Lesson 3 of4
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Google Analytics


One of the most exciting and important aspects of digital marketing is the ability to understand exactly how your customers are finding you. It informs every single part of integrated campaigns and helps determine which efforts are working and which ones need to be revisited. Google Analytics allows you to zero in on the performances of different marketing channels to evaluate everything from brand awareness to social media messaging. To get the most insight from that data, it’s crucial to understand exactly how Google sorts your traffic.

Channels in Google Analytics are high-level categories indicating how people found your site. While the Source/Medium report shows you in more detail where people came from, Channels are broader, more “user-friendly” names lumping visits together in buckets useful for high-level reporting categories.

For instance, Facebook Sessions often show up in multiple ways in the Source/Medium report. They may appear as facebook.com, m.facebook.com, and l.facebook.com, all of which are variations of the same source. The Channels report will include all of these in the Social bucket, so you can see less granular, aggregate numbers on social media performance.

Default Google Analytics Channels

The default channels are:

  • Direct:
    • In general, indicates visits where users navigated directly to the URL or the source of the visit is unknown. See: Understanding Direct Traffic in Google Analytics
    • Determined by a source of direct and medium of (not set) or (none)
  • Organic Search:
    • Indicates visits from organic (unpaid) search results
    • Determined by medium of organic
  • Social:
    • Indicates visits from social networks (Facebook, Twitter, etc.)
    • Determined when Social Source Referral matches “yes;” Google Analytics also places these in the referral “bucket” matching a list of known social sources or when medium matches social, social-network, social-media, sm, social network, or social media
  • Email:
    • Indicates traffic from links clicked in email messages, whether mass email marketing or individual messages
    • Determined by medium of email
  • Affiliates:
    • Indicates traffic from affiliate marketing efforts
    • Determined by medium of affiliate
  • Referral:
    • Indicates traffic where users clicked a link from another site, excluding major search engines
    • Determined by medium of referral
  • Paid Search:
    • Indicates traffic from PPC campaigns run in search results
    • Determined by medium of cpc, ppc, or paidsearch; also, excludes traffic in “Content” bucket of ad networks
  • Other Advertising:
    • Indicates traffic from online advertising outside of search and display, such as cost-per-view video advertising
    • Determined by medium of cpv, cpa, or cpp
  • Display:
    • Indicates traffic from display advertising, such as Google AdWords remarketing campaigns
    • Determined by medium of display, cpm, or banner, or in “Content” bucket of ad networks (indicating Google Display Network)