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Better Analysis on Website Traffic: Channel Grouping Definition

Better Analysis on Website Traffic: Channel Grouping Definition

One of the most important goals for Google Analytics is identifying top channels, campaigns, and content for effective user acquisition. We have to understand the traffic quality from each channel to be able to determine how to allocate your resources or marketing money for better ROI.

As I have briefly talked about in my previous article (GA Analytics Guide), you can check the Traffic Quality in Google Analytics (see the example below).

The quickest and easiest way to understand your traffic is look at the report by Default Channel Grouping. Today, I am going to walk you through the default channel grouping in Google Analytics.

Most Common Default Channel Groupings in Google Analytics Explained

Channel Grouping


1. Organic Traffic 

Organic traffic is the kind of traffic that comes from search engines when people click on the organic search results shown on the pages of search engine results (also known as SERPs).

When people search for something on Google (or Bing, or any other search engine), a list of websites shows up on the search engine results page. If people click on one of these results, that visit is counted in the organic traffic of that website.

Please note that only Organic Search Results are counted as Organic Traffic. Paid Traffic Results are not counted as an organic one.

Example: Terrence searches in Google for the keyword “gdn.” He sees the results of his search. He clicks on one of the organic results and your website page on GDN.

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2. Direct Traffic

Direct Traffic is the kind of traffic that comes from people directly entering your website’s URL on their browsers.

If someone visits your page and bookmarks it, then later they go back and open it, that’s counted as direct traffic. Also, if someone shares the link with you via messaging apps, such as Whatsapp and Facebook Messenger, and you click on it, it is also counted as direct traffic.

It’s usually an indicator of brand awareness or repeat visits. If direct traffic increases, we can generally say that our brand awareness has improved and we got more repeat customers.

Example: Terrence is looking for marketing consultation services and his colleagues recommend “Kick Ads” to him. He opens up Safari and starts typing “kicka” then the browser auto completes the URL to kickads.co. He clicks enter and kickads’s website shows up.

3. Social Traffic

Social traffic comes from social networks. When people share a link on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Linkedin and you click on it, that counts as Social Traffic.

There’s no way to know if your social media campaigns are getting tagged correctly until you see the traffic in your own reports as Google Analytics hasn’t published a list of about 100 domains (such as Pinterest, Reddit and Quora) that they have used to assign traffic to social networks.

If the traffic doesn’t have a match, it will fall under referral traffic.

Example: Terrence is scrolling on Facebook and sees a post about the Google Ads updates published by Kick Ads. He clicks on the link in the post to see the full article. Kick Ads’s website loads with the specific page for that post.

4. Referral Traffic

Referral traffic is the kind of traffic that comes from other websites.

When other people or organizations write about you, your products, and services on their own websites, their audiences click on that link and land on your own website. The website that links to your site is called the referring website/domain and Google Analytics considers this to be referral traffic.

Example: Terrence is reading an article from kickads.co and he noticed that there is a link for the statistics. So he clicks on it and lands on another website (oreilly.com). From oreilly.com’s analytics account, Terrence’s visit counts in their referral traffic. The referring website/URL/domain is kickads.co.

5. Email Traffic

Email traffic is the kind of traffic that comes from your email campaigns.

Please bear in mind that not all the links in your emails fall under email traffic. You have to integrate your email marketing software with Google Analytics or manually tag (UTM parameters) your links and make sure the medium parameter is “email” exactly. So, it appears properly under this channel grouping.

GA will count that link click (visit to your website) under direct traffic, if you fail to do so. This will affect the accuracy of your data and affect your decision-making as you might think that your email campaigns aren’t working and change your strategy based on this false information.

Example: Terrence received emails from Kick Ads. The first one is sent via their email marketing software and it contains an early-bird discount for a webinar coming up. He clicks on the link and lands on the website. GA counts this as email traffic.

Another email is the reply about the enquiries regarding the GA setting Terrence has asked about before. The email replied with a link to the Kick Ads’s Blog page. This is counted as direct traffic as the email was manually sent and no UTM parameters were added.

6. Paid Search Traffic

Paid Search traffic is the kind of traffic that comes from Paid Search (SEM).These ads are Google Search Ads or Bing Search Ads. Specifically, they have tracking links through the medium of “ppc” or “cpc”.

If people search for something on Google (or Bing, or any other search engine), the ads will show up on the search engine results page (or SERPs), on top of the organic traffic. When people click on the link with “Ad’ logo, it is considered Paid Search traffic.

Example: Terrence searches for a SEM marketing agency. In the search engine results page, it shows a list of websites, he clicks on the “Ad” of kickads.co. It counts this as paid search traffic.

7. Display Traffic

Display traffic is the kind of traffic that comes from display ads as well but it requires the medium parameter to be equal to “display.”

If you click on one of the banner ads you see when you are visiting the website, most of the time you will be led to another website and it will count as display traffic.

Example: Terrence is reading an article on the website about the GA4.0 updates and a display ad of the Kick Ads ebook [Google-Winning Playbook] shows up. He clicks on it and is directed to the Kick Ads website. This counts as Display Traffic.

8. Affiliate Traffic

If you have no idea what affiliate traffic is check out this article first.

In short, affiliates are paid-for actions generated by the traffic they send you. So normally there are lots of affiliate platforms that help you to track the performance of each affiliate and distribute the commission accordingly.

Generally, those platforms will be more accurate when tracking the actual amount of transaction / transaction value compared to Google Analytics. But you can track other metrics such as bounce rate, session and average duration from these affiliates in Google Analytics. So, it still makes sense to create a unique UTM for each affiliate.

I highly recommend watching this video if you want to know the proper way to create UTM for Affiliate Traffic.

9. Other Traffic

Other traffic is obviously the traffic that doesn’t fall under any default channel grouping definitions. This usually happens when you use custom parameters (UTM tags) in the shared links.

Remember that UTM parameters require some fields to work. Items 1–4 are compulsory, 5–6 are optional:

  1. Link/URL
  2. Source
  3. Medium
  4. Campaign
  5. Content
  6. Keyword

Example: Terrence is using custom parameters (UTM tags). He added “facebook” in the source parameter and used “post” in the medium parameter. It will count as other traffic. If he would like it to be social traffic, he has to add the value “social” in the medium parameter.

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Why aren’t the default channel groupings showing in my account?

The reason why the default channel groupings are not showing up on your channel acquisition report is because you do not have data that falls under the categories. If you don’t have ‘display’ data, you won’t see it there because there are zero values there anyway.


Why are my ads and social media campaigns showing in the Others channel?

These channel definitions are case sensitive. If your campaign traffic is being categorized in the Otherschannel, you are most likely using custom parameters that are not the same as the default settings in Google Analytics. For example, using “Email” is different from “email.” The former will show up under the Others channel while the latter will be tagged under email traffic.


Bonus: How do you customize the channel grouping?

Admin → Channel Groupingchannel grouping

You can build a new channel grouping from scratch or you can also choose to edit the default one.channel grouping

Feel free to edit the default channel definitions or even define a new channel
channel grouping

For example, it is quite common nowadays for marketers to separate social media ad traffic and organic social media traffic so they can measure the performance of Paid Social. You can set Paid Social Channel Grouping in your Google Analytics Account.

So, next time when you create your social media ads, especially Facebook ads, you can put “paidsocial” as your medium!!!

After reading this article, hopefully you should no longer feel confused about your traffic source. Let me know if you have any questions about it.