I gotta say, I must spend about 80% of my Google Analytics time dabbling into the Acquisition reports. It has got to be the best feature that Google Analytics offers - for any website, and for free. Any type of marketer would find value in at least one of the Acquisition reports. Why?
Because really, marketing dollars are divvied up across the multiple channels. We put more time and money into getting customers to our website than anything else. So Acquisition reports helps us make those important decisions.
So let's dive in where your traffic is coming from, shall we?
The Acquisition Overview report is a quick, visual view into basic performance metrics for your marketing channels.
- How many users are coming from each channel?
- What is their behavior like?
- And if you set your goals, how many conversions did each channel contribute?
But the overview is simply a summary, let's get to the fun pieces.
2. All Traffic
Now it's important to understand which referral dimensions that Google Analytics categorizes your users. There are three top-level tiers: Default Channel Groupings, Source/Medium, Referral URL.
Default Channel Groupings
Going from top-down, the Default Channel Groupings are the general marketing buckets where websites are grouped under. The grouping depends on the type of website and relationship to your website. Here's a list of them with definitions below.
Channel Grouping Definitions
Traffic referred to from search engine keywords ie Google, Bing, Yahoo, and more
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.
Traffic originated from social platforms ie Facebook, Twitter, Instagram
Traffic referred to from your paid ad campaigns based on search ads
Traffic referred to from paid ad campaigns based on display assets, such as banner ads, HTML5, gifs, and more
Miscellaneous bucket of referrers that don’t fit into the pre-defined categories.
Medium is not pre-defined and is missing from the referring URL
If you'd like to add additional default channels, you can head over to Admin Settings > Channel Settings > Channel Groupings for additions or even modifications. Here's an in-depth overview of how to do it yourself.
Source and Medium
Next tier down from the Default Channel Groupings is the corresponding Source and Medium.
What is the difference between Source and Medium?
Individual website domain by URL or name
The keyword to indicate the type of Default Channel Grouping. You must be thinking, isn't that repetitive? Well, Medium is the only one that you can customize as a UTM parameter because Default Channel Groupings can have multiple types of Medium keywords. To make sure you're using the right keywords, refer to this Google help doc here to get you started.
This is the the actual URL that pushed traffic to your website. If you really want to get down to the nitty gritty, head on over to the "Referrals" report.
How to Read the "All Traffic" Channels Report
Let’s take a look at an example Default Channel Grouping report below.
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 pulling the most visitors to your site.
Let's take it a step further.
Are these users completing your goals? You'll notice that the conversion drop down is selected for "Purchase Completed."
Here is where you can choose the targeted goal conversion on the right side to see which channels pushed this conversion. But note that goal conversions can be any action, such as an order confirmation, event completion, or completing an entire funnel. Check out this article to get a rundown on all things Goals here.
The highest conversion rate comes from Referrals. Remember, Referrals is the 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. But there are cases when you might find a big domain as an opportunity hiding in the Referrals 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 – obviously miscellaneous URLs that don’t fit into the pre-defined channels in Google Analytics. It does get interesting to see what flows through these reports ie coupon sites.
Make sure one of your actual domains aren’t in here if you have multiple domains!
How to Properly Review a Channels Report
- Start with Default Channel Groupings at the high-level.
- Click through the hyperlinks to drill down to more granular information, Source/Medium.
- 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 which referrers are the most popular.
3. 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 your 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?
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 viewed one product page
- Search remarketing appears after users have visited your website through text format on 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 tons of flexibility for all types of remarketing. But connecting Google Ads to Google Analytics mostly helps Standard and Dynamic remarketing based on your Google Analytics tracking.
After-Click Website Behavior
With Google Ads data in Google Analytics, you can use Ad-specific segments or dimensions to understand the user intent after a clickthrough. It opens up the doors to post-click activity. 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 after ad clickthrough - how Display, Search, and Video ads contribute to your entire website performance. You can even evaluate how paid campaigns affect other conversions, not just Last Touch as Google Analytics defaults.
Going the other way now, custom goals created in Google Analytics can also be shared to Google Ads. If you prefer to focus on ad data, you can push conversions data to the corresponding campaigns and evaluate it in Google Ads by itself. It's also great because Google Ads will automatically calculate the Cost per Conversion for you - right in the platform.
Google Ads Reports in Google Analytics
Switching back to Google Analytics, there are several Google Ads’ reports that Google Analytics provides, but these are the top 3 most useful for marketers.
All ad campaign names you created in Google Ads will appear here. You can also use a Secondary Dimension to drill down each campaign even further.
The Keywords report shows all the specific queries that you bid on for your paid campaigns. You can really drill down which are the most beneficial for your business here.
#3 Search Queries
The Search Queries report is different from the Keywords report as it'll show the actual phrases users searched before clicking on your paid ad.
Insights You Can Get From Google Ads Reports
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 often (closer to 100%)? 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?
Connecting Google Analytics to Google Ads has mutual benefits. Google Analytics is great to see the post-click behavior in relation to the rest of the website, whereas Google Ads gives more ease in micro-analysis and management for ads.
4. Search Console
Similar to the 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 Search Console 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
- You can see full user behavior after a keyword clickthrough with segments for any given time (not limited to Google Search Console's time limits)
- Google Analytics provides a view on how other search engines contribute to your traffic
- 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) You can think of clicks like page views, while sessions are a group of page views without 30 minutes of inactivity. Let's say a user clicked on the URL, searched a keyword, and didn’t do anything for 30 minutes while leaving theh tab open. Then, the 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’s Search Console
- 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 find out which keywords you want to use later.
- 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.
So how would we go about using both tools at once? 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 were tracking. Together, the search data shows you how your SEO is performing and if keyword clicks match up to your strategy.
Google Analytics’ Social report simply breaks down the "Social" channel (found under Acquisition > All Traffic > Channels report) into individual social websites. It has limited metrics, mostly the vanity metrics that aren't too helpful without context.
However, the Social dimension is easy to use as a default condition for your segments with other reports.
You can also view the top landing pages overall by social to determine which bring in the most traffic and conversions.
Alternative to the Social reports: View Social channel 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.
The Campaigns reports partially overlaps with the Google Ads > Campaign reports. They, however, show the 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 the tracking URL was used. These parameters will then push data into the corresponding 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
- 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. 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.
Continue on with our Google Analytics guide with the Behavior Reports here.