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I have a site that is sending me visitors with a referrer in the query string (example.com/refer=bob for example). I do not have control over the string sent, but it's always the same.

If the referred visitor purchases on that visit, I can see in my dashboard that they came from that source.

Is there a way in Google Analytics (it's the only tool I have access to) to somehow tag that user so that if they come back later as a direct visitor, the original referral can still be credited?

So my ideal flow (assuming the user didn't just buy on first visit) would be:

  1. User visits my site at example.com/refer=bob
  2. User tagged as referred by bob
  3. User leaves site
  4. Next day user visits site direct with no refer in the query string
  5. User buys something
  6. I can see in Analytics that the purchase was associated with the refer

I don't care about the actual "tagging" method, all I want to get to is step 6

I've tried Googling, but as I'm not sure what this would be called, I'm coming up with nothing.

  • You might not need any extra tagging/setup, just to find the right place to look within GA. But some clarification questions: Are these URL parameters custom, or are they standard UTM parameters? What kind of source/medium values do these visits get in GA - are they separate from visits not from this referrer, or lumped in together? Do you want to attribute revenue no matter the source of the later visit, or only if it's Direct? – Reve Feb 5 at 16:30
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Google Analytics has this functionality built in. GA uses a specific set of parameters for tagging that enable this functionality. You just need build your tagged URLs with this tool. That will make your URL something like: https://example.com/?utm_source=bob

Then activity associated with users that come in with that tag will be show in the "Campaigns" section of the Google Analytics reporting.

You should set your purchase up as a "Goal" in Google Analytics. Google has instructions for creating goals. Once you have the goal set up, preferably sending the dollar amount of the purchase as the goal value, you can get good information from GA about how that campaign is performing.

  • Thank you. Just so I'm clear, this will work across sessions? So if they visit https://example.com/?utm_source=bob the first time but don't purchase, but then on the second visit they come to https://example.com (no utm_source=bob) will Analytics be clever enough to link the first session to the second, assuming they haven't cleared cookies etc? – Ross Feb 6 at 13:58
  • Yes, it works across sessions, as long as the user doesn't switch devices or delete cookies. – Stephen Ostermiller Feb 6 at 14:42
  • Thanks, that's incredibly helpful. Seems to all be working now. – Ross Feb 6 at 17:16
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Set it up as a Goal. By default Google attributes a goal conversion to the last non-direct hit, within a 6 month time frame. You can also look at the multi-channel funnels (under Conversions) which will show you different attribution models, such as first click, and full conversion paths

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