How to track your referral channels and gain a 360-degree view of your leads

Category: Data and analytics

Whether it’s leads from a referral partner or directory, or engagement with your sponsored and placed content, prospects from referral channels often show signs of high intent and genuine interest in your business.

This makes referral channels some of the most valuable tools available to marketers – but they’re rarely used to their full potential.

Without the ability to track referral channels’ performance and accurately attribute sales and conversions to specific sources, there’s no way to be sure you’re investing your marketing budget in the right channels.

Here’s a closer look at why you might be missing parts of the picture when tracking leads from referrals, and what you can do to unlock the full potential of your channels.

What are you missing in your referral data?

Capturing details about leads from your referral channels can be difficult if you don’t have the right tools.

“One of the biggest challenges with referral channels is that, unlike channels you control, such as pay-per-click and email marketing, you don’t have access to analytics on your leads,” explains Faye Thomassen, Mediahawk’s Head of Marketing.

“That means unless you’re using call tracking with static or dynamic numbers, you won’t have any information on the inbound calls coming from your referrals. Similarly, if you’re not using UTM tags on the links back to your website, you won’t have any data on web traffic generated from your referral channels.”

Some marketers navigate the challenge Faye outlined by asking customers to say where they came from – sometimes this can involve a discount for quoting a specific phrase. But relying on the lead to tell you where they came from is an inaccurate method and one that’s often met with, “I found you on the internet.”

In other cases, where there’s no source data to reference, sales teams might assume the primary source is the phone call they handled. The challenge here is that, without this source data, marketers have no way to verify the source that actually triggered the call.

Ultimately, a lack of accurate tracking data makes it near-impossible to attribute each conversion and sale to its specific source. And without this attribution, managing referral channels strategically becomes much more difficult.

Where do you invest your budget if you don’t know what’s working?

When you can’t see an accurate picture of your referral channels’ performance, there’s no way to compare them. And without these comparisons, it’s hard to know where you should spend your marketing budget.

For example, if you’re listed in multiple directories and every listing has the same phone number, you won’t be able to tell which directory your leads are calling from. One might bring you dozens of leads every week, while another might not generate any engagement.

Without knowing which channel is most valuable, you’ll continue to waste marketing budget on ineffective sources, and you might be missing opportunities to generate more leads from the sources that are working.

For web traffic, there are ways to get referral information from Google Analytics 4, but it involves complex custom reporting to see the domain data. Without the right configuration, it’s easy to miss this information completely.

Quick tip: Make sure you avoid self-referrals
Self-referrals are an easy mistake to make. Sometimes, if you haven’t implemented your analytics code properly or you’ve included a UTM tag on an internal link, your own website domain could be listed as the source of referral traffic.

This will distort your acquisition data, artificially inflate your user sessions, and alter user behaviour data. Here are some helpful tips to avoid this happening.

How to build a clearer picture of your referral channels

To really understand the performance of your referral channels, there are a few essential steps you can take to generate the right insights.

Use UTM tags when you link back to your website

If you’re not already using them, it’s best practice to use UTM tags whenever you link to your website on an external source. Paired with the right marketing analytics platform, these will immediately give you more data about your leads’ referral sources.

Applying utm tags to each referral channel so you can track conversions in Mediahawk.

And when you introduce an accurate call tracking solution, assessing the performance of your referral channels becomes even easier. The right call tracking tool will help you accurately attribute revenue to the correct sources and understand which referral platforms and partners are worth investing in.

Add static numbers wherever you appear in referral channels

If you assign unique static numbers to each instance you appear in a referral channel, you can track how many calls you receive from that specific source. You could use these static numbers in places such as a directory, a piece of sponsored content, or even on a printed ad.

Graphic explaining how you can identify your top performing directories in Mediahawk.

Even with this simple data alone, you can start to differentiate between the sources bringing you leads and those not generating any engagement. One law firm we worked with increased its inbound enquiries by around 75% by using call tracking to understand where its leads were coming from.

Use dynamic numbers to gain more granular insights about your leads

When referrals reach your website, you can learn even more about their behaviour with dynamic call tracking. Dynamic numbers are unique to every visitor, and when you combine them with correctly tagged URLs, you’ll be able to see information such as:

  • The referring website and page your lead was on
  • Their visitor journey through your site
  • The pages they viewed while on the phone
  • Whether they initiated a live chat or downloaded a piece of content
  • Their prior or subsequent visits to your site
  • What they did after their call

Paired with advanced speech analytics and Sales Matching, you’ll also see any keywords captured from the lead’s phone conversation and their previous purchase history.

Make comparisons between your referral channels

When you have a complete picture of your leads from referrals, it’s easier to start comparing performance across your referral channels.

Tools like Parameter Connect – a feature in Mediahawk for automated cross-channel reporting – can combine datasets from your referral channels and allow you to compare on-website and off-website sources in one report. You can then set parameters to compare sources at a deeper level.

For example, if you’re an automotive vendor, a parameter such as ‘automotive-print-ads’ would allow you to compare the performance of all your print ads and understand which generate the most valuable leads.

Conclusion

“Strategically managing your referral channels is all about building a clearer picture of the leads coming from each source,” adds Faye. “With the right data, you can see what’s generating genuine engagements, what’s not performing, and where you can spend your marketing budget more effectively.”

In our guide, From complexity to clarity: The role of data in driving marketing success, we go beyond just referral channels and explore the value of lead data in every part of your marketing portfolio.

Get your copy to explore some valuable strategies you can apply to your own campaigns.

About the author - Natalia Selby

Marketing Executive at Mediahawk, with 20 years experience in analytics and content management.

Graphic representing Mediahawk call tracking paid ad analytics report
Customer data: The key to marketing success

In our guide, From complexity to clarity: The role of data in driving marketing success, we go beyond just referral channels and explore the value of lead data in every part of your marketing portfolio.

Get your copy to explore some valuable strategies you can apply to your own campaigns.

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