Google Analytics Standard Reports Series – #3: Acquisition Reports

Google Analytics Acquisition Reports

In this series of blog posts I’m giving a fairly brief overview of some of the reports within the 5 main reporting categories in Google Analytics. In last week’s post I discussed the key reports in the Audience category. This week – I’m talking about Acquisition Reports.

Blog Posts in this series:

Acquisition Reports

The Acquisition Reporting section of Google Analytics is used to identify how users arrive at your website.

Specific reports are used to to learn more about your traffic – if they arrive directly to your site or use a search engine – and how successful certain marketing campaigns are in attracting users.

Acquisition – Overview Report

The Acquisition Overview Report provides high level insight into:

  • What channels drive the most users to your website
  • The default engagement metrics for each channel (e.g. Bounce Rate, Pages per Session and Average Session Duration
  • The number of conversions per channel and conversion rates per channel (if Goals or E-Commerce tracking have been enabled)
Google Analytics Acquisition Reports Overview

All Traffic – Channels Report

The All Traffic – Channels report gives you an overview of what type of acquisition channels are driving traffic to your site at a high level. You can click any of the channels to see related standard reports with more details.

All traffic is allocated to a certain channel based on “system-defined” rules. It is possible to modify the default channel groupings in the admin section of each view.

The default channel groupings in Google Analytics are:

DirectSource exactly matches direct AND
Medium exactly matches (not set)
Medium exactly matches (none)
Organic Search Medium exactly matches organic
Social Social Source Referral exactly matches Yes
Medium matches regex ^(social|social-network|social-media|sm|social network|social media)$
Email Medium exactly matches email
AffiliatesMedium exactly matches affiliate
ReferralMedium exactly matches referral
Paid SearchMedium matches regex ^(cpc|ppc|paidsearch)$
Ad Distribution Network does not exactly match Content
Other AdvertisingMedium matches regex ^(cpv|cpa|cpp|content-text)$
DisplayMedium matches regex ^(display|cpm|banner)$
Ad Distribution Network exactly matches Content
(unavailable) or (other)Sessions don’t match any channel description.

Clicking on Organic Search takes you to the Keywords report; Direct takes you to the top landing pages for direct visitors; Referral takes you to your top referring websites and Social takes you to your top-referring social networks.

All Traffic – Source/Medium Report

The Source/Medium report gives you more detail on the exact sources that are driving traffic to your site at a more specific level – i.e. what search engine drove organic, what sites drove referral, what networks drove paid search, etc.

This report allows you to quickly analyze where most of your traffic comes from—it may be a particular search engine, a publication you contribute to or even a directory you advertise with.

Google Analytics Acquisition Reports Source Medium

A Note on “Direct” Traffic in Google Analytics (It’s not as straightforward as it seems)

It’s often assumed that traffic counted under the “Direct” channel in Google Analytics is traffic that arrived on your site either by a user typing your website URL into a browser or through browser bookmarks.

This kind of traffic is indeed attributed as “Direct”, however it’s not the only traffic that’s attributed as such – traffic that doesn’t truly arrive at your site directly, but is attributed as “Direct” in Google Analytics is known as “Dark Traffic”.

The reason “Dark Traffic” exists is down to how Google technically identifies “Direct” traffic – i.e. it’s traffic that doesn’t bring referral data with it via the http header as it arrives on your site (refer back to the definition in the table above).

Over time a number of different types of “Dark Traffic” have emerged.

Dark Traffic

Dark traffic is traffic that arrives to your website and is incorrectly labelled by Google Analytics (or other web analytics tools) as “direct”.

There are a lot of types of dark traffic that are commonly mislabeled as “Direct” including:

  • Traffic via chat apps such as Whatsapp and Messenger
  • Traffic via e-mail clients like Outlook / G-Mail
  • Traffic via native mobile apps
  • Traffic via improperly tagged digital advertising
  • Traffic via “Dark Search” (In-app searches, image searches, secure searches)
  • Referral traffic from a secure (HTTPS) site to a non-secure (HTTP) site

I have written a separate blog post detailing a good way to minimize dark traffic in your reports – feel free to read that for more details on the issue… for now though, back to our reports…

All Traffic – Referrals Report

The Referrals report gives you more detail on what other websites that “referred” visitors to your site by clicking a link. This category excludes advertising visits, as well as organic search, in most cases.

When you click on any of these source domains in the main report, you see the specific pages where people found your links on a 3rd party website and clicked on them. These are the referral paths.

Google Analytics Acquisition Reports Referral

Google Ads Reports

It is possible to link your Google Ads (formerly AdWords) account to your GA reporting to get a full picture of how your paid search and display traffic is performing.

The reports in this category allow you to look at campaign performance, keyword performance, landing page performance and optimise your campaigns accordingly.

Google Analytics Acquisition Reports Google Ads

Google Search Console Reports

It is possible to link your Google Search Console account to your Google Analytics reporting to get much more detail on how your organic search traffic is performing.

This report allows you to look at organic keyword performance, landing page performance and optimise or add content accordingly.

Google Analytics Acquisition Reports Google Search Console

Next Week…

There are a few other reports available to you within the Acquisition category but that’s it for my overview of the key reports. Next week I’ll be discussing the main reports available to you within the “Behavior” category in Google Analytics. Stay tuned…

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Google Analytics Standard Reports Infographic

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SEO Consultant at Velocity Growth | + posts

Darren is SEO Growth Lead at Velocity Growth. He is experienced in developing bespoke SEO roadmaps and implementing long term SEO strategies to build organic visibility, traffic and conversions for clients across a diverse range of industries.