Learning From Google Analytics Referral Paths

It’s far too easy to look at your Google Analytics traffic sources without really seeing them. Between direct traffic, the dreaded dark traffic, and a whole host of referral paths, it can feel daunting to dive into every aspect of where your traffic is coming from. However, those referral paths hold the key to resources and information for your pages and site, including:

  • Who’s tweeting about you? Which tweets are the most popular?
  • Which influencers are talking about your brand?
  • What content is drawing visitors to your site?

Let’s unpack what referral paths are, how to use them, and what they mean for you and your site.

Referral Paths – What Are They Exactly?

When you are examining your Traffic Sources in Google Analytics, you will notice the Referrals tab. It shows you all of the web pages where a visitor found and clicked a link to your page. These are your referral paths. These web pages have a wide range, from social media outlets to blogs, review sites, and forums.

Why Do You Need Referral Paths?

If you are experienced with diving into your site traffic in Google Analytics, you are probably wondering why you need referral paths at all if you are already using UTM parameters. UTM parameters are a great link-building solution for narrowing down what percentage of your direct traffic is real, and what is untraceable dark traffic. These parameters increase the breadth of what Google Analytics can track for you, so links from social sites and secured HTTP sites are not marked as dark traffic.

It could be argued that using UTM parameters is all you need to see where your traffic is coming from. However, there are two compelling reasons to use both:

  • Dark traffic still slips through the cracks of UTM parameters
  • Referral paths offer more specific insight into social platforms that are driving visitors to your site.

Twitter Referral Paths

Using Twitter as an example, links from Twitter can typically be traced using UTM parameters. However, finding out which tweets coming from which Twitter users are driving the most traffic to your site can only be achieved through referral paths.

To find answers to those questions, follow a few easy steps in Google Analytics:

  • Go to “Traffic Sources”
  • Select “Sources”
  • Select “Referrals”
  • Click “t.co” for Twitter

This will bring up statistics in a more informative way than UTM parameters alone, but you still will not be able to see the tweets the visits came from. However, plug-ins are now on the market that solve this common problem. One of those plug-ins is the Campalyst Tweet Lookup Plug-in, which is an extension for Chrome users. It can take the Twitter referrals and show you real tweets from real people instantly.

The plug-in is $5 a month for unlimited use, or free if you don’t mind working from only five days of data at a time. This is a fantastic plug-in, and there are sure to be more like it on the market soon. The only major drawback is that tweets before the plug-in’s existence are not viewable. It will certainly be a helpful tool going forward, but it’s not the greatest tool for looking back.

Blog Referral Paths

If you participate in cross-marketing through blogs, or contribute as a guest blogger, you likely have blog referral paths. Even if blogs aren’t a focus for your business, it’s possible that you have a few referral paths from them. You want to know which types of posts, which posts in particular, and which blogs bring the most traffic to your site. The steps for uncovering your blog referral paths are similar to the steps for finding the referral paths for social websites. Here are a few simple steps:

  • Go to “Traffic Sources”
  • Select “Sources”
  • Select “Referrals”
  • Click on domains of individual blogs that show up

Pinterest Referral Paths

Pins are a strong point of marketing, because they are quick to come up in searches, particularly if your brand or business has an emphasis on aesthetics. It’s easy to find out which pins are driving the most traffic to your site with these easy steps, similar to above:

  • Go to “Traffic Sources”
  • Select “Sources”
  • Select “Referrals”
  • Click on pinterest.com

As an aside, you can also find out which images from your website are pinned the most frequently, by using this link.

Referral Paths From Other Social Platforms

If you contribute content to Reddit or any other less-mainstream social platform, you’ll want to know which of your posts about your site are getting the most up-votes, as well as which (if any) posts are leading to site visits. Similar to the process above, you can follow these steps to find referral paths from Reddit:

  • Go to “Traffic Sources”
  • Select “Sources”
  • Select “Referrals”
  • Click on reddit.com

The subreddits that have led to click-throughs will show up.

Miscellaneous Referral Paths to Investigate

Depending on the genre and popularity of your site and your business, there will be other referral paths that are not strictly related to social outlets. A few you may consider investigating include:

  • Reviews on Yelp, Google, or Angie’s List
  • Questions on Quora and other reputable Q & A platforms
  • Forums you’re a part of where you may have linked your business
  • Broader website directories or yellow pages

Investigating your referral paths can feel like a big task, especially when you are already combatting dark traffic. However, taking some time to familiarize yourself with your referral paths will not only grow your site, but also your social networks. For more information on best practices for discovering your site analytics, contact us today.