered what “google.com” referrals were and after reading your article I just discovered that those hits I’ve been receiving come from Google Images and was even able to determine the actual images themselves!

  17. I want remove referral link to my website. How to do that

26 comments

Please use your real name and a corresponding social media profile when commenting. Otherwise, your comment may be deleted.

← Previous ArticleNext Article →