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Beantin Beta Blog

Experiments, investigations, and tests of web things
July 23, 2010

Full referrers in Google Analytics

Both Nikki Rae and Simon Sundén (and many others over the years) have blogged about how you can make use of an advanced filter and filtering the full referring URL to the “user defined” report. This is really useful as it creates a straight forward, readable, list of referring URLs.

I initially thought that this method would suffer from the oddities that last touch attribution throws up. (I’ve explained on the Beantin Blog How Google Analytics traffic source attribution works With a little more thought and checking, it realise it doesn’t – but it has other oddities.

To investigate this a little more, I compared the filter method with the per visit tracking I knocked up using a bit of javascript and custom variables.

Two Methods Compared

I looked at a period for and both methods showed roughly the same number of visits (276 for the filter versus 278 for the custom variables). The filter showed 145 referring URLs. The custom variable method showed 129.

The difference? In part the chopping of long URLs due to the size limit of custom variable data (similarish URLs are then grouped), and in part due to my method resulting in less “directs”/”not set” (some appear as internal refferals), and finally a few other/different URLs.


The broad and the long of it is that both methods do a great job of capturing referring URLs – and both are initially based on document.referrer (but ga.js filters out internal linking) – but both contain referring URLs that the other one doesn’t… More investigation is needed.

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