Your Guide to Google Analytics Traffic Sources
Google Analytics data is a great way to make informed decisions for your content strategy. But the only way it’s effective is if you understand what the data means. Today we will be walking through the different traffic sources, which tells us where your traffic is coming from.
Once you’ve logged in, there are multiple ways to view this in the GA dashboard.
In the left side rail, go to Reports -> Acquisition -> All Traffic -> Channels
Once there, if you want to see performance on the page level, select secondary dimension ‘landing page’
In the left side rail, go to Reports -> Behavior -> Site Content and then either All Pages (for pageview data) or Landing Pages (for session data)
Once there, add secondary dimension ‘source / medium’
Traffic Sources in GA:
Traffic classified as organic is referring to traffic coming from unpaid search results. Typically the bulk is from Google organic, but that isn’t the only option. Other search engines commonly driving traffic in GA are Bing, Yahoo, DuckDuckGo and AOL.
SEO is a tactic used to increase a website’s organic traffic, through gaining more visibility (rankings) in the unpaid search results. SEO (search engine optimization) focuses on providing your users with a smooth experience on your web pages, useful and usable content, accurate information and fast loading pages.
If you want to learn more about SEO, our first recommendation is to thoroughly read Google’s SEO Starter Guide.
Google Analytics classifies unpaid traffic that comes to your site from other websites. Not social platforms, not search engines or emails, but from links on other websites. Digging into this bucket is an excellent way to get insight into potential partnerships and content collaborations. When you see another blog or website sending you traffic, it means they’re linking to you, promoting you. Referral traffic also includes certain tools used to drive website traffic from Instagram like linkin.bio and linkinprofile.com.
Referral traffic is also used to categorize two other Google sources that are neither paid, nor organic and can make up rather significant percentages of your traffic. These two sources are Google News and Google Discover.
Google Discover (formerly known as: Google Feed) shows you topics and news content that interest you based on your search history. When you’re on your mobile device and visit Chrome (you must be logged in), a list of content suggestions generates under the search bar.
Traffic to your site from Google News will show up in two areas in Google Analytics. When you are included in their actual news section, on https://news.google.com, this traffic will show as referral.
One of the more obvious to understand, the Social bucket includes traffic coming from social media, but not everyone will see traffic from Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter, Instagram, IG Stories, YouTube, and LinkedIn set up as a social source in GA. Depending on if the traffic stems from a social share button, a social embed on a webpage, from the platform app or from the social site in a browser, it’s more likely this traffic will be classified under referral unless you customize the settings.
Our partners see a significant amount of traffic come from Pinterest and Facebook. And although Facebook has long had a shaky relationship with publishers, it looks like they’re possibly on the mend. Since mid-October, our partners and o&o properties combined have seen a 40% increase in traffic from FB.
There are many great benefits to running an email program for your business. Getting communication out to your users on a consistent basis keeps your brand top of mind for them. Once you’ve found the platform you want to use (Constant Contact, MailChimp, etc.) and have built a list of people who’ve signed up, you can start building the newsletters. Any traffic that comes back to your site from those newsletters should be classified in GA as email traffic. But in order for this to work properly, you must tag all of the links you include in your email marketing campaigns.
Direct traffic is probably the most frustrating (and vague) traffic source of all of them. Partners will see a spike in direct traffic, come to us for insight just to hear that there really isn’t any way to know for sure. What started off as the traffic attributed to users bookmarking a webpage or typing a URL directly into a browser, now includes so much more.
Google also classifies traffic as direct when they don’t actually know where it came from, making it sort of an unclassified catch-all.
clicking on untracked links from personal e-mails (depending on the provider)
from shortened links (depending on the provider)
links from PDFs, Word docs, Powerpoint, Excel
links from certain mobile apps
users going from an HTTP link to HTTPS (diminishing with most sites running HTTPS versions)
misclassification of organic search traffic
Commonly associated with content recirculation modules and ad campaigns, paid traffic is the bucket containing traffic you paid for. For the majority of partners, the goal would be to keep this number as small as possible and work on growing your unpaid traffic sources. For publishers, two common paid platforms are Taboola and Outbrain.
When you’re lucky enough to get your website included in the big partnership programs, this traffic will show as Syndication in GA. If the traffic hasn’t specifically been set up as a syndication source, it would likely show as referral. For publisher sites, Syndication sources commonly include Flipboard, Yahoo News, SmartNews, News Break App and MSN. To get approved into these partnership programs, the publishing frequency requirements are often higher, in some cases up to 5 pieces of content a day. The payoff can be huge though if your content connects with these audiences.
At BlogHer Creators Summit ‘19, Google’s Roshni Dutt introduced the audience to their new News Consumer Insights tool, which provides an even deeper understanding of your audience data and uncovers actionable steps to improve your site. You can read more about it here – https://newsinitiative.withgoogle.com/training/datatools.