Self-referral Google Analytics 4 – Referral exclusion GA4

Last Updated: September 22, 2022

What is referral traffic in GA4?

Referral traffic is a GA4 session that starts with a referrer being passed by the users’ web browser. 

referer 1

When a GA4 session starts without a referrer being passed by the users’ web browser then that GA4 session is reported as ‘direct traffic‘.

Technically speaking, traffic from any website to your website is referral traffic (as long as a referrer is being passed by a user’s web browser). 

But in the context of GA4, traffic from search engines and most PPC/CPM ads (like Google Ads), is not reported as referral traffic.

How to see the referral traffic in GA4?

You can see the referral traffic in GA4 by following the steps below:

Step-1: Navigate to your GA4 reporting view and then click on ‘Reports‘ from the left-hand side navigation:

reports ga4

Step-2: Navigate to ‘Acquisition‘ > ‘Traffic acquisition‘ report:

Traffic acquisition ga4

Step-3: Scroll down the report until you see the search box:

Traffic acquisition ga4 search

Step-4: Type ‘referral‘ in the search box and then press the enter key.

You should now see a screen like the one below:

referral traffic ga4

Step-5: Click on the ‘Session default channel grouping‘ drop-down menu:

Session default channel grouping

Step-6: Click on ‘Session source/medium‘ from the drop-down menu:

Session source medium ga4

You should now be able to see all the referral traffic in GA4:

see all the referral traffic in GA4

What is ‘List Unwanted referrals’ in GA4?

GA4 allows you to set condition(s) that identifies unwanted referrals and prevent them from being reported as referral traffic via a feature called the ‘List unwanted referrals’.

List Unwanted referrals GA4

Referrals Exclusion List vs List Unwanted Referrals

The ‘List unwanted referrals’ feature works just like the ‘referrals exclusion list‘ feature in GA3:

referrals exclusion list ga3

We use the referral exclusion list to create a list of domains whose traffic will be reported as direct traffic instead of referral traffic.

This way, you don’t see the referral traffic from certain domains (like your own domain or from a payment gateway like ‘PayPal’) in your GA4 reports.

In the case of GA4, the ‘referral exclusion list’ is known as the ‘List unwanted referrals’.

Note: When you add a domain to the ‘list unwanted referrals’, GA4 will evaluate the events from the excluded domain and appends “ignore_referrerparameter with a value “true” to every event that matches the conditions (ignore_referrer=true).

Automatic self-referral detection in GA4

GA4 can automatically detect and fix self-referral issues (where your own domain appear as referral traffic) as long as the following conditions are met:

#1 The referrer contains your domain name, and the current URL contains the global site tag.

#2 The referrer is a result of cross-domain tracking set up between the domains you own, and the current URL contains the “_gl” parameter.

Note: with cross-domain tracking implemented, when the user navigates to a different domain, analytics cookies are passed from one domain to another domain via the linker parameter identified as “_gl”.

The automatic self-referral detection feature of GA4 will not be able to fix the self-referral issues if some of the pages of your website do not contain the global site tag and a user navigates to such a page.

So the best practice is to add your domain name to the list unwanted referrals:

add your domain name to the list unwanted referrals

How to configure the list unwanted referrals in GA4

Follow the steps below:

Step-1: Navigate to your GA4 view and then click on ‘Admin’:

ga4 admin

Step-2: Click on ‘Data Streams’ under the ‘Property’ column:

data streams ga4 1

Step-3: Click on the name of the web data stream for which you want to configure the list unwanted referrals:

Click on the name of the web data stream for which you want to configure the list unwanted referrals

Step-4: Scroll all the way down and then click on the ‘Configure tag settings’ link:

ga4 Configure tag settings

Step-5: Click on the ‘Show all‘ link:

show all ga4 1

Step-6: Scroll down and then click on the link “List unwanted referrals”:

ga4 List unwanted referrals

You should now see an overlay like the one below:

overlay

Step-7: Enter the domain name you want to add under the ‘Domain‘ text box and then click on the ‘Save‘ button:

Enter the domain name you want to add under the Domain text

Step-8: To add more domains to the list unwanted referrals, again click on the link “List unwanted referrals”:

again click on the link List unwanted referrals

Step-9: Click on the listing you see:

Click on the listing you see

You should now see the ‘Add Condition‘ button:

add condition

Step-10: Click on the ‘Add condition‘ button, enter the domain name you want to add and then click on the ‘Save‘ button:

add another domain

Note: Conditions are evaluated using OR logic.

Congratulations.

You have successfully added the unwanted domain(s) to the referral list. 

Now going forward, the traffic from added domains won’t appear as referral traffic.

Note: The list unwanted referrals does not work retroactively. So the domain you added to the list unwanted referrals could still appear in your GA4 reports for historical data.

When to use ‘List unwanted referrals’

There are many scenarios where you don’t want to identify the traffic as referral traffic in GA4:

  1. Self-referral traffic.
  2. Payment gateway.
  3. Website users interactions managed by third-party domains.

#1 Self-referral traffic

If you want to avoid self-referral issues (where your own domain appears as referral traffic), you should add your domain to the “List unwanted referrals”:

add your domain to the List unwanted referrals

#2 Payment gateway

Let us suppose your website is built in such a way that a user has to navigate from your website to a third-party website to complete a purchase and then navigate back to your website after the payment is completed. 

In this case, the traffic from the payment gateway website (like paypal.com) will be reported as referral traffic.  

In order to get unified measurement across your domain and paypal.com, you would not want traffic from PayPal to be categorized as referral traffic. 

Since Paypal traffic is not relevant as referral traffic, you would like to add it to the “List unwanted referrals”:

add paypal to the List unwanted referrals

#3 Website users’ interactions managed by third-party domains

There are many scenarios where your website users’ interactions need to be managed by a third-party domain.

For example, 

You could be using a third-party domain/service for sending out emails to your users to reset their passwords or to confirm their registration. 

And when a user clicks on a link in the email, he is first redirected to the third party domain before being redirected back to your website. 

In such a scenario, you would not want the third-party domain to be categorized as referral traffic. 

So you should consider adding this domain to the ‘List unwanted referrals’:

Website users interactions managed by third party domains

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Frequently Asked Questions about Self-referral Google Analytics 4 – Referral exclusion GA4

What self-referral in Google Analytics 4 (GA4)?

A self-referral is referral traffic that originates from pages within your own domains. By default, Google Analytics 4 will not identify traffic as a referral if the referring website matched the same domain of the current page or any of its subdomains.

How do I identify referral traffic in Google Analytics 4 (GA4)?

You can see the referral traffic in GA4 by following the steps below:
Step-1: Log in to your Google Analytics 4 account.
Step-2: Click on the ‘Reports’ link in the left-hand side menu.
Step-3: Navigate to Acquisition > Traffic Acquisition report:
Step-4: Type ‘referral’ in the search box and then press the enter key. You will see traffic from referrals only.

How to filter unwanted referral traffic in Google Analytics 4 (GA4)?

You remove the unwanted referral traffic in GA4 by following the steps below:
Step-1: Navigate to your GA4 view and then click on ‘Admin’:
Step-2: Click on ‘Data Streams’ under the ‘Property’ column:
Step-3: Click on the name of the web data stream for which you want to configure the unwanted referrals list in GA4:
Step-4: Scroll down and then click on the ‘More Tagging Settings’ link:
Step-5: Click on the “List unwanted referrals” option
Step-6: Enter the domain name you want to add to the unwanted referrals list in GA4 and then click on the ‘Save’ button.

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