Google Analytics: How the Acquisition Overview Reports Can Boost your Business


The image you see above is a screenshot of the Acquisition Overview Report in Google Analytics. It has been known to make grown men and women break down in total and utter confusion, as they gaze helplessly at all those charts, tables, and squiggly line graphs. If you’re among them though, don’t worry: today I’m going to break down this report for you, so you can take control of your data and find out what marketing channels you need to invest in – and which ones to drop like a hot coal.

Acquisition Overview: Top Channels

The first chart we see breaks down your top channels for you (pro tip: if you want to see exactly which websites are sending most of the traffic your way, click the “Primary Dimension” dropdown just above this pie chart and select “Sources” instead of “Top Channels”.) A channel is simply Google’s term for groups of similar types of website traffic. As you can see from the graph below, these include:

  • Referral Traffic – visitors who have been referred to your site via links from other websites.
  • Organic Search – visitors who have been referred to your site from a page of search results, like Google or Bing
  • Direct – visitors who have either typed your URL directly into the browser bar, or those who have your site saved as a bookmark and click directly from there. Full disclosure, there’s a whole host of other reasons a visit may be inaccurately tagged as “direct” – but that’s a topic for another day!
  • Social – visitors who arrived to your site from a social networking site like Facebook, Twitter, or Pinterest.
  • Email – visitors who arrived to your site by clicking on a link within an email

Depending on your marketing strategies, you may also see other channels listed in your reports like “Paid Search” (visitors arriving via the promoted listings that appear at the top of a search results page) or “Display” (visitors arriving via a banner advertisement on another website).

But what does this tell us?

The “Top Channels” report already tells us quite a bit in isolation: for example, looking at the graph above, we can see that quite a high proportion of website traffic is “direct” – in fact there’s been almost 2,500 direct visits in just a couple of months. This seems unusually high, so it might indicate that one of our traffic sources isn’t being properly tracked in Analytics. If you have a larger business, with a lot of team members accessing the site regularly it could be that all your visits to the site are pushing up this direct traffic count, so you may want to set up some filters so your “internal traffic” is removed from your reports.

What about the other channels? Well, we can see that Referrals and Organic Search traffic are performing very well for us in terms of visit numbers, but Social and Email seem to be lagging behind a bit. So should we be investing more time and effort into Social and Email, or dropping them altogether?

First of all, you would need to apply some context to your data: how much time and revenue do you currently invest into these marketing channels? For social, which platforms are you focused on, and how does each platform perform individually? (Here’s where jumping to your “Source / Medium” report becomes very useful). But we’re also going to want to look at…

Acquisition Overview: Behaviour and Conversions

That’s right, traffic numbers only tell us half the story: to get the full picture from your Acquisition Overview report, you need to look at your audience behaviour and conversions. Let’s look at Social here in context (just click on the image above if you want to see all the data in our sample table): as well as generating lower traffic numbers, the visitors from social media websites seem to be less engaged with our content (indicated by the higher than average bounce rate) and less likely to take the actions we want them to, with the conversion rate for this channel sitting well below the site average.

This information can be invaluable to your business, especially if like a lot of my clients, you have to allocate your time and financial resources very carefully. You could feel like you’re doing really well on social media – let’s say you’re getting a lot of comments and other interactions – but a quick look at our Acquisition Overview report shows us that this isn’t helping us meet our website goals. Of course, your own Acquisition report could be telling you a completely different story, so why not take a look today and see which marketing channels are working for your business?

Ready to go examine your Acquisition report? Or are you looking for what other information Google Analytics can provide for you? This information is provided in my free PDF guide to Google Analytics, which you can access right here.