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Google Analytics Channels: Your Website Traffic Explained

Jordan Hatfield

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Website Traffic: Google Analytics Channels

A vital part of your digital marketing strategy is finding out how many users are visiting your website. And, specifically, how they got there. By setting up Google Analytics on your site, you can do exactly that.

We’ve talked about the key things you can measure with Analytics, including sources of website traffic (found in Acquisition > Overview), but what are these different traffic channels? What is organic search traffic, paid search traffic, direct traffic, etc.?

Let’s get into it …

(Please note: This info is for Universal Analytics. Your web traffic report might look a bit different in Google Analytics 4.)

1. What Is Organic Search Traffic?

Someone is going about their day, and they start thinking about something. It could be a question they want answered (like this one) or a product or service they’re looking for. So they Google it, as one does. (Or maybe they Bing it, Yahoo it, DuckDuckGo it …)

Different websites come up in the search results, and they open yours.

Congratulations! You have an Organic Search visitor on your website!

Google Analytics Channels: What Is Organic Search Traffic

Organic Search traffic means visitors like these — users who found your website through a search engine without clicking on a paid ad (we’ll come back to that). They went looking for something, and they found you.

Getting a lot of Organic traffic that takes an interest in your website is the mark of good SEO (Search Engine Optimisation). Out of all the traffic channels in Google Analytics, this is one of the most important for your website.

2. What Is Paid Search Traffic?

Again, there’s something on a person’s mind, like a question, product or service, and again they look it up in a search engine.

This time, however, at the top of the page, they see some results marked ‘Ad’, advertising a certain product or service they may be interested in. They open an Ad linking to your website.

There you have it, a Paid Search visitor!

Google Analytics Channels: What Is Paid Search Traffic

Paid Search traffic means visitors who found your website through a paid ad on a search engine. The ad is shown to them when they search for the right keywords, given priority at the top of the results page, and in return you are charged whenever they click on it.

This is called PPC (Pay-Per-Click) marketing, typically done using Google Ads, and the right Ad will bring in Paid Search visitors who like what they see and convert to paying customers.

3. What Is Direct Traffic?

This time, a user doesn’t bother with a search engine. They already know exactly what they’re looking for, and they go straight to your website.

These users are called Direct visitors.

Google Analytics Channels: What Is Direct Traffic

Direct visitors get onto your website by entering the URL straight into their address bar. Perhaps they typed it in themselves, they had your site bookmarked, or maybe they were following a link from an offline source, like a document or PDF. (See Moz’s full guide on Direct traffic.)

This is also one of your most important Google Analytics channels. In another blog post, we’ve talked about how spreading your brand with useful content can earn you more Direct visitors, and how Direct traffic is good for your website’s SEO, leading to more Organic traffic in the future.

4. What Is Social Traffic?

Instead of searching for something or coming straight to you, someone might just be scrolling through social media and looking at whatever tickles their fancy. They see a post linking to your website, perhaps a specific page or article, and decide to have a look.

These users are Social visitors.

Google Analytics Channels: What Is Social Traffic

Social visitors can come from any social media platform — Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube or LinkedIn, to name a few.

Social traffic tends to be the result of an effective Social Media Marketing strategy and can be very helpful to your SEO.

5. What Is Referral Traffic?

Rather than looking through social media, someone may already be looking at another website. Somewhere on the page, they see a link to your own website, and they follow it.

These users are Referral visitors.

Google Analytics Channels: What Is Referral Traffic

Referral visitors are those who have been ‘referred’ to you by another website. Links like this are known as ‘backlinks’ and, like Direct traffic, are good for your SEO and will lead to more Organic visitors.

6. What Is Display Traffic?

Again, someone is already on another website, and they see a link to your site. This time, however, the link is not in the main content of the page — this time, it’s an ad. They click on it, and your site comes up.

These users are Display visitors.

Google Analytics Channels: What Is Display Traffic

Display visitors are those who found your website through a Google display ad, appearing as a clickable image or banner on another website, or even a mobile app or YouTube video. Driving Display traffic like this is also something you can do with Google Ads.

By checking your Google Analytics channels, not only can you see which types of traffic your website is getting, but you can also compare user behaviour for each one, and you can get into the specifics — for example, which sites and social platforms in particular are linking to you.

Find out where your visitors are coming from and how, and see how Analytics can help your business.

To see what else we report on for our clients’ websites, visit our Website Analytics page.

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