In previous articles I've written about the importance of traffic reports and how they help us understand user behavior and our progress at meeting Web site objectives. From determining monthly Web site visitors to calculating home page effectiveness, these reports are critical to online success.
For this article, let's take a look at referring pages, the mysterious "no referrer" metric and what they mean in business terms.
Referring pages are self-explanatory. The most common are search engines, directories and industry portals. Once in a while you'll find an unfamiliar referring page inside your report. When that happens, simply follow the link back to investigate.
Ok, but what about the "no referrer" or the "unknown referrer" metric? Where do those visitors really come from?
Let's take a closer look...
When a visitor returns to your Web site from a bookmark or favorites file, your traffic report will count that visit with an unknown or no referrer. Web site bookmarks can also be placed on a computer's desktop or configured through the browser's "my homepage" feature.
Text-based Email Links
When a visitor follows a link contained in a text-based email, the Web site's traffic report will count that visit with an unknown or no referrer. This also applies to links inside email signature files and links distributed through text-based newsletters. However, if a visitor follows a link contained in a Web-based email program (such as Yahoo or Hotmail), its referring page will register in the traffic report because those email programs are actually composed of Web pages.
The browser responds to this command much like the bookmark file. When a visitor manually types your Web address into the browser's address bar, your traffic report counts that visit with an unknown or no referrer. Therefore, those who reference your print material (brochures, catalogs and business cards) to find your Web site are also counted as unknown or no referrers. Other manual entries can be driven by word of mouth, billboard ads, radio and television commercials.
Copy and Paste
Similar to manual entries, visitors often copy Web addresses from electronic mediums and paste them into the browser's address bar. So again, online newsletters, announcements and other Web pages can be the driving force of visitors.
Spawned Web Pages
A spawned Web page is a non-competing way of linking two Web pages together. The referring page "launches" the destination page in a second browser window above the original. Spawned Web pages discard the referring page information and count each visit with a no or unknown referrer. Other spawned Web pages can originate from partner page listings, animated ads and traditional banner ads.
Web site programmers and Web site visitors control whether or not a page is spawned. Programmers obviously use code, but visitors can do it with their mouse.
To spawn a second browser window while using Internet Explorer, "right-click" on a link and select "Open link in new window" or simply hold down "shift" and click the link.
So what do these five metrics mean in business in terms?
For the most part, it's a good indication of your brand's popularity and value. To track this, compare the total number of no referrers against the total number of referring pages every month. That rate represents the percentage of Web site visitors that have already interacted with your brand prior to visiting your Web site.
For example, those who return via bookmark have already interacted with your Web site. Those who manually enter your Web address have already been exposed to your other marketing channels. And those who have followed email links were most likely encouraged by your message or an outside endorsement.