Google Analytics: How to Best Use Acquisition Reports for Marketing

Know where and how your users visit your website
Acquisition reports attribute your users to different marketing channel strategies. You can see where the share of your traffic comes from: social, search, and more! Acquisition is especially powerful for marketers who are focused on acquiring new customers. How do people reach your website before converting? Which campaigns push users to order?

All Traffic

We'll dive into the Acquisition's Channels report with an example screenshot below. Default Channel Groupings are the highest level of channel categories Google Analytics has, grouping multiple websites automatically for you.

Channel Definitions

Organic Search

Traffic referred to from search engine keywords ie Google, Bing, Yahoo, and more

Direct

Traffic that types in your URL or has it saved as a bookmark to easily revisit your website. Mostly returning visitors or word-of-mouth referred visitors.

Social

Traffic originated from social platforms ie Facebook, Twitter, Instagram

Paid Search

Traffic referred to from your paid ad campaigns based on search ads

Display

Traffic referred to from paid ad campaigns based on display assets, such as banner ads, HTML5, gifs, and more

Referral

Miscellaneous bucket of referrers that don’t fit into the pre-defined categories.

Other

Medium is not pre-defined, but identified by a custom medium by Google Analytics admin or may be missing altogether

If you create your own UTM tracking parameters appended to campaign URLs, you can modify channel definitions in Admin Settings > Channel Settings > Channel Groupings. This will categorize your campaigns to the proper Default Channel Grouping automatically.

Click through each Default Channel Grouping hyperlink to drill down to individual “Sources” or websites that drove traffic. Otherwise, you can select the small hyperlinks right above grey table to see different breakdowns.  

What is the difference between Source and Medium?

Source

Individual websites by URL or name

Medium

Type of Default Channel Grouping, can be customized to be more specific ie cpc, cpm, and more

To automate the incoming traffic to the default channel groupings, follow these keywords in the exact syntax for custom UTM parameters you set in tracking URLs.

Let’s take a look at an example Default Channel Grouping report.

When Organic Search is #1 like the screenshot above, this means your SEO and content is doing well! You're not paying a dime, but your website content is grabbing visitors to your site.

Let's take it a step further.

Are these users completing your goals?

You can choose the targeted goal conversion on the right side to see the data broken down by the channels. Goal conversions can be any action, such as an order confirmation, event completion, or completing an entire funnel.

The highest conversion rate comes from Referrals, miscellaneous URLs that are usually not associated with the other pre-defined channels. The goal is to attract more converting traffic from the other pre-defined channels, not a miscellaneous bucket. We can drill down, however, into “Referral” for more clarification as to what external websites make up the Referrals.

These are example URLs that get bucketed into Referral – miscellaneous URLs that don’t fit into the pre-defined channels in Google Analytics. It does get interesting as to what flows through these reports ie coupon sites. Make sure one of your domains aren’t in here if you have multiple domains!

Best way to evaluate Channels reports:

  1. Start with Default Channel Groupings at the high-level.
  2. Click through the hyperlinks to drill down to more granular information, Source/Medium.
  3. Optional: Set the Secondary Dimension as Source/Medium to see them side-by-side.

Depending on what you see, play around with the different dimensions as the primary and see what is the most popular.


​Google Ads

(formerly known as Google AdWords)

You’re putting real money into getting clicks on Google Search, YouTube Video, and Google Display. Is it working?

Before you do anything, link your Google Ads account to your Google Analytics account in the Admin settings. You simply need to just enter your Google Ads ID under “Google Ads Linking” for Property. You can then relate data from your Google Ads to the rest of your website behavior with segments!

What are the benefits of linking Google Ads to Google Analytics?

Remarketing Lists

Google Ads allows you to recycle the audience you’ve previously reached to show additional ads through Display and Search ads. There are multiple ways to remarket: Standard (Display), Dynamic, Search, Video, and Customer Lists.

Standard remarketing targets users that have reached your website or specific pages with Display Ads.

Dynamic remarketing goes deeper and retargets to custom events related to more specific website behavior ie average order value, viewed one product page, and more.

Search remarketing appears after users have visited your website in text form for search engines.

Video remarketing displays to users who have interacted or seen your videos, YouTube, or any other channel with video media.

Customer lists are a list of user emails that you imported into Google Ads to directly target your exact audience.

Google Ads gives the flexibility for all types of remarketing, but connecting Google Ads to Google Analytics specifically helps Standard remarketing – and also automated remarketing lists based on website visitors and your additional conversion tracking.

After-Click Website Behavior

With Google Ads data in Google Analytics, you can use segments or correlate dimensions to understand the user intent after a clickthrough. Any Google Ads variable can be sliced and diced any way with Google Analytics.

Rich Multichannel Reports

Usually, Google Ads only shows the activity at the ad level, but you don’t know what happens afterwards. Google Analytics provides the entire ecosystem, how Display, Search, and Video ads contribute to your entire website performance. You can evaluate the influence of paid ads on other conversions, not just Last Touch as Google Analytics defaults.

Goal Imports

Custom goals created in Google Analytics can also be shared to Google Ads to count conversions there as well. It allows you to solely stay in Google Ads if only conversion analytics is necessary for a quick performance evaluation.

Switching back to Google Analytics, there are several Google Ads’ reports that Google Analytics provides, but these are the top 3 most useful:

Campaigns

Each set of ads grouped under what you’ve defined within Google Ads by topic, event, category, etc

Keywords

Specific phrases that you bid on for your paid campaigns to appear

Search Queries

Actual phrases users searched before clicking on your paid ad

Some questions you may ask while analyzing the data:

1. Did the ad help in targeted goal conversions?

2. Which targeted keywords worked the best in bringing in quality traffic?

3. Were the search queries exactly like the targeted keywords? How?

4. Are users bouncing too quickly, what is the bounce rate for each keyword?

5. Are users engaging with the site more or just staying on one page? Pages/sessions higher than 1?

In turn, you can connect your custom goals to your Google Ads account in the admin settings there where you can see results with more granularity – in respect to Ads alone.

It works both ways. Google Analytics is great to see the ad effects in relation to the rest of the website, whereas Google Ads gives more ease in micro-analysis and management for ads.


​Search Console

Similar to Google Ads linking in Google Analytics, you can do the same for Google’s Search Console in the admin settings. Under Property, go directly to Property Settings. There is a Search Console section towards the bottom that allows you to configure it.

Warning! Search Console data will be very different from Google Analytics search data – due to many reasons we’ll talk about below.

So how do you use the data properly?

Understand and know the differences. This applies to all best practices with data. Depending on the methodology of how measurement differs, Google Analytics may either have a lower or higher count.

What are the differences between Google Analytics’ Search Console report vs Google’s Search Console?

Google Analytics' Search Console Reports

Pros

  • You can see full user behavior after a keyword clickthrough with segments over time, not limited to infrequent updates like Google’s Search Console
  • Google Analytics provides a view on how other search engines contribute to your traffic

Cons

  • The Google Analytics’ Search Console reports does not categorize a good chunk of keywords due to privacy issues. Since Google Analytics allows you to drill into very specific user behavior, most keywords are categorized as "not set."
  • Google Analytics will have a higher count in sessions vs clicks in Google’s Search Console. (Google Search Console only shows clicks – Google Analytics Search Console reports only shows sessions) Clicks can be analogous to page views whereas sessions is a group of page views in one time frame. If a user clicked on the URL, searched a keyword, and didn’t do anything for 30 minutes (session timeout period), that user eventually comes back to the URL. That entire activity is counted as two sessions, which eventually creates the discrepancy between the two tools.
  • Google Analytics is dependent on Javascript tracking, leading to some discrepancies when Javascript is not present.

Google’s Search Console

Pro

  • Google’s Search Console shows most of the search results without depending on the Google Analytics tracking snippet. With more keyword information captured, you can gauge which keywords you want to use later.

Cons

  • Google’s Search Console is not frequently updated like Google Analytics. Usually, analysts refer to these reports once every quarter, which are not ideal for real-time decisions.
  • With limited reports available and no linked Google Analytics data, you can’t depend on Google’s Search Console alone for full website performance attributed to keywords.

What is the recommended best practice for Search analytics?

We use Google’s Search Console for keyword inspiration as there are extra keywords being captured there. Then, we’ll deep dive into Google Analytics’ Search Console reports to see if there was a trend with any of the top keywords. Together, the search data shows you how your SEO is performing and if keyword clicks match up to your strategy.

Social

Google Analytics’ Social report simply breaks down the "Social" channel under Acquisition > All Traffic > Channels report into individual social websites. It has limited metrics, mostly generic metrics that aren't too helpful without context.

However, the Social dimension is easy to use as a condition for your segments with other reports.

You can also view the top landing pages overall by social to determine which are most helpful in traffic and conversions.

Alternative: View Social metrics in Acquisition > All Traffic > Channels report with the flexibility of secondary dimensions and segments. It’s also shown in the context of other Default Channel Groupings as well.

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Campaigns

The Campaigns reports partially overlaps with the Google Ads > Campaign reports. They, however, show the actual custom UTM parameters from tracking URLs (if you use them).

What are tracking URLs?

Tracking URLs are URLs with your landing page appended with custom UTM parameters you choose to define the URL for reporting. The parameters help identify where and how the campaign or post the URL was used.  These parameters will then be organized into actual Google Analytics reports once the URLs are active.

Common UTM Parameters for Google Analytics:

Campaign

Name of the campaign you’re running, ideally similar to your Google Ads name

Source

Platform name similar to website URL ie google, facebook, instagram, youtube

Medium

Pre-defined terms that Google Analytics uses ie affiliate, cpc, display

Term

Any keyword or audience targeting

Content

Describes the creative or content being used

Recommended for custom UTMs: Use the pre-defined terms for source and medium as much as possible, so Google Analytics can categorize it to the right Default Channel Grouping for proper traffic attribution. Otherwise, you’ll need to customize Channel Groupings in Admin. This is important as you will rely heavily on Default Channel Groupings for high-level performance insights.

UTM parameters overlap with Default Channel Grouping, Source, and Medium dimensions, too. Though, it is filtered to only your UTM URLs, both paid and organic. These reports give the flexibility to play with the different parameters you’ve used in tracking URLs.

Here's a sketchnote summarizing high-level takeaways from this article, feel free to share with your friends!

Google Analytics Acquisition Reports Best Practices (Sketchnote)

Read our next guide to Google Analytics Behavior reports here.