Get More Referral Traffic: A Data-Driven Approach

Get more referrals

Getting referral traffic to your site with backlinks and social shares is the last step in the AARRR funnel.

So far, we’ve covered How to Use Google Analytics to:

Much like in-person referrals, online referrals are generally a high-quality traffic source for obvious reasons: your content, product, or platform receives instant social proof from someone interested and engaged enough to share it with someone else.

But referrals are like snowflakes and knock-off Rolexes: no two are exactly alike.

Social media traffic from shares, retweets, pins, etc., gets a lot of attention as a referral source as it can drive a lot of traffic, but it’s usually not the best quality source of referral traffic in terms of engagement.

On the other hand, while it might not drive nearly as much traffic as some social platforms, a solid backlink from a trusted site can often lead to much higher engagement, better retention, and more conversions.

You can see, then, that the referral step actually transforms our funnel into a loop as it also functions as an acquisition channel.

Get more referral traffic AARRR loop

Here, we’ll cover how you can use your Google Analytics data to optimize your referral traffic and turn your funnel into a loop that self-generates new, highly qualified, targeted traffic.

To do this, we’ll look at the following reports:

  • Acquisition > All Traffic > Referrals
  • Acquisition > Social > Overview > Social Network
  • Acquisition > Social > Overview > Shared URL
  • Acquisition > Social > Conversion

Referral Traffic Report Breakdown

In Google Analytics, go to Acquisition > All Traffic > Referrals and you get a table that breaks down the source of all referrals to your site. By looking at user counts, bounce rates, session durations and conversion numbers, you’ll get a good idea of how qualified the leads are from various platforms.

You can click on the name of the referral platform and see the referral path the users went through to get to your site. In the image below, I’ve clicked on referral number 4, “” to get a table of all the pages from that have links to the site (that is, the Google Merchandise site).

Google Analytics Referral Traffic

So this table shows you the page users were on before clicking a link to your site. From this information, we can start to get an idea of which referrers, and specifically which pieces of their content, drive the most engaged traffic to your site and how they perform at each level of your AARRR funnel.

If these aren’t backlinks you already know about, check these pages out and see how your content is being shared and linked to. A few things you can do with this information:

Reach out to referrers who are driving solid traffic, thank them for the link, and suggest other similar pieces of high-quality content they might be interested in sharing and give them a reason to share it. Don’t be pushy, just provide a piece of content that their audience might find valuable. You can link back to these sites (if appropriate) as a show of appreciation/reciprocation.
Reach out to other platforms that are similar to these referrers and ask for backlinks to the same or similar content. If one person is sharing it in your niche, chances are other people will want to as well.

Create more content that is similar to the on your site that is getting good referral traffic. Whether it’s a specific topic, a type of content (infographics, PDF downloads, long form content, etc), or a product, you can replicate various aspects of content that people already want to share to augment your high-quality referral traffic.

How to Get High-Quality Referral Backlinks

If you’ve decided that what you really need is more backlinks, well, there are tons of resources out there.

But far and away the best way to get high-quality earned backlinks is to produce content that people want to link to and share. Or, as Avinash Kaushik put it:

That said, there are some active steps you can take to get more backlinks to your site.

For those who are just getting started with link building, I highly recommend ClickMinded’s Beginner’s Guide to Link Building.

If you’ve already done some link building and are familiar with the basic strategies, Brian Dean has a really good list of “untapped” backlink strategies you can check out.

There’s currently some debate in the internet world about the importance of backlinks for SEO purposes. Some claim that backlinks aren’t as important as they once were when it comes to search, while others say they’re just as important as they’ve always been.

I don’t really care either way. Backlinks are an important source of highly engaged, highly qualified traffic. If they help your search rankings, that’s great. If not, well, it’s still a source of quality traffic, so you shouldn’t ignore link building if you are trying to grow your online presence.

Social Media Referral Traffic

As I said previously, social media traffic isn’t usually a great source of highly engaged traffic (though it can be). It’s pretty evident now that “likes” and retweets don’t necessarily translate into engagement and conversions, and as we’ve seen in recent years, a lot of what was thought to be engagement was actually just fluff.

I’ve worked with social media accounts that have hundreds of thousands of followers. We’ve generally found that the more “viral” a piece of content goes, the worse the engagement gets: bounce rates go through the roof, email registrations drastically fall off, and ecommerce conversions are garbage.

All of that said, social platforms are typically the gateway to seeding traffic for solo entrepreneurs and small businesses, so it is an important channel for both new visitor acquisitions and referral traffic.

So, I’m not necessarily saying that you should ignore social media in favor of other strategies, but I am saying that you should consider the probable impact that your efforts will have across various platforms and adjust accordingly. Familiarizing yourself with how to track and analyze your social media traffic is the first step in making smarter decisions that will lead to more highly engaged traffic, both on and off social media platforms.

Social Media Overview Report

In Google Analytics, if you navigate to Acquisition > Social > Overview, you’ll see a table that tracks social media sessions. This table is straightforward: you can tell right away which platforms are most successful for driving traffic. In this example, we can see that 93% of all social media traffic comes from YouTube.

To get a better understanding of how Social Media is being used to drive traffic, switch to the “Shared URL” view.

Google Analytics Referral Traffic

This table is set up exactly like the last table, but instead, it shows which links on your site drove the most traffic from a social media platform. In this example, the two links that drive the most traffic lead to the homepage of the site and the homepage of the online shop.

To see where these links were shared, you can simply click on a link and see a breakdown by platform.

Google Analytics Referral Traffic

This table can show you which platforms were most effective at sending engaged users to your site. So in the instance of the first link, we can see that 24 Facebook users had average sessions of about 5 minutes and viewed almost five pages. These numbers signal engaged users because they are staying on the site for a good amount of time and they are browsing through a reasonable amount of pages before leaving. Reddit users, on the other hand, averaged about 3 pageviews over sessions that lasted less than a minute.

As you go through this data for each of your referral links, you will start to get a feel of which pieces of content work best for social referral traffic. You can use this information in much the same way we discussed above with non-social referral links: share this content more/on more social platforms and create similar content and distribute it on social platforms that have done well.

Tracking Revenue Generated Through Social Media Referrals

A big question around social media and social media marketing is how to place a dollar value on social media accounts. One of the easiest ways to track added value through social media is through the “Social Value” section under social conversions.

Google Analytics Referral Traffic

This section shows you the number of sessions and conversions for all goals that came from a social media platform as a proportion of all sessions and conversions. In addition, Contributed Social Conversions are conversions that are made by a user who has interacted with your social media at all before making their purchase. In this instance, we can see that about 17% of sessions came via social media (social sessions / sessions) and about 3% of conversions were via social media (social conversions / conversions).

This section also puts dollar amounts to your social accounts.

IMPORTANT: Since this report is set to display conversions for all goals by default, the dollar amounts you see here are the summed values for all goals, not necessarily how much revenue you’ve actually generated. So, if you’ve set up goals in Google Analytics and you’ve put a dollar amount on those goals, Google Analytics adds that dollar amount to this sum for every successful goal conversion. If you have ecommerce set up on your Google Analytics account, you can select “Transactions” as the only goal in the dropdown menu at the top of the screen and see actual revenue from each source.

The big circle represents the summed value of all goals. The light colored circle shows a comparison of how much of that revenue (or goal associated value) was influenced by social media to the overall amount of revenue earned. Finally, the darker circle shows how many conversions were made via last interaction with social media compared to both the overall revenue and revenue that social media contributed to.

To further break down these numbers, a table follows this section that shows revenue generated by each platform.

This table displays the most effective platforms via the number of conversions they drive. In this example, we would consider YouTube to be the most effective social platform in terms of goal conversions because it drove 50% of all goal conversions. Facebook, on the other hand, has driven more revenue-generating goal conversions than any other platform.

You can use this information in future campaign planning. In the example here, YouTube is a good social channel for driving engaged traffic while Facebook is a better social channel for traffic that converts with ecommerce. I would take a holistic view of this and not just double down on my Facebook campaigns, but instead craft new content for YouTube that was specifically tailored to increase content consumption, email registrations, etc. Facebook, on the other hand, would be a good platform to craft content and campaigns that nudge people toward buying behavior and other revenue-related goals.

Putting It All Together

If you have found this post useful and would like to track all of your referral information in one place, you can get a custom Referral dashboard we have created.

To set up your dashboard:

  1. Click the button above; you will be taken to your Google Analytics account (sign in if you are prompted to do so).
  2. Select the view of your Google Analytics account that you would like your dashboard to be in. You can see more about setting up Three Essential Google Analytics Views if you haven’t done so already.
  3. The dashboard is named “05. Referrals” — you can change it if you like or keep it.
    Click “Create” — and you’re done.

Now you have a go-to dashboard to go along with this guide so you can make data-driven decisions that get more referral traffic.

To get the other dashboards in this series along with strategies for using your data to optimize each level of your funnel, click the links below:

  1. Grow your audience (Acquisition)
  2. Engage users (Activation)
  3. Get more returning users (Retention)
  4. Generate more sales (Revenue)

You now have a set of easy-to-use dashboards that will allow you to quickly analyze each level of your AARRR funnel. You don’t have to spend hours and hours each week poring over reports and still not have a clear idea of what to do.