Guide to Referral Exclusion Lists in Google Analytics

Brody Hall
By Brody Hall
Romi Hector
Edited by Romi Hector

Published March 25, 2022.

A businessman standing with his cellphone, selecting  and excluding options in a list

Google Analytics exclusion lists allow you to identify and exclude certain traffic sources from your reports, creating a clearer picture of your website traffic. This is especially helpful when you want to analyze the impact of a specific content marketing campaign on your website’s traffic.

What Is a Referral Exclusion List in Google Analytics?

There are two different types of traffic data that Google Analytics collects: direct traffic and referral traffic. Direct traffic is traffic that arrives at a website without having clicked on a link from a referring website. Conversely, referral traffic is traffic that arrives at a website after having clicked on a link from a referring website. Direct and referral traffic are both considered sources of organic traffic.

There are a few exceptions to referral traffic. They include users who click on paid search results or links in email marketing campaigns. Although technically following the referral path, they are non-organic sources of traffic and are, therefore, not defined as referring traffic.

So how do you track referral traffic?

One of the best ways is to use Google Analytics 4.

A referral exclusion list in Google Analytics is a tool that website administrators can use to exclude referral traffic from certain domains being tracked as referrals – like self-referral traffic. By excluding certain domains from being tracked as referrals, website administrators can improve the accuracy of their data and make it easier to analyze and determine what sources are bringing in the referral traffic they are receiving.

What Is the Effect of Referral Traffic on a Session Count?

Referred traffic has the potential to influence a site's session count in several ways. For one, it may cause more sessions being started when a visitor clicks on a link from another site. Referred sessions may be longer or involve more page views than other sessions. Finally, the impact of referrals on session counts can vary depending on the referring site's audience and the content that is being referred.

To ensure that a new session isn't started by referral traffic, web owners can add a referral exclusion list to Google Analytics. To do this, simply navigate to Admin > Property > Tracking Info > Referral Exclusion List. Then click on the +ADD REFERRAL EXCLUSION > Enter the domain name > and click Create.

Repeat these steps to exclude more domains.

How Does a Referral Exclusion List Help Avoid Analytics Issues?

A referral exclusion list is a list of domains that a website owner does not wish to be included in an analytics report. This helps to avoid analytics issues by preventing incorrect data from being included in reports and can be used to block self referrals. The referral exclusion list can be customized to include specific domains, or it can be generated automatically using a tool like Google Analytics.

This information can help website owners improve their websites by understanding what content is most popular, what devices and browsers their visitors are using, and where their visitors are coming from.