A primer on website traffic channels

headerGetting more traffic is one of the biggest challenges faced by people running websites. Before we can answer ‘How do I get more traffic?’, perhaps the more important question is ‘How would I know if what I am doing is getting me more traffic?’

You might think that the answer is as easy as ‘If traffic increased during the same period as I did X’, but it really isn’t. If you did some advertising on a popular website, but traffic mostly came from a different forum – the increased traffic probably couldn’t be attributed to your advertising.

When you layer in several concurrent activities, it is apparent that there needs to be a better way to measure things success. After all, gone are the days where famous American merchant John Wanamaker once described, “Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted; the trouble is I don’t know which half.”

So the natural first step is to dig deeper into Google Analytics (you do have that setup right?) and try to sort out where your traffic is coming from (or expected to come from).

Navigate to the Acquisition/All Traffic/Channels menu on the left, and you will be greeted with the Default Channel Grouping overview where you’ll see the default groups that GA sets up for you. If you’re not familiar, here is an overview of what the default groups refer to:

  1. Direct: When someone types a website directly into the address bar, it is captured as direct traffic
  2. Organic Search: Organic Search comes from queries from search engines such as Google, Bing, Yahoo
  3. Paid Search: Paid Search refers to any Pay Per Click (PPC) advertising you are doing not just on search engines but also PPC advertising such as Facebook and LinkedIn
  4. Referral: referral traffic comes from links from other websites and forums if content there is linked back to yours. Traffic from social media sometimes end up in this category, if the link source is tagged as ‘Referral’
  5. Social: Mostly made up by traffic coming from social media
  6. Email: Traffic here refers specifically to links in emails that specifically have ’email’ as a tag for the medium, which is important to note if you are running an email campaign.
  7. Other: Traffic that comes under this category are either not set, or set via the utm_custom parameter but does not fall under the default categories, such as a newsletter or a specific advertising campaign. The next section deals with how you can display these mediums

How to set up custom mediums in the Default Channel Grouping

From Google’s help section on Google Analytics:

  1. Select the Admin tab and navigate to the desired view.

  2. Click Channel Settings.

  3. Click Channel Grouping.

  4. Click Default Channel Grouping.

  5. To edit a channel, click the edit icon (pencil).

  6. Edit the rules for the channel.

    • From the first drop-down menu, select a dimension.
    • From the second drop-down menu, select an operator.
    • In the text field, enter the value you want to use. For example, Source contains plus.google.com.
    • Add AND and OR statements as necessary, then click Done.
  7. To add a new channel, click Define a new channel.

  8. To remove a channel, click the delete icon (X), then click Delete Rule in the pop-up.

  9. Click Save.

If you edit the default channel definitions, you can go back to the defaults by clicking Reset channels at the top of the list. This is not retroactive; any sessions that occurred before you reverted to the default channels will still be classified with your prior channel definitions.

Why this is important

By setting custom mediums for each campaign and medium, you can accurately track what activity is contributing the most to your traffic numbers. By balancing that out with the resource/effort taken to perform the activity, it quickly becomes apparently what is working, and what is not worth your time. This way, you can focus on the most important activities and start building your traffic from there.