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Understanding Your Google Analytics Data: Acquisition

Google Analytics is an extremely powerful tool which can provide you with essential data about how visitors are getting to your website, but with so many different sections and reports, it can be tricky to navigate when you are starting out. In this installment, we will focus on using the Acquisition section of Google Analytics to help us answer this question.

Understanding Acquisition

While Audience covers who is coming to your website, Acquisition covers all of the different ways that they get there. Think of all of your different marketing activities that link back to your website – online advertising, social media, email, links on other websites, even organic search results. The reports in this section help you see what is going on with all of those. Let’s walk through a few of the reports that are the most applicable to all types of businesses.

All Traffic – Channels

This report breaks your traffic down into broad source categories so that you can see your website metrics for each channel. Here are the most common categories you will see:

  • Direct – People who typed in your website or visited it directly from a link that can’t be attributed to any other source (essentially Google can’t say for sure where this traffic came from)
  • Organic Search – Traffic from Google, Bing, and other search engines
  • Social – Visitors from social media networks
  • Referral – Links from other websites
  • Email – Links from emails

Google provides a full list of channels and how it defines them here: https://support.google.com/analytics/answer/3297892?hl=en

What to Look For

This report is useful for getting a high level overview of how most people are coming to your site. Pay attention to how your traffic is distributed across channels and if there is a large change in this distribution from month to month as that may impact your metrics across the board. 

It’s even more useful to notice how different categories of traffic behave differently once they are on your site. Look for differences in:

  • Bounce rate
  • Pages per session
  • Average session duration
  • Conversion rate

Higher than average bounce rates or lower than average time on site could mean that visitors from this channel are not finding what they were looking for when they came to your site.

Conversion Rate By Channel

One of the biggest questions businesses have is, “What’s working?” To determine which channels are working for your business, you need to look at how effective they are at driving conversions — or their conversion rates. 

You can find the number of conversions and the conversion rate for each channel in the columns furthest to the right in this report. These are based on the goals that you have set up in Google Analytics. If you have more than one goal set up, then you will need to use the drop down to look at each one separately since this report shows conversions and conversion rates one goal at a time.

  • Which channels have the highest conversion rates? Focus on increasing traffic from those channels.
  • Which channels have very low conversion rates? Look at the user paths for these channels to identify disconnects.

All Traffic – Source/Medium

This report breaks your traffic down further into where specifically it came from. If you are using UTM tagging, you are able to define the Source and Medium yourself on links that you tag. But Google will also automatically assign the Source and Medium for traffic that it can identify.

Source = Property traffic came from (i.e. Direct, Facebook, Google, etc.)

Medium = Type of traffic or method (organic, paid, referral, etc.)

What to Look For

Did the activity that you ran (in email, social media, etc.) bring in the traffic and/or conversions that you expected? If so, evaluate conversion rates and keep going. If not, try something else. You may need to change the message, the design, or the placement.

Which sources have the highest conversion rates for each of your goals? (If multiple goals are set up on the site, you will need to look at the report for each goal individually by selecting the appropriate goal in the far right columns.)

What sources are contributing the most traffic? Direct and Google-Organic are the largest sources for most businesses, but even smaller sources of traffic are worth paying attention to? Which of your social media networks contributes the most site traffic? This can indicate the audiences that you want to devote more attention to.

Have any sources notably increased or decreased? This can lead to changes in your other metrics as traffic from different sources tends to act differently.

Do any sources have metrics that are significantly lower or higher than your overall site average? This will help you see which sources are performing best so that you can concentrate your resources on those.

Are there any suspicious sources? Look up any sites that you don’t recognize to confirm they are not spam traffic. If they are, you will want to filter this traffic out of your data to avoid it changing your overall metrics. Keep in mind that spam traffic may have unusual bounce rates and time on site metrics that can impact your data, especially if you are looking only at Referral traffic.

Campaigns – All Campaigns

This report shows you traffic grouped by Campaign — a designation that you have to assign. You can tag traffic to a specific campaign through UTM tagging. MailChimp also can automatically tag traffic to a specific campaign. If you have not assigned traffic to specific campaigns and are not running Google Ads, then you may not have any data in this section.

The metrics in this report follow the same format as the Source/Medium report, just grouped by Campaign instead of Source, therefore ask yourself the same questions for this report: Did my activity produce the expected results? Which campaigns had the highest conversion rates? Which brought in the most traffic?

Search Console – Queries

This report shows you what search terms your site is appearing for, how it ranks, and how many people clicked on that term to visit your site. At the top of the report it shows you how many clicks from search you had, how many search impressions, and your average keyword ranking for the time period. Then it will show you these metrics term by term.

Search performance is dependent on a wide variety of factors, some that you can control and many you cannot. It is a good idea to monitor the performance of important key phrases to your business, but fluctuations are not automatically concerning. 

If there is a lot of competition for key phrases related to your business, then it may be difficult to rank highly and you may want to look for more specialized phrases to feature on your website to target search traffic that way.

What to Look For

How are you ranking for keywords that you have identified as important to your business? What are the click through rates like on these words? If they are low, it may not be obvious to searchers how your site is relevant to this topic.

Are there any keywords bringing you more attention than you would expect? This can show you how people are actually searching for companies like you.

Search Console – Landing Pages

This report shows you what pages are getting the most traffic from organic search. This also shows you engagement metrics (time on site, bounce rate, pages per session, etc.) based on which page the searcher landed on. This is useful to see how individual pages are performing with search traffic.

What to Look For

Which landing pages are leading to the most conversions and the highest conversion rates? If you click on the URL, you can see what search terms are bringing traffic to these pages to identify winning combinations.

Which pages are getting the most search traffic? Are these the pages you want searchers to find, or are there old pages that are getting a lot of traffic that you need to update or unpublish?

Do any pages have metrics that are much higher or lower than the site average? Keep in mind that search traffic performs differently than other channels, and they may all be higher or lower than your average, depending on the overall mix of traffic on your site.

  • If there are pages performing especially well, these may be pages that you will want to feature more in your other activities, for instance in social media and email campaigns. These pages would be good landing pages for automations.
  • If there are any pages performing poorly, click on the page link to drill down to the terms that are driving traffic to that page. You should adjust the page to either 1) attract different search traffic, or 2) better speak to people coming from those terms. Or you may want to eliminate the page entirely.


The Acquisition section of Google Analytics is a rich resource for understanding the overall performance of your site. These reports and questions only scratch the surface, but are a good place to start. 

These questions will lead us to dig into the Behavior and Conversions sections of Google Analytics, which are covered in the next installments of this series.

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