The Beginner’s Guide to Website Traffic Sources in GA

So, you have Google Analytics (GA) set up on your website and see fresh traffic stream into your site; that’s great! But, while there are near-endless data you can collect from Google Analytics on the traffic coming to your site for business owners, marketers, and webmasters, the first question about that traffic is usually, “how is this traffic finding my website?”

How Do You Tell How People to Find Your Website?

Google Analytics can tell you the percentage of site visitors that come to your site from a mobile device, exactly what type of mobile device they are using, what state and city they come from, and the percentage of traffic that has an affinity for gardening and home improvement projects. You can collect and analyze nearly complete knowledge regarding your site traffic through Google Analytics. However, it would be best to have a high-level picture of where your traffic is coming from.

This is where Acquisition Channels can make your day. The Acquisition Channels Report breaks down your website traffic from any period by the source that brought that traffic to your site.

How to Find Acquisition Sources in Google Analytics

To find this, log in to your Google Analytics account and navigate to Google Analytics Home > Reports > Acquisition > All Traffic > Channels.

You will find a list of your traffic sources under the Default Channel Grouping heading.

Why Analyzing Website Traffic Sources by Channel is Important

Google Analytics Channel Groupings reveal the specific sources of your traffic, showing you the number of visitors from each source and the percentage of visitors from each source. This high-level overview of which sources send you the most traffic shows how much impact your website receives from each source channel.

By tracking the metrics of which source channels are garnering the most traffic for your site and which ones bring in the least amount of traffic, you can make more informed decisions about where to allocate your efforts to get the most return on investment (ROI) from your marketing strategies and budget. You can also see direct results of your paid efforts and not have to rely on reporting from any third-level company or platform you may be utilizing to run those campaigns.

You can gather a multitude of information by understanding and analyzing the traffic garnered from each source. The most crucial information generally includes:

  • How your organic search traffic volume compare to your paid marketing efforts
  • The volume of visitors coming to your site from social media allows you to analyze the ROI on your social media efforts
  • The volume of visitors coming to your site from email will enable you to analyze the ROI on your email marketing campaigns
  • Which websites are sending the most visitors to your site
  • How many visitors have you garnered from various guest blogs/posts
  • Which channels are bringing in the lowest volume of traffic, helping you understand where you may need to beef up your efforts or disregard specific poorly performing paid strategies

A Guide to the Major Website Traffic Acquisition Sources

Most websites generally have seven primary traffic sources: direct, organic search, referral, paid, email, social, traffic flagged as “other,” and traffic from specific UTM codes. Google Analytics can track all the traffic information and determine where every visitor came from before landing on your website. Below is an in-depth look at the seven primary traffic sources.

Direct Traffic

Direct traffic refers to visitors who enter your site by directly entering your website’s URL into their browser. These visitors have no traceable referral source, meaning they already know your website’s direct URL. This traffic is significant to monitor because it will gauge how your non-digital marketing strategy is going. This would include traditional media marketing such as radio, print, or radio campaigns where your audience would directly type in your website.

Remember, even if your campaigns didn’t include the exact web address, an auto-fill function of a search engine will attempt to complete a web address for a person based on what it guesses they are trying to look for. For example, you may have never been to Home Depot’s website, but perhaps you saw an ad for a summer sale on television. So when you begin to type in “www.homede” into your search bar, the search engine will likely auto-fill the search bar with the remainder of Home Depot’s full URL, which will also be counted as direct traffic as the source.

Direct traffic growth or decline can be attributed to brand awareness campaigns and traditional marketing efforts.

Organic Search Traffic in Google Analytics

As the name implies, this channel source refers to visitors who found your website through a search engine like Google or Bing. This traffic volume will show you how well your SEO efforts are doing, making it an important channel to monitor as you scale your search engine optimization efforts.

Additionally, by expanding on the Organic Search Channel, you can see the types of search queries that visitors are searching on before clicking through to your website. This can be valuable information to your sales and marketing campaigns because it gives you concrete information on what visitors are looking for, allowing you to allocate more of your marketing time and energy to leverage your already popular products or services.

Referral Traffic in Google Analytics

This channel source shows the volume of traffic that clicks on a link from another website or social channel that sends them to your website. You see this traffic if those visitors don’t come from another one of the channels.

Referral traffic is important to marketers because it measures how many visitors are coming to your sites from other trusted websites linked to your site for a specific purpose. Google results. You can expand on the referral traffic channel to see a list of the top websites sending traffic to your website. Once you have found those sites, you may want to consider amplifying your partnership with them or doing some marketing activity that will garner even more referral traffic from those sites.

Paid Traffic in Google Analytics

This channel source shows the volume of traffic that came to your site after clicking on one of your paid search ads delivered on a relevant search in Google, Bing, or any other search network.

Email Traffic in Google Analytics

This is the volume of visitors that came to your site after clicking a link in one of your email campaigns, personalized follow-up emails, or possibly an email signature that could even be counted if it was a one-to-one email sent by one of your team members.

The volume of traffic you see in the email channel source directly indicates your email marketing efforts’ success. The book can be broken down as precisely as by individual campaigns. By gauging the magnitude of email traffic, you can measure the quality of your email campaigns. While most content marketing systems you would utilize to deliver email campaigns will provide you with these click-through statistics, monitoring your traffic contributed to email can help your sales and marketing cycle by determining whether you should be leveraging email more or less.

Social Traffic in Google Analytics

This channel source shows you the volume of traffic that came to a page on your website through one of your brand’s owned social media accounts or an associated account. You can monitor the volume of users coming to your page from individual social media channels such as Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn, Yelp, etc. You can compare the volume of each platform by expanding the Social pipeline.

Monitoring visitors’ behavior from various social channels can be critical to your marketing cycle because you can see the quality of the traffic coming from social efforts. For example, what does their bounce rate look like compared to other channels? What specific pages are they looking at? Which social media are drawing the most significant number of visitors each month? All this information can help you and your marketing team determine which channels they should focus on, which need additional attention and may need some paid efforts to gain more visitors.

Other Traffic in Google Analytics

This is the bucket in which Google Analytics will place visitors when it can’t determine precisely how they came to your site. So, for example, if you click on the “Other” channel source within Google Analytics, it will show you some of the sources that sent traffic but that Google could not attribute to the head.

You can further segment this traffic by adding a secondary dimension of “Medium.” This will show the medium referred to the traffic.


Understanding the channel sources and keeping an eye on the traffic each sends to your website will be very beneficial as you build and analyze your marketing efforts for each source. Remember, clicking through on any of those seven default channel groupings will give you much more detailed information on the sources behind the traffic from each channel source. For example, clicking through on Organic Search will show you a breakdown of search keywords and queries visitors searched before visiting your site. Clicking through on the Referral channel source will show you the specific websites sending visitors to your site via a link on their site. You can dig as deeply into the data harvested by Google Analytics’ Channel Source capabilities as you need to gain the information you seek. However, starting with this high-level overview of how visitors come to your site and the volume allocated to each channel source is excellent.