Referral Traffic in Google Analytics 4: Complete Guide

Referral traffic has a significant meaning for every business. Moreover, correctly tracking referral traffic in Google Analytics 4 gives a competitive advantage because you can figure out what partners bring more conversions for you and accelerate their acquisition. As a result, you will improve the bottom line of your business. 

Thus, let’s dive deeper into the best practices of organising GA4 to track the referral channel better. 

What’s the referral traffic in Google Analytics 4?

Although there are many definitions of “referral traffic”, we can create our own for this post. 

Referral traffic in GA4 is traffic that your website receives from another website apart from search engines, paid advertising campaigns and direct visits. 

When you grow your business, you build relationships with other online companies, and they mention your website and what you do. Thus, the person who visits their websites and then clicks on the button, element or link that redirects to your website will be considered referral traffic in Google Analytics 4.

This channel usually ranks among the first three channels for many businesses. Moreover, to some companies, such as gambling, it’s one of the best sources of new traffic since paid advertising is not eligible for them. Therefore, the ability to find this traffic in GA4 and analyse it will lead the company to success. 

Where can you find Referral traffic data in Google Analytics 4?

As a sequence, you should know where to find this traffic in GA4. Just a few steps separate you from seeing it in Google Analytics. 

GA4 Referral Traffic View Opton 1
Option #1 | GA4 Referral Traffic
  1. Go to GA4 -> Explorations -> Create a new report.
  2. Import the following metrics and dimensions:
    1. Session default channel grouping
    2. Session source
    3. Event count
  3. Set up your report:
    1. Add “Session default channel grouping” dimension in rows
    2. Add “Total users” metric in values
    3. Add “Session default channel grouping” in Filters, select filter type “contains” and type “Referral”. 

Besides that, you can find the same report in GA4 -> Reports -> Acquisition -> Traffic Acquisition.

GA4 Referral Traffic View Opton 2
Option #2 | GA4 Referral Traffic

Of course, understanding the overall referral traffic amount is good but it’s more interesting to look at what exact website generates traffic to your website. 

How to understand which websites bring traffic to your website?

In the previous section, we have already made 90% of the work in GA4 Explorations. If you want to see what websites bring traffic, you should do the following steps:

Referral Sources in Google Analytics 4 Explorations
  1. Add “Session source” dimension in rows.
  2. Add “event count” metric in values.
  3. Add “Session default channel grouping” in Filters, select filter type “contains” and type “Referral”. 

After you do the steps, you will see your referrals. I encourage you to add more metrics to this report, including conversions, transactions, revenue, engaged sessions, etc.

All these metrics will give you a better view of which referrals bring high-quality traffic and what referrals bring much traffic, but it doesn’t convert so well. Usually, after you see it, you dive deeper into analytics and see why it’s happening and what you can do with that. 

The first step of this analysis is to look at the exact pages that drive traffic to your website. Therefore, let’s learn how to find them. 

Where is the Referral Path in Google Analytics 4?

As I mentioned above, sometimes your partner can send you traffic from multiple pages, and you want to understand what these pages are and how they perform separately. You can have many reasons, but let’s suppose that your company pays for mentions, and you want to understand which performs better.

Unlike Universal Analytics, where we had a referral path, Google Analytics 4 doesn’t have it due to the privacy policy implemented. Therefore you should use one of the workarounds to find this data. 

I encourage you to read the other article I wrote to get a better view of that. Here I will explain it briefly. 

The first option is to find the referral path using the GA4 dimension “Page referrer” with the “session_start” event. To do it, follow the steps:

  1. Open GA4 -> Explorations and create a new report
  2. Import the following dimensions:
    1. Event name
    2. Page referrer
  3. Import the following metrics
    1. Event count
  4. Add dimensions and metrics to the report
  5. Use filters to show only the information about “session_start” events
    1. Event name “contains” session_start
    2. Page referer “does not contain” your domain
  6. Remove “Event_name” dimension from the report 
  7. Adjust the number of rows you want to see (up to 500)
GA4 Referral Path Insight
“Referral Path” in Google Analytics 4 using “Page Referrer”

Once you make every step mentioned above, you will see the report close to the one you can see above. If you want to add more metrics, such as conversions, purchases, and revenue. You can add them too.

The second option is to use Google Search to find the exact Referral Path(es). 

To retrieve this information from Google Search, you should search in Google using this pattern “keyword site:domain name”. You can see the example below.

Google Search Referral Path Insight
Google Search – Searching for Referral Path

Although this approach can cast a light on where your website was mentioned, it can’t tell you how much traffic and conversions the specific referral path generated. 

The third approach is to use external paid resources to find the referral path. A few to mention are Semrush and Ahref. The tools used for SEO. 

However, using UTM parameters is the best way to track referral pages separately. Therefore, I recommend you talk to this referral and ask to add UTM parameters.

Tips on how to organise the Referral channel in GA4 correctly

Another thing that can happen when you look at the referral sources is you can find your website domain or subdomains, or you can find the referral websites that shouldn’t be there because they are your payment gateway provider or a provider that you use for other purposes such as user password recovery. 

These two options require different techniques to clean up your GA4 property; therefore, I wrote an additional article about it, but let’s look at them briefly here. 

How to exclude self-referrals in GA4?

Firstly, if you see your own domain or subdomain (self-referrals) in the referral traffic report, you didn’t set up Google Analytics 4 correctly.

You should go to:

  1. Go to Admin -> Data Streams -> Web Data Stream Details -> Configure Tag Settings -> Configure your domains
  2. Include all domains that match your company ones and that you want to exclude since it’s self-referral traffic. 

In the case of my client, it looks the following way.

GA4 Domain Configuration

You should remember that GA4 automatically collects data about all your subdomains, and it’s not necessary to set it up additionally. 

How to exclude unwanted referrals in GA4?

Secondly, if you see unwanted referrals or domains that can be considered payment gateway or password recovery, you can set up GA4 not to detect them as referrals. To do it, you should follow these steps:

  1. Go to Admin -> Data Streams -> Web Data Stream Details -> Configure Tag Settings -> List Unwanted Referral
  2. Configure the referrals you don’t want to see as Referral Traffic anymore and save it.
Step #2 - Configure Unwanted Referrals in GA4
Removing Unwanted Referrals

Is it possible to exclude spam traffic in GA4?

Besides these two situations above, sometimes you can see some spam referrals, and you can want to filter them. Unfortunately, there is no filter available in Google Analytics 4 to do it. 

Google does its best to eliminate spam filters in Google Analytics 4, and you can use try to use a ga4 hostname filter, for instance, to make it even better, but there is no official filter in GA4 that can help you with that.

How to create a report for Referral Traffic in GA4?

After you find the referral traffic and websites that send traffic to your website, you can access it daily and use the default GA4 interface without going to GA4 Explorations every time. 

We can create a referral report similar to the one we had in Universal Analytics.  We should use the ga4 library to do that. 

  1. Open GA4 and go to Reports -> Library
  2. Create a new detail report and select “Traffic acquisition” as a template
  3. Remove all dimensions and leave only “Session source”
  4. Add filter “Session Default Channel Group” includes “Referral”
  5. Save the report and give it a name and description (optional) 
  6. After that, go to “Life Cycle” collection and add your newly created report to the collection.
  7. Re-publish “Life Cycle” collection.
GA4 Referral Report
GA4 Referral Report

You can play with different metrics and filters here. You can access the report through the GA4 interface, which will always be at a distance of a few clicks. 

How to analyse the Referral Traffic in GA4?

As I mentioned above, the process of analysing referral traffic starts with understanding how much referral traffic your website receives, what your referrals are, finding the exact page URL of the referral website where your company or product was mentioned and looking at how the referral traffic from referrals and their pages perform separately. 

All of that was covered already in this article, but it is not the end. You can do many things to improve your referrals’ conversion rate. Here I will cover a few ways and what else you can do, but please don’t feel limited to trying something else.

Firstly, you can group your referrals into the topic buckets and see which performs better. For instance, you can have a SaaS company with an email client product. You see the following topics of the websites: tech magazines, online reviews websites, websites about entrepreneurs, tech influencers (bloggers), websites about email marketing, etc. 

When you group them by topic, you can find that some specific group performs 2x-5x times better than others. If there is room to improve the number of such referrals, don’t spend your time doing something else. Acquire more referrals that are close to this group, and it will give you a massive boost in traffic and conversions.

Secondly, after you know what referral pages the traffic is coming from and the topic group, you can develop personalised landing pages to improve the users’ flow and decrease the bounce rate or engagement rate. 

Thirdly, don’t stop on the second approach. The landing page is not enough. You should look at the “User Path” report in GA4 Explorations and see what actions new website visitors perform on the landing pages, what pages they visit after visiting the first page and where they get stuck. Knowing this will help you to gain new insights on how you can improve the bottom line. 

These are the three methods to analyse the referral traffic in Google Analytics 4. It’s easy to do and can improve the revenue for every business. 

Wrapping Up

Referral traffic is a core element of every business, specifically for gambling and other industries where paid advertising is forbidden. To analyse it right, you should know how to find it in Google Analytics 4, how to find the referral website page URL and what you should do next to improve the bottom line. I mentioned this in this article. 

If you find a way to improve this article or if it helped you, please don’t hesitate to comment below or subscribe to my newsletter.

What is referral traffic in Google Analytics 4?

Referral traffic in GA4 is traffic that your website receives from another website apart from search engines, paid advertising campaigns and direct visits.

How to find referral traffic in Google Analytics 4?

To find referral traffic in GA4, you should go to Reports -> Acquisition -> Traffic Acquisition.

How to track referral traffic in Google Analytics 4?

Google Analytics 4 tracks the referral traffic automatically. Consider improving and structuring this by specifying the unwanted referrals and configuring your domains to exclude subdomains and other domains associated with your business.

How to analyse referral traffic in Google Analytics 4?

The process of analysing referral traffic can differ. Still, the quick insights you can get are how much referral traffic you receive per month, referral sources, what the referral page mentions your company or product and how they perform. 

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