Why Do I See My Own Domain In The Referrers List Of Google Analytics?

July 19, 2012
By Phil Anderson

Companies often come to us to correct their Google Analytics configurations. The problems we encounter vary from the very simple to super complex, but by far the most common problem I see is the “self-referral” configuration problem.

What this means, is when you look under Traffic Sources->Sources->Referrals you see your own website’s domain in the list of referring sites. (Note: LunaMetrics doesn’t actually have this problem, I totally faked this screenshot!)

My domain in referrers list

Often this is your top referrer, which is really going to mess with correct attribution. Unfortunately, there is no one reason this happens, but almost all are easily fixable.

First, one of the reasons this could be happening is that cookies cannot be shared between domains for security reasons. So under typical conditions, test.www.lunametrics.com cannot read a cookie from www.lunametrics.com. So the first thing you should look at is your domain.

Do both of these work to get to your content? (And they don’t redirect):

If so… first give yourself a good hard smack from our SEO team. Second, what could be happening is someone enters your site on http://www.yourdomain.com and then clicks a link that explicitly specifies a different sub-domain like http://ww2.yourdomain.com/aboutus.html . In that event, (assuming you’re not using the setDomain directive) Google will count www.yourdomain.com as a referrer to aboutus.html.

The second most common cause of this problem is one of your pages not being tagged with Google Analytics code. When someone lands on your site for the first time, it starts a “Session”. Once this session is started, Google counts each page click as part of it’s pages per visit metric.

Each time you go to a new page, Google will look at the HTTP header to see where you came from previously. If someone lands on a page that has no tracking code, that chain is broken. Once you go to another page that does have tracking code, Google will say “hey he just came from a page that wasn’t part of this session, guess it must be a referrer”. So make sure all of your pages have GA tracking code on them, and that it’s working correctly.

The final reason this happens is somewhat up for debate. I’ve read and been told that this can happen when your session expires. For example, I go to www.lunametrics.com and leave my browser open for an hour so my session expires (after 30 min). I then click a link, and the theory is that now that I’ve started a new session, www.lunametrics.com is the referrer for that link click. However, in practice when I’ve experimented with this, the referrer shows up as (Direct) when I do that. Maybe someone else can add a comment about how this could occur.

Hope those tips help you clean up your Analytics a little! If you love Analytics and are thinking about attending the GAUGE 2012 conference in Boston this October? We’ve got ten 25% off codes for Super-Early Registration – if you are interested, DM us on Twitter.