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on Friday, 05 February 2016

How to exclude third party payment gateways as referrers in Universal Analytics

If you've switched over to Universal Analytics recently, you might be surprised to notice a sudden increase in Google Analytics under your referral sources - there might be some weird referral traffic to your site from domains which look vaguely familiar ... might be one, or .... which serves to inflate your numbers and cause confusion on analysis.  


Why the duplicated referrals?

It's quite simple really, Analytics picks up on the location that a visitor was on immediately before they land on your site, and it uses the domain name of these sites as the source for referral traffic.  The problem arises if you send your customers off to another source - perhaps to a payment gateway - and then return them after completing an action.  

Why is this a problem?

The return visit is wrongly counted as a second visit, with the referrer being your payment gateway.  Not only does this cause problems with inflated visit numbers, but also if you are using Ecommerce tracking, it can distort the source of your income, as a large bulk will be shown with your payment gateway as the referral source for the purchase.

Google Analytics automatically removes your own domain (the domain associated with your Analytics profile) as a referral source, so you don't need to worry about traffic within your site.

There's a super simple way to resolve this problem, which is recommended for any sites using Universal Analytics and off-site systems which end up referring the visitor back to your site.  This includes sites in a cross-domain tracking or third party shopping cart/payment gateway setup.

How to exclude referral sources

The exclusion is done on a domain basis, so it's important to think carefully before you implement this, as you will be excluding ALL referring traffic from that domain as a referral source.

Only traffic from the domain entered in the referral exclusions list and any subdomains are excluded, traffic from domains which have substring matches are not excluded.  For example, if you were to exclude in the list of referral exclusions, and would be excluded.  Traffic from would not be excluded.

  1. Log into your Analytics account
  2. Click on 'Admin' at the top of the page, once logged in and viewing the property you wish to edit
  3. In the column headed 'account', ensure that the account you wish to modify is selected
  4. In the column headed 'property', ensure that the correct property is selected
  5. Click on 'Tracking info' in the middle column
  6. Click on 'Referral Exclusion List'
  7. Click on 'Add Referral Exclusion' to add a domain
  8. Enter the domain name
  9. Click on 'Create' to save the referral exclusion

If you need to remove an existing referral exclusion, follow steps 1-6 above, and then click 'remove' in the row where the domain name is shown, then click 'delete domain' to save.

How does this affect my traffic?

When a visitor lands on your site, it triggers a new session automatically - but when you exclude a referral source in the manner stated above, any traffic landing on your site from the domains which you have excluded will no longer trigger a new session.

As an example:

  • Visitor lands on and is redirected to to make payment, then returned to - net result is two sessions, one from the first visit to and one from the referral back from
  • is excluded using the method above - the same process as above, but only one session is recorded, because the return visit from to is excluded as a referring domain.


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