How to use the Google Analytics Referral Exclusion List

Written by Joanne Kearney

Joanne has over 10 years’ experience working in digital analytics, executing and managing many large scale projects across the UK and Ireland. Joanne is also an experienced trainer, having developed many customised corporate training schemes and regularly speaks at digital and analytics events.
August 19, 2019

Third Party websites appearing as referrals in your Google Analytics account? How to stop this and use the referral exclusion list in Google Analytics to attribute conversions to the original source.

This week, we encountered a client with a problem that is not unique and not uncommon.

The client in question had recently updated their website and as a result, hit some tracking problems. Conversions in Google AdWords had stopped tracking.

But while that was the catalyst for them to get in contact with us, the problem went deeper. The conversions in Google Ads were imported from Google Analytics and the Google Analytics goals imported, had been created via an event that had been set-up in Tag Manger.

The data flow was running deep!

The flow of data in this case was as follows:

Google Tag Manger had been used to track the event in Google Analytics which was then used to track the goal in Google Analytics which was then imported into Google Ads to track the conversion.

We’ve three products being used to track three interlinked data points (events, goals and conversions).

When the client mentioned that the conversions were no longer tracking, we began to look under the bonnet further. Metrics flat lining commonly happens when a website is updated as most people don’t realise the impact that a small change has on the overall tracking of a website and how one element of data flows through to give life to many others.

When we discovered that the drop in conversions in Google Ads had coincided with the site change, we went back to track the first data flow connector- Google Tag Manager and discovered that although the conversion had remained the same (a form fulfilment) the TRIGGER that the event tag was based on, had changed. Something as small as a click ID, click class, click text- can knock out an existing tag from being fired. Always ensure that any site changes that you think a tag is triggered on, is rectified at the time of a site update.

Once the trigger was updated, the event was back to firing again and we could see this tracked in the Event-Behaviour report in Google Analytics and because we didn’t change the category, action or label of the event, the goals re-commenced tracking in Google Analytics again.

The link to Google Ads and analytics was still in place, however, the conversions were still not feeding through to Google Ads. On further inspection we checked the source of the conversions in Google Analytics and noticed that most conversions were now being attributed to jobform- there was a disconnect between Google Analytics and Google ads caused by the use of jobform as a third party tool.

Google Analytics was still registering the conversion but the original referral source was being dropped and attribution was going to This is quite a common problem- if you see most of your conversions or sales being attributed to a referral and the referral source listed is your third party payment or form submission platforms- sage, jobform, paypal, then follow the below.

The last piece of the puzzle was solved with the Referral Exclusion List. This is available within the PROPERTY settings of your Google Analytics account, hidden under Tracking Info and allows you to carry over the cookie from one domain to another (with the ‘other’ domain being your third party platform where your conversion or sale takes place). This is most commonly used when you can’t place the cookie on the third party domain, therefore Google see the other site as a separate site and therefore drops the cookie when the user moves from one domain to another and when the cookie drops, a new session starts and thus previous historical data from the user journey drops too.


Note that the referral exclusion list uses CONTAINS matching so if I enter then this will exclude

We used the referral exclusion list to add ‘’ – a domain that we want to be included as part of the users site journey, so Google Analytics will ignore that the visitor has passed through another domain on their journey and so the user session continues.

Once this is implemented, we mapped the dimension for source and medium against conversions, to see the conversion totals attributed correctly to the original source of traffic and conversions correctly reported again in Google Ads.

If you’d like to know about this, please feel free to leave a comment or contact us and we’d be happy to help. You can find more guides and articles for all things Digital Analytics in our blog section, or you can also follow us on Twitter.




  1. Michele

    Is there a way to backdate the excluded website? For example if past conversions have been attributed to PayPal, is there a way to see the correct attribution once has been added to the excluded list?
    Or is it just for future conversions that it will work?

  2. Joanne Kearney

    Hi Michele, once data has been collected and displayed in the GA interface, Google does not reprocess it. In other words, it will not apply a change retrospectively in the main reporting interface so it will not revise to the correct attribution if you exclude a channel. You could use data studio to export, then manipulate this data to show you something similar to what you are after but it won’t update in the GA interface.

  3. Albert

    I cannot see such option in my GA. Why?

    • Joanne Kearney

      Hi Albert, are you checking in your account PROPERTY settings, under TRACKING INFO then REFERRAL EXCLUSION LIST?


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