Google Analytics Default Channels, Demystified

The default channels in Google Analytics reflect Analytics’ current view of what constitutes each channel in the Acquisition section’s Default Channel Grouping. While these definitions may evolve as the market evolves, we provide the current definitions here for your information. You cannot edit the system definitions, but you can use different dimensions to redefine a channel.

In the Acquisition section’s Overview and Channels reports, you can see your data organized according to the Default Channel Grouping, a rule-based grouping of the most common sources of traffic, like Paid Search and Direct. This allows you to quickly check the performance of each of your traffic channels.

But let’s get back to the Google Analytics default channels, and discuss what the main ones really mean. We were just at a large meeting of marketing savvy folks and were kinda surprised by the lack of clarity many of them had. Some are very straight forward, others can be a bit confusing. So here we go, the main 4 default channels are:

  • Direct: “Officially”, this is defined as URL’s that people either type in directly or reach via their browser bookmarks. Now, this is the most contentious issue, as some report that up to 60% of ‘direct’ sessions are actually organic. Read a great article on that here.
  • Organic: People who arrived at your website from a non-paid search result in Google or another search engine. See point above, for a variety of reasons much of your ‘direct’ traffic may actually be organic, meaning your organic traffic is probably under reported.
  • Referral: Referral refers to sessions driven from a third party site. So if someone is reading an article on, for instance and the article has a link to Dasheroo, that’d count as referral.
  • Paid: This one refers to, not surprisingly, paid media; primarily paid search.

Or, if you use Dasheroo business dashboards, you could just click on the Insight description:

Default channels in Google Analytics - right in your Dasheroo Insight!

Default channels in Google Analytics – right in your Dasheroo Insight!

You can decide to keep the default settings of the channels above as is, or you can go in and customize them with UTM parameters and view them in Google Analytics under Campaigns. You can also set up new channels via UTM parameters such as ’email’, ‘social’, or ‘display’.

If we just lost you, not to worry – we’ll do a separate post soon about how to add or change channel groupings in Google Analytics.

For how to set up Google UTM codes go here. 

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