Google Analytics & Secure Sites: How to Get Your Referral Traffic Back

Jason Brewster - November 7, 2017

If you are reading this blog there is a strong possibility that you have heard the following question from a fellow team member:

“Hey guys, we looked at our Google Analytics referral report and we can see a huge drop in traffic from these important sources YOY! What happened?!”

This is one of the most common questions we get from our clients and colleagues. This problem is quickly answered but slowly corrected. Google Analytics referrals are commonly lost when a non-secure website has an inbound link from a secure source. When one of your inbound traffic sources upgrades to “https” they will drop off your reports unless they configure their referrer policy (which is not typical for the vast majority of secure sites).

Below is an example of a user flow that would collect a referrer and one that wouldn’t:

It is important to note that SSL certificates (the SSL certificate is what puts the “s” in “https”) only omit the referral data for websites when moving from a secure source to a non-secure source. This problem will NOT occur between two non-secure sites, two secure sites or when someone moves from a non-secure site to a secure site.

How Do I Fix My Referral Problem?

In order to allow Google Analytics to collect the referral information for secure sources you need to upgrade your website to “https”. This will take some doing, but will pay off by improving security, referral analytics and SEO. To learn more about the various benefits and pitfalls of moving to HTTPS we strongly recommend you read Matt Crowley’s “SSL & SEO: What You Need to Know” blog.

Hey! My Site Isn’t Secure but I See Referrals from Facebook and Google!

This is because they have configured their referrer policy, you can work with your webmaster to continue passing referral information to non-secure sites that you link to ( Few brands see the need to do this which is why the best solution is to upgrade to “https”.

There Is No Way I Can Get My Site Upgraded Anytime Soon! HELP!

If it is impossible to upgrade your website to a secure platform, then the next best possibility is to encourage your referrers to use Google Analytics campaign tags when they link to your site. This will only work when you have a close partnership or control the web property in question. MoreVisibility has a URL builder available for your convenience:

The Final Word

Upgrade your website’s security, with the shifting security landscape – more layers of protection are better for avoiding problems for your brand and protecting your user’s privacy.

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