Self-Referrals in Google Analytics

One of the very useful reports in Google Analytics is the ‘Referring Sites’ report.  This tells you specific sites that have links to your site and are directing traffic to you.  With this info you can strengthen ties with these sites, aim for traffic from similar sites, and otherwise leverage these connections.

Referring Sites Report

Referring Sites Report

Common situation that causes head-scratching in Google Analytics is when a person sees that referrals are coming from his/her own site.  The referral below is all well and good…except the site it is referring visitors to is ‘bcbeer.ca‘:

self-referral example

self-referral example

These self-referrals can be caused by a couple of things, but I recently came across a post on Avinash Kaushik’s legendary Occam’s Razor blog where, in the comments below the article, Robbin Steif laid out the most common reasons for self-referrals:

  1. The site has subdomains or cross domains and the GA configuration is not set up to recognize these as part of the same domain.  A common scenario is the subdomain has the same tracking code as the main domain, but GA considers them separate entities, so visitors that move from the main domain to the subdomain are counted as referrals from the main domain. (For advice on how to fix: How do I track all of the subdomains for my site..?)
  2. The site may be set up correctly, but may have been set up incorrectly in the past (as the situation in #1), and there are still users with incorrect cookie information visiting the site.
  3. Traffic from untagged pages on your site to tagged pages.  Another good reason for ensuring that GA tracking code is pasted into every page on your site.

Another commentor on the same blog post suggested that self-referrals can also come from absolute links on your site:

“If the URL in your hyperlinks read http://www.yoursite.com/movies/movies.aspx …they should instead read /movies/movies.aspx.”

This seems unlikely, since in such a case the cookies on the user’s browser would indicate that she is not a new visitor to the site.  However, it may be worth looking into once the other 3 common causes are eliminated.

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2 Responses

  1. http://groups.google.com/group/analytics-help-basics/browse_thread/thread/517715ccd02df8ab?fwc=1&pli=1

    ShoreTel sums up the main reason why this can never stop when you have sub-domains ….

    “…you can try it out by turning on cookie prompting in your browser and searching for your own site in Google and visiting a page with tracking code on it, then deleting your cookies, and then visiting another page (with tracking code) within the same hostname. The new cookies will say “”direct””. The trick is the hostname has to exactly match (minus the “”www””) (location.hostname == document.referrer.hostname), which is why subdomains still cause it to show up if you use setDomainName(“”mysite.com””).

    From line 198 of urchin.js
    _ur=_ubd.referrer;
    dm=_ubd.domain;
    p=_ur.indexOf(dm);
    if ((p>=0) && (p<=8)) { _ur=""0""; } "

  2. A great free tool to see where Google Analytics may not be firing/working properly on your site is taginspector.com. If scans every page on your site to create a report showing every page GA fired, utm gifs with UA numbers AND pages that GA is missing! Check it out and would love any feedback.

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