Using the Acquisition Report in Google Analytics for Beginners

October 2, 2018
by Laura

Last week we had a quick look at setting up Google Analytics on your website and getting started with running your first report. Head here for a refresher if you need one! I promised my Google Analytics for Beginners posts would continue, so this week we’re going to take a look at simple ways to use the Acquisition report. This report will help you understand where your website visitors are coming from, which is a valuable tool for analysing the success of your digital marketing strategy.

Head to Google Analytics and click Acquisition in the left sidebar followed by Overview. Set the date range you want to analyse by clicking on the dates in the top right corner. I’ve selected a 3 month period from this year, but it’s completely up to you! The first thing we see in the Acquisition Overview is a pie chart telling us where all of our traffic is coming from. This may include Organic, Direct, Referral, Social, Email or more; it just depends on where your traffic came from for the time period selected. We also have a little graph that just shows the number of users per day for that time period.

Acquisition Overview - Google Analytics for Beginners

What do the different Acquisition Channels mean?

As we can see, the top referrer for this client is Organic Search at almost 50%. This means that the majority of their site visitors are finding them through Google, Bing, Yahoo or whatever search engine they choose to use. This is a great result which shows that, by and large, SEO tactics incorporated into their marketing strategy are working. Social media is a pretty low priority for this client which is reflected in the very small piece of pie it gets. Email is pretty self explanatory I think? Visitors have come to your website because they’ve clicked on a link that was sent to them in an email. If you have a significant email database your piece of pie should hopefully be larger here - if not, it may be time to reassess the effectiveness of your email campaigns.

Officially, Direct traffic may refer to visitors who have reached the website either through clicking on a browser bookmark or by typing the website address directly into the address bar. Other Direct traffic may also be mobile traffic driven from QR codes or from inside mobile apps. Having a high ratio of Direct traffic could indicate a loyal customer base (they visit your website so often they’ve taken the time to bookmark it). I would expect e-Commerce giants such as ASOS or Amazon to have a crazy high Direct piece of pie, as they enjoy significant customer loyalty. But remembering last week when we learnt (thanks to the Audience Overview) that this client has a higher ratio of New visitors than they do Returning visitors, I would probably say that Direct is taking up too much of that pie. You may have noticed that there’s no “Unknown” source path; this is because Google also categorises any traffic that it can’t figure out the source for, as Direct. So you know, Google Analytics isn’t perfect. This occurrence is a growing phenomenon mainly thanks to changes in privacy laws and internet users generally becoming more savvy about their internet privacy. There are various plugins, extensions or updates your visitors may be using to shield their identity and protect their browsing history, so there’s a good chance that this is what we’re seeing here.

Don't Forget!

You may see "(not set)" in quite a few places. Unfortunately this is the number of visitors that Google wasn’t able to capture data on! The reason for this will vary depending on the report. Read more about "(not set)" here.

And finally, Referral traffic is traffic sent to your website from another website. You may be seeing traffic from a customer who has linked back to you, meaning they are referring traffic to you!

Acquisition Overview - Google Analytics for Beginners

How to read the Acquisition Report

Further down, we can see actual numbers for each source as well as a bounce rate. A lower bounce rate is the ideal (as mentioned in the last guide) so 40% for organic search is great. We know from this rate that the audience we’re gaining from organic search is of a high quality.

Any of these sources can be “drilled down” by clicking on the source you’d like to learn more about. For example, Social will tell you which network is sending you the most traffic. The line graph in the drill down will help you see what days Social pushed the most traffic to your website. Line up those days with the posted content it coincides with and you may get some clues as to what your social media audience is interested in!

Hot Tip!

Social bookmarking sites like StumbleUpon (now called Mix) seem like they push a lot of traffic to websites, especially for bloggers. That’s why a lot of people swear by it, but based on widely agreed anecdotal evidence, traffic from sites like that are extremely low quality, usually with a 100% bounce rate. If you’re listing your pages on Mix or something similar, definitely take a look at this report to see if you’re potentially wasting your time with that particular strategy!

Acquisition report for Beginners

We can clearly see that this client’s most valuable social network is LinkedIn, not just because it’s number 1, but also because of the high Pages/Session count and the Avg. Session Duration. What’s interesting to me, is that they don’t actually use Facebook so I’m a little curious about why that’s almost as much as LinkedIn! It’s not a high quality audience anyway (100% bounce rate), but to investigate further, I might add a secondary dimension to this report. Click on Secondary dimension above the table and then Behaviour > Landing Page. This is going to show me where on the website these social networks have pushed traffic.

Acquisition Report Google Analytics for Beginners

We have have a list of URL's indicating what pages our audience is reading. (I've blacked these out for privacy!) Now we can see that both Facebook and Twitter are pushing the most traffic straight to the home page (indicated by the forward slash). I can now see what articles resonated most with the audience as well and where that pesky Facebook traffic is headed. Overall I’m not too worried about this anomaly, as it could be as simple as one of the client’s employees announcing their new job or sharing an article they were mentioned in. There are plenty of things to do with your traffic you have no control over! As a B2B business, this client prefers to focus on Twitter and LinkedIn as that's where their target audience (other businesses) are; hence their absence from Facebook. My advice would be to keep an eye on it, and perhaps consider joining the conversation if it eventually develops into or proves to be of a decent quality.

There is an amazing amount of information we can glean from the Acquisition report, and this is just the beginning! Next week though, we'll take a look at some basic information we can get from the Behaviours report.

Cheers, Laura x

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Making sense of the acquisition report - Google Analytics for Beginners
Google Analytics 101: Make sense of the Acquisition Report

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