Using Google Analytics as your marketing data center


There have been some subtle but very important changes to Google Analytics (GA) over the past few weeks. While all the same functionality remains, Google has added some new reports which make it clear that they plan to take Google Analytics from a general traffic analysis tool to a more robust and holistic marketing analysis platform.

What’s new?

One of the most obvious changes is that the Traffic Source reporting section has been renamed Acquisition. The name change alone makes the directional change for Google Analytics clear. Instead of just counting visits, Google wants you to consider how your website acquires visitors, conversions, leads, new clients, etc.

Google Analytics Acquisition Reports

All your favorite reports like the All Traffic Report, Organic Keywords Report and Campaign Report are still there, but the Acquisition section contains two important new reports – a revamped Overview Report and the Channels Report.

What are channels?

Before diving into the details of these new reports, we first need to understand what channels are. This goes back to a GA feature released a few years ago called Multi-Channel Funnels which allows you to see which traffic sources have an impact as visitors move through your conversion funnel.

Channels are essentially groupings of similar types of traffic. Some like Organic Search or Direct clearly correspond with the medium that the visits arrived through. Others, like the Social channel, group together traffic that was referred to your site through a variety of social networks like Facebook or Twitter.

This allows you to look at the performance of your website at a higher level rather than focusing on individual traffic sources.

The Acquisition Overview Report

For the first time in Google Analytics, one single report can give you a full understanding of your site’s performance and provide actionable marketing insights. The Acquisition Overview Report gives a top level at all your site’s data grouped in channels and of course, all the more detailed reports are still available should you need to dig deeper.

Google Analytics Acquisition Overview Report

The same basic data that’s available on the more detailed reports is available here, but it’s grouped together in a way that allows you to easily compare your channels across KPIs that cover their entire funnel of your website – from acquisition of new traffic to how those visitors behave on your site to conversions.

Advanced Segments

All this data is great, but the really insightful data comes from comparing not only your various channels but from comparing different visitor segments across those channels as well. This can be done by using one of GA’s most powerful features, Advanced Segments.

You can access of bunch of pre-built Advanced Segments by clicking the All Visits tab near the top of the page (and if you’re interested, here’s an article on how to build your own Advanced Segments).

Selecting Advanced Segments

In the example below, I’m comparing our overall traffic with new visitors and returning visitors. Now we can really start to see how this data might inform our marketing strategies.

Channels compared by segments

It’s clear that our returning traffic performs much better in the Behavior and Conversions categories. On average, our returning visitors bounce less often, visit more pages, spend more time on the site and convert at a higher rate. The only problem is returning visitors account for only 28% of our total traffic.

All this begs the question: how do we get more people to come back to our site? Increasing our returning visitors might include a few different tactics like a drip email campaign, retargeted advertising, spreading our content marketing to cover a larger network of sites outside of our current web presence, and finding ways to grow our newsletter subscription base and social media followers.

Customized Channels

In the Multi-Channel Funnels feature I mentioned earlier, Google Analytics allows you to create custom channels based on your own criteria. This is great if you have certain traffic sources or customized campaigns that don’t fit into the default channels.

It also allows you to break things down into more detail. For example, you could break the Organic Search channel in Branded Keywords, Non-Branded Keywords and (not provided).

Currently in the Acquisition Overview Report, GA allows you to edit the default channels, but doesn’t give you the option of creating new channels. However, I suspect that customized channels will be available in the near future. And when that option is released, here’s an article that covers some helpful channels you might want to create.


Some of the most exciting and insightful things I’ve discovered in Google Analytics have just come from playing around – looking at data in different ways, comparing segments that at first glance seem total unrelated or just digging as deep as I can until I find a single data point that can be useful.

Some people ignore Google Analytics because they either think it’s too complicated (it’s not, I promise!) or because they want personal data like a visitor’s IP address. But to me GA is the perfect mix of simplicity and detail and with this recent change (along with a few others), Google Analytics is well on it’s way to becoming a full-fledged marketing tool.


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