When I start working with clients in Shopify, one of my first orders of business is to figure out where their best sources of traffic are coming from. I want to know what referral traffic sources are sending buyers. But when I log in to their Google Analytics, I often see this:
What does this mean?
Paypal showing up as referral traffic happens when someone leaves your Shopify site to complete checkout via Paypal, then re-enters the site after completing their Paypal transaction. Because Google tracks the last site someone visited before completing checkout as the referral source for that transaction, Google is attributing that sale to Paypal versus the original source of the traffic. But he original source of the traffic is actually where that person found your website — not Paypal.
It's a little bit like salespeople working on commission in a retail situation: think of the original referral source as the person who helped you the entire time you were shopping, and Paypal as the person who actually rings you up, attributing themselves as the salesperson.
What we're trying to figure out is where the original source of that traffic came from.
How do I know if this is happening to my site?
If you haven't made any changes to your Google Analytics configurations and you're using Paypal to process payments from Shopify, you're likely to see Paypal as a referral source in your Google Analytics.
To check, navigate to Acquisition > Overview > All Traffic > Referrals within Google Analytics and look for Paypal as a referral source within the list of referrals.
Or even better, use the Ecommerce > Overview > Top Revenue Sources > Source/Medium report to see which referral sources were responsible for actual transactions and you should see Paypal high up on that list.
Why is knowing the original referral source important?
Knowing the original referral source tells us where your most valuable traffic is coming from, so we can make marketing decisions based on data. If you were spending money on a paid campaign, for example, having your sales attributed to Paypal means you can't tell if you're spending money on ads that are actually converting customers because that data is being lost. It's a huge problem, but it's also one of those things that takes so much internet research to figure out how to fix, many shop owners throw their hands up and say: oh well!
Well, today I'm going to walk you through the steps to fix this issue and figure out where your actual referral traffic is coming from.
Okay, how do I fix it?
Note: you no longer have to heed instructions that you upgrade to Universal Analytics in Google Analytics, as it is now the operating standard (you are automatically using it if you are using Google Analytics).
Add Paypal as a referral exclusion in Google Analytics
One way to stop tracking Paypal as a referral source is to add Paypal.com to your list of referral exclusions in Google Analytics. This is because anyone who visits your website from a referral source from a URL on your exclusion list will not start a new session if they were already engaged in an active session.
To do this, navigate to the Admin section of your Google Analytics.
Under Property, select your website from the drop-down menu and select Tracking Info from the list, then select Referral Exclusion List from the next drop-down menu.
From the Referral Exclusion List, click the big orange ADD REFERRAL EXCLUSION button, then add a referral exclusion for traffic from the domain: paypal.com.
Once Paypal is added to your list of referral exclusions, you'll see it on the list.
Note: it's a good idea to add any payment gateway URL you're using to this referral exclusion list. Simply repeat these steps and add your other payment gateway domains to the list of referral exclusions. Here is a list of the payment gateways Shopify integrates with.
How to tell if it's working
This filter will NOT apply retroactively to referral sources, but should start working on new traffic within 24-48 hours of applying the referral exclusion.
Excluding Paypal traffic as a referral source does raise the question: am I simply excluding Paypal traffic now, rather than gaining back reporting on the original referral source? No! Applying this referral filter DOES restore reporting on the original source of the traffic. You can easily track this by checking your ecommerce traffic sources report in Google Analytics, which will no longer list Paypal as a source of referral traffic but will instead start attributing that traffic to its original referral source.
The default session timeout in Google Analytics is 30 minutes. So if someone goes to Paypal, spaces out for 31 minutes and then clicks to finish payment, this traffic might still count as Paypal referral traffic. If you want to eliminate this as a possibility, change the default session time in your Google Analytics settings.
Attaching parameters to gateway return pages
Before Universal Analytics was universally adopted, the old way of dealing with this issue was by attaching "utm_nooverride=1" as a parameter to your payment gateway return URLs. This is no longer the preferred method as simply adding a referral traffic filter in Google Analytics should now take care of the issue.