How to Gauge Your Best Referral Traffic in Google Analytics

Part of using Google Analytics to power smart business decisions online is knowing where your traffic comes from. Analytics has the tools you need to measure where your traffic comes from, but you need to be able to read these measurements and find actionable data in all of the measurements and numbers your site produces. Here’s a quick look at how to identify your biggest referral sources, and how to interpret that data.

You can find your own Referral sources under Traffic Sources > Referrals in Analytics and follow along.

These numbers are pretty decent for this month’s performance on a casual blog like mine. Referral traffic is a major part of my overall traffic numbers, accounting for almost 70% of all traffic. My pages per visit is up slightly from the usual average. For a blog with many different pages of content, I’m just happy that people are exploring more than just the page they land on. The Average Visit Duration is pretty low still, but the time is up seven seconds from the overall average, so people are spending a little more time on my text and image posts. My new visits are interesting—of my total referral traffic, only 60% of that is new traffic. This means that I have a fairly large amount of repeat visitors coming from my referral sources, which is excellent.

Below this measurement is a list of my top ten referral sources. Almost 300 referral visits come from “” This is Twitter’s automatic URL shortening service, if you don’t recognize the address. Just about every time I make a post to my blog, it gets posted to Twitter, so this tells me that my tweets are really making the rounds and drawing attention to my posts. Google is the second highest referrer with 99 unique visits sent to my blog from the search engine giant. Third is with 98 (understandable as my blog is hosted on Tumblr) and Facebook comes up in fourth place with only 20 referral visits. I don’t post my content to Facebook very often, so this must have been from one of the off chances that I shared something with family and friends.

It’s also important to drill down and see what kind of traffic is coming from each one of those referrals. GA will automatically list them by amount of visits but you can also see how much time people are spending, or if they are mostly new visitors.

Obviously, there is a difference in my personal blog and the company blog. When you go to the GA dashboard for Content Equals Money you see a wide variety of referrals. These come from guest posting, comments or other backlinks directing people to the site. For this past month you would see that Alltop brings mostly visitors that are already familiar with our brand, and that they hang out for a very long time. You can figure this out because the “New Visits” percentage is so low and the “Time on Site” is so high. It also shows that Technorati is starting to bring us traffic even though we’ve only been with them for a little while. When you can really look at the amount and quality of each of your referral partners, you can make intelligent decisions about who to spend more time with. Or, maybe which sites to buy additional advertising.


Using Referrals For Your Business

Understandably, my personal referrals and your business’s referrals are going to be different. I run zero advertising efforts because it’s just a place for my personal life. If I had a professional blog with advertisements and PPC campaigns, I would ideally see a good deal of my traffic coming from those efforts. If I were a business owner and saw that a site I’d never heard of was sending a lot of referral traffic my way, I would  try to form an affiliate agreement with them and capitalize on the traffic they seem to send me well enough already.

For businesses, your inbound referral traffic points out potential business opportunities. Each of your top referrers can potentially be tapped for better referrals and higher traffic counts. If you receive a lot of traffic from Google, perhaps you should advertise with their services and boost those numbers. If you somehow receive lots of traffic from a competitor or business-relevant site, you should make new content that hightlights the strengths of your product or service over your competitors, and why customers should turn to you first.

Your site’s analytics are a window into how users use your website. Part of capitalizing on their behavior is knowing how they arrive on your site, and from where. Are they searching for you, or just happen to find you? Are there new opportunities you can take to increase the likelihood of both happening? If you’re constantly updating, testing, and re-testing your content marketing strategies, that answer should always be “yes!”



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Andrew Glasscock is currently based in Nashville, Tennessee. He graduated with a BA in English, specialized in Creative Writing, with a minor in Marketing this past May. Along with copywriting, he loves being an improv comedian, playing frisbee, and dogs.

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  1. […] 05. Jun, 2012 Categories: business conversions, business tactics by Andrew 0 Comments Over my past few articles I’ve gone over how to set up Google Analytics for your small business. As I’m sure you’re aware by now, Analytics is an incredibly powerful tool that anyone can sign up for and deploy on their website. So far I’ve covered how to set up UTM tracking tags to measure traffic as well as how to check your incoming referral traffic. […]

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