Understanding Google Analytics – Acquisition

In my last blog post we talked about how to analyze your audience using Google Analytics. In this one we turn our attention to visitor acquisition.

How do visitors arrive at your website?

Reviewing acquisition metrics tells you how your website visitors are finding your site, which in turn, you can use to reach new audiences and drive more visitors to your website. You can also determine which sites drive the ‘best’ traffic to your website so you can focus more effort and time cultivating those visitors above others.

But before jumping in too far, let’s go over some definitions.

  • Channels – a channel (also called a medium) is a categorization of the tactic used to attract the visitor. Did your visitor come from a search engine or a social network?
  • Source – generally speaking, this is the website or service the visitor was using that directed them to your website. If they came from a search engine, was it Google or Bing? Which social network did come from?
  • Referral – a referral is when a visitor comes to your website via a link on another website. Usually the web services like search engines and social networks are excluded from being counted as referrals, and they are usually limited to standard links from other websites.

Channeling Your Energy

The first metric to review with acquisition is the breakdown of visitor by channel. This lets you know how people are coming to your website. Your website will only have a handful of channels, depending on if you use ads or other services.

The three basic channels almost every website will have are:

  • Direct – When a visitor comes direct, it means they come to your site by typing the URL into the browser’s address bar, or using a bookmark.
  • Organic – Organic is short for organic search, which refers to someone arriving at your website via a search engine. The organic part is to differentiate it from paid search (still to come).
  • Referral – As stated above, a visitor is referred if they arrive at your website by following a link on a different website.

Depending on other services you leverage, you may draw visitors from additional channels:

  • Social – If you are using social networks to reach your audience (and you should be!) you will see a channel for any visitors that came to your website from a major social network.
  • Email – Writing email newsletters using a service like MailChimp. Visitors coming from there arrive via the email channel.
  • Display – The display channel refers to visitors coming from display networks which are the website ads you’ll see on some websites.
  • Paid Search – This channel is the result of using a service like Google AdWords to advertise in search results.
  • (Other) – A catch-all for other services that do not fit into one of the other channels. Some examples we’ve seen are retargeting services, transactional email and other marketing services.

There is no right ratio of channels, it is totally dependant on your business and audience. To start with you’ll want a mixture of all applicable channels and the ratio between them will not be important. From there, use the channel as a way to segment your visitors and find out if there are channels that are attracting ‘better’ visitors. Better visitors might make a purchase, download a white-paper or submit a contact form. If you can identify channels that have better visitors, focus your efforts on growing that channel.

Sourcing Your Visitors

You may have identified some channels that are drawing in great visitors, but before you go blindly throwing money and time into that channel, take it down one step further to the source. Source is the actual website or service that is generating those visitors. For the Social channel possible sources are Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Pinterest, Instagram and so on. It may be that you are attracting great visitors from Facebook and LinkedIn, but Twitter isn’t working at all. In this scenario, you’ll want to do more of what you are doing on Facebook and LinkedIn, trying to grow your reach and audience, but for Twitter you’ll want to either abandon it or change up your strategy.

Likewise in the referral channel, if there are a few websites that are generating a lot of quality referrals to your website, try to ensure that your link stays on their website and is prominent. This may require some cross-promotion, writing guest blogs or just a quick coffee.

On the Campaign Trail

Google analytics gives you the ability to define campaigns for your acquisition efforts. A campaign is essentially a label applied to acquisition data that you can later segment out from the rest of your data. A campaign could be cross-channel in terms of a re-launch, re-brand or a new product launch or it could be channel specific like a targeted email blast or Facebook contest. In any case you will want to take advantage of campaign tracking as it allows you to calculate your return on investment for your efforts.

Tips and Tricks

Obviously any strategy with visitor acquisition needs to take into account your business, your target audience and the context of which you are operating in. That being said, I will offer some advice that has worked for our clients:

  • Organic Search is Hard – You need to produce high-quality valuable content on a regular, consistent basis in addition to optimizing your website and content for search engines. There is a large payoff if you can get to the top of the rankings for popular keywords or phrases, but it’s a marathon, not a sprint.
  • Paid Advertising Works – While organic search is hard, paid search is not. It’s a bit of a shortcut but it does work and produces great results. Especially if you can limit the scope and target of your audience and really focus in.
  • Social Advertising is Hit and Miss – In our experience, we get the best returns on advertising from Facebook. There are probably a million factors to take into account however, like where the target audience is, what the messaging is, etc. I would not write off any social network, but do not treat them all the same.
  • Email Still Works – One of the best forms of advertising online is via email. You have to do it right – do not spam your customer, make sure you provide them with something useful. Email is a great medium with the possibility of great returns. Stay tuned for the third instalment of this series where we will look at visitor behaviour.

Stay tuned for the third instalment of this series where we will look at visitor behaviour.


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