Proper attribution is often adversely affected by payment gateway referrals in an e-Commerce purchase funnel.  This distorts data and hinders accurate analysis of traffic sources.  Simply correcting this by using exclusions will greatly increase accuracy in Google Analytics. 

The implementation of a payment gateway on an airline site to authorize credit cards requires that some traffic is sent to the payment gateway site from the payment step in the booking engine and back to the website to confirm the booking. This results in a visit with source “payment gateway domain” and medium “referral” to be recorded in Google Analytics.

Google Analytics Dashboard

Payment Gateway referrers are appearing as top referrers in Google Analytics Referral report. A lot of these payment gateway referrers are preceded by acs (Access Control Server), 3ds (3-D Secure protocol) or something similar and can so be easily identified.

Why does the implementation of a Payment Gateway result in Internal Referral?

Google Analytics starts a new session whenever a user comes to the site from a traffic source different than the previous one (and when it is not a direct visit), even if the previous session has not expired.

When a customer is sent back to the website from a payment gateway, the HTTP headers contains referrer information saying that the visitor is coming from a payment gateway hostname. This results in referrer traffic from payment gateways getting credit for the e-Commerce transactions.

How to exclude payment gateway referrers

Exclude payment gateway referrers through the Referral Exclusion List that is accessible in the Google Analytics interface in 2 quick steps:

  1. Admin > (Property) Tracking Info > Referral Exclusion List (see below)
  2. Add the hostname – either the domain name or a specific sub-domain only, of the airline to the list. This assures that a visit with a referrer field set to a URL under that hostname will not start a new session if there is already an active session.

Download Excel file that includes all payment gateway referrers identified across international airlines. Note that absolute accuracy and completeness of this list is not guaranteed.

Note: Each hostname needs to be copied and pasted one by one into the Referral Exclusion List.

Referral Exclusion List Settings in Google Analytics

More information on how to add referral traffic sources.


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