Using Google Analytics To Find Links To Your Non‑WWW

October 8, 2009


Photo Credit: paurian

One problem that we see on a lot of websites is the absence of canonical URLs – especially with the www version and non-www version of the URLs. Why is this important? Read this post about domain canonicalization – it explains in great gory detail. Putting it briefly, you don’t want to spread your link juice across two pages when those pages are the same (it’s better to have one page with 100 links pointing to it than 2 pages with 50 links each).

There are many solutions, from URL rewriting with an .htaccess file to using the canonical tag on your pages, but that’s not the focus of this post. I want to show you how to find out who is linking to your non-www URLs so you can contact them and ask them to change it. This is especially helpful if, for whatever reason, you can’t redirect your non-www to www.

* Note: it makes no difference if you prefer to use the www version or the non-www – as long as you’re consistent. For the sake of this example, we’ll assume that the www version is preferred.

The idea for this post came from Evan LaPointe, who wrote an article on Search Engine Land about using Google Analytics to uncover SEO issues. Go ahead and read it – it’s quick. I’ll see you in a couple minutes.

He talks about identifying canonical issues using the Hostnames report in Google Analytics. This is a great report to see if people are visiting both your www pages and your non-www pages. But I want to take it a step further. Let me show you how to dig a bit deeper to find out which sites are linking to your non-www URL.


Go to the Hostnames report in your Google Analytics (Visitors > Network Properties > Hostnames). If you have canonicalization issues, you’ll see them showing up here as visits coming from multiple hostnames, like

non-www referrals

These numbers are real, but the client's identity has been shielded for the sake of this example.

Click on the non-www version. Now that you’re seeing data just about visits to the non-www URL, click on Advanced Segments and choose to see just Referral Traffic. These are visits that clicked on a link from a different site to yours. See where I’m going with this?

non-www referrals02

Now, in the Dimension drop down menu, choose Source. Bada bing, bada boom. A nice list of sites that link (and send traffic) to the non-www version of your site. Go visit those sites and find out where they link to you. Then contact the webmaster to ask kindly for them to change the link to include the www.

non-www referrals03