The ROI Revolution Blog

Handling Email Referrals in Google Analytics

January 24, 2011

If you’ve spent any time looking through your traffic sources in Google Analytics, particularly your referral sources, you may have noticed a lot of your traffic coming various mail sources:


Clearly it’s not terribly useful to see your traffic broken out this way. At the very least, you would want to consolidate all of those sources.

But if you think about it, it probably doesn’t matter a whole lot which email service provider a visitor happened to be using when they clicked to your site. Perhaps it’d be better if we just consolidate all of those email sources into one entry. Not only would this significantly clean up reports, but it would also allow you to see the overall impact of traffic coming from email to your site.

The easiest way to handle this is by using filters:


While this is called a custom advanced filter, it’s fairly straightforward. If you noticed in the first screenshot, all of traffic coming from email had “mail” somewhere in the source and “referral” as the medium. So this filter takes all of that traffic and changes the source of that traffic to webmail.

Also note that we set “Field B Required” to “Yes” and “Override Output Field” to “Yes”. Both of these settings are necessary in order for this filter to work. The first setting ensures that we only change data for visits that fit the requirement we set in Field B, while the second one ensures that all visits that meet the filter requirements will have their source overridden with “webmail”.

Once you’ve applied this filter to your reports, your email visits going forward will be consolidated into a single entry:

webmail / referral

Now if you tend to look at your traffic sources by medium, you’ll notice that even after this filter, webmail traffic is still included with the rest of your referral traffic:


If you’re OK with this, that’s fine, but it is possible to separate your email traffic out by adding a second filter in addition to the first filter:


This is similar to our previous filter, but here we specify that we want to filter on visits with a source of “webmail” and change the medium of those visits to “webmail”. Filters build on each other, so it’s important that this filter come after the previous filter, otherwise it won’t find any visits with “webmail” as the source.

After you make this change, your report on mediums should look more like the following:


This makes it much easier to differentiate between true site referrals and traffic that’s coming from email.

Here are a couple final considerations:

1. It’s possible to use advanced filters to break out webmail traffic by source. That is, you could have yahoo / webmail, aol / webmail, etc. The filters for this are much more complicated, however, and you may have trouble finding a good reason for knowing that an email visit came from aol instead of yahoo. But if you decide you need help with this we can help you via one of our Google Analytics technical support plans.

2. Getting a lot of webmail traffic may also be a sign that you aren’t properly tagging your emails. If these are emails that you are sending out, especially from some type of autoresponder, then you should consider tagging these in some way. Click here to find out how we usually tag these emails.

As always, feel free to ask questions in the comments about this topic or let us know if you found this technique useful and/or how you used it.

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