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How To Extract Value From Google Analytics Referral Paths (The Video)

In this video we are going to answer two questions:

  1. What is a referral path?
  2. How do we use them to help improve our online marketing efforts?

In a nutshell, referrals are simply people that have come from another website to your website. Google Analytics provides a report of referral traffic which helps you easily identify all the online properties that send your website traffic.

So how do referrals help you grow your business? If you are trying build traffic to your online business, you want to know what sources are successful at bringing you valuable traffic and which ones are not. More importantly, referrals tell you what unexpected sources are sending you valuable traffic.

Watch the video below to learn how you can extract this value from Google Analytics referral reports:

More Resources

Video Transcriptions

Harris: Hi, I’m Bryan with KISSmetrics. I’m here to help you get the most out of your Google Analytics account.

Today, we’re talking about referral paths. Not those kind of paths, these kind of paths.

In this video, we’re going to answer two questions. Number one, what is a referral path? And number two, how do we use it?

Let’s get going.

First off. What is referral traffic? Referrals are people that have come to your site from another site.

For example; if you were to type a Google search for brain visualization and you’re to click on the link for KISSmetrics, you’d be taken to their blog and on that blog is a video that I created for them and at the bottom of that video is a link to my company’s website.

If you’re to go to the blog and then click that link and go to my company’s website, that would be your referral. It’s KISSmetrics referring people to Bryan Harris and to video referred.

If you’re then to log into the Google Analytics back end of my website, you would see, the KISSmetrics blog, referring to this specific page.

That’s all referral is. It’s simply telling you that people have visited your site and showing you where they originated from.

That’s cool and all but how does this help you grow your business? If you’re trying to build traffic to your business at all, you want to know which sources are successful and which ones aren’t.

If you’re sinking a lot of time and effort and energy into creating a series of YouTube videos, you want to be able to track and see if those videos are sending leads and traffic back to your actual website.

Your referral path reports will send you expected sources, but will also send you unexpected sources. If there was a new story that was written or there is a product review given that you didn’t know about, or perhaps there was a popular blogger who picked up your site and started writing about it, your referral path reports will tell you that.

If you want to investigate a traffic source, you can click a source domain to see the specific pages in that domain that are driving traffic.

In our earlier example; you can see KISSmetrics referred traffic to my blog. If we click the domain, we can see the exact page inside of KISSmetrics site that did the referring.

Let’s look at two other specific examples of how we can use this data to help increase the amount of traffic we get to our site.

First, let’s look at Twitter.

Have you ever stopped to analyze what tweets you send out that get the most traffic to come back to your website? Have you ever analyzed what other people out there are tweeting links to your site and driving traffic that you don’t even know about? The answer to this is in the referral paths report.

To find it, start by choosing the home button in the upper left hand corner of your Google Analytics account. Choose the profile that you want to analyze. Choose Acquisition and then All Referrals.

Everything with the URL is a referral from Twitter. You can click that URL to drill down even further. Twitter unfortunately doesn’t play super nice with Google Analytics. You’ll need to install a free browser plug in called Campalyst. After setting this up, you’ll be able to see the exact person and tweet that sent traffic your way.

What do you do with this information?

Let’s suppose you check your referral path report and found that in Twitter, some random guy named “Todd”, has retweeted or sent out a link to your last blog post. That one tweet drove a hundred people to your website. You could then reach out to Todd, thank him for his tweet and proceed to build a relationship with him that would pay big dividends for both of you in the future.

Suppose in this report, you found that “Lifehacker” had tweeted out a link to your last blog post or to your last product launch. You could look at all the people that have retweeted that post, look at the people that have commented on it and go and thank each one of them and answer questions that they might have, all driving fresh hot leads back to your website.

Let’s look at the second example of referral paths in action.

If you market your business through guest posting or blogger outreach or blog commenting, you want to measure your activities to see which ones are producing the best results. In order to do this, click on the blog’s domain in you referral traffic reports.

In this example, I’m looking at traffic that came to my site from a post on Noah Kagan’s personal blog. If I click on the domain name, it will show me the exact page that traffic came from. Click on a small link to the right. It will open a pop up that shows the actual page that sent the traffic to me.

The million dollar question is how do you use this?

Besides noticing what strategies were better for your business than others, look at the specific ways that you are linking to your website.

Does a certain anchor text phrase convert better than others? Does sending traffic to your opt in page get more clicks than sending traffic to your home page? Format your future post similarly to drive even more traffic.
That is referral paths in a nutshell.

Depending on how you market your business, you will have a lot of other referral paths to dig into and to investigate as well. Keep in mind the point of digging into these is to find people that are sending traffic your way. Go to those people and to their audiences and build relationships with them to help you increase your traffic and to help them as well.

I want you to do something for me.

If you’ve ever dug into referral paths before, if you’ve ever dug into your Google Analytics account and you found somebody sending you traffic that you had no idea was doing that and were completely surprised by it, leave a comment below and share that with the community, so we can all learn from each other, see what strategy you used and so I can implement that in my business and you can do the same.

That’s it for this week. Until next time, happy analyticking.


  1. Great Reference.
    It is always a fantastic idea to get the most out of the Google analytics data and especially see how well our marketing is doing via referrals.
    It is not easy these days to be successful with online marketing and we need every little help we can get

  2. Thomas Sheridan Nov 23, 2013 at 1:56 am

    Amazing video…and nice information about google analytics…thanks for sharing.

  3. Great video, thanks for sharing. I’ve used the referral feature to track inbound links but never knew how to utilse the information to actually build traffic! Looking forward to giving it a try.

  4. First of all thanks for the great post.

    Analytics and Conversions are what all need to concentrate about, and knowing who gives you the most important leads is vital.

  5. Ajith Edassery Nov 25, 2013 at 2:32 am

    Great tips! Especially since Google has already announced that all searches will be now encrypted (i.e. all keywords are ‘Not Provided’ soon). This means that referral traffic is becoming all the more important.

  6. Excellent post and video. That’s the first time I have heard of Campalyst. Just installed and will let you know if I find any surprises.

  7. So with this method you could figure out the keywords typed on Google.

  8. Héctor Camacho Dec 04, 2013 at 3:23 am

    I want to thank you again for this video and respect to the way to see which traffic come from my Twitter, was very good to know.
    Respect to the Pluging Campalyst, it is very good to know that I can have more information..


  9. Craig J Willis Mar 27, 2014 at 7:14 am

    Great video, I’m just getting into using analytics this year and simple well explained videos like this are gold dust, thanks!

    The main thing that raised an eyebrow for me is that we still seem to get significant traffic from a blog post written almost 12 months ago. The authors of that post have created a lot of content since then on their site. This is a great excuse to contact them and see if they have any intelligence on how people are arriving on that post and eventually making it to us.

  10. Thanks, I didn’t noticed the Acquisition menu earlier, now I know where I can check the referrals

  11. Tara Woodruff Mar 02, 2015 at 7:59 am

    Thank you So Much!! I was looking for this, I feel like This is The Most important Part of Analytics, Its Interesting to me to see Where people coming From Specifically!

  12. I’m getting a lot of referral traffic but the problem I’m having is said traffic is sending my bounce rate through the roof !!

    I’m assuming high bounce rate isn’t good so (that being said) would it be wise to break that link to whichever site is refereeing traffic to me ?

  13. Looks like Campalyst is not a thing anymore… *startup life* sighs.

  14. Like Mary says, Campalyst is no longer — is there another way to figure out what tweets are referring traffic?

    Also, I’m getting different metrics when I go to Acquisition: All Traffic: Referrals and Acquisition: All Traffic: Channels and then selecting referral. The number of referrals and the sources are different in each one — which one is right?

  15. Hi we are getting so much traffic on one article from stumbleupon. com I think it must be spam. They are almost all bouncing, but the time on page is high which i think is a contradiction. (This is for a site I manage for a client, not my own site.) Is a valid refer, does anyone know?


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