The Missing Channel: What’s Not Included in the Default Channels Report?

As digital marketers, we rely on the data provided to us by analytics platforms to make informed decisions about our campaigns. One of the most important reports in Google Analytics is the Channels report, which shows us how visitors are finding our website. However, there are some significant limitations to this report that can make it difficult to get a complete picture of our traffic sources. In this post, we’ll explore what’s missing from the default Channels report, and how we can fill in the gaps to get a more accurate understanding of our traffic sources.

First and foremost, it’s important to understand how the Channels report works. By default, Google Analytics divides your traffic into a handful of categories based on the source of the visit. These categories include Organic Search, Paid Search, Direct, Referral, Social, and Email. For example, if someone clicks on a link to your website from Facebook, that visit will be categorized as Social traffic. If they type your URL directly into their browser, it will be categorized as Direct traffic. And so on.

However, there are many other sources of traffic that aren’t captured by these default categories. For example, if someone clicks on a link to your website from a forum post or a blog comment, that visit may be categorized as Referral traffic (if the link was actually tagged with UTM parameters), but it’s just as likely that it will be classified as Direct traffic, since there’s no clear referrer information. Similarly, visits from non-Google search engines like Bing or Yahoo may be categorized as Organic Search if they come through a search query, but they won’t be grouped together with visits from Google. This can make it difficult to determine the size and impact of these channels on your overall traffic.

So, what can we do to fill in these gaps? One option is to create custom channel groupings in Google Analytics. This feature allows you to define your own categories based on specific criteria, such as the source or medium of the visit. For example, you could create a custom grouping for forum and blog traffic, or for non-Google search engines. By doing this, you can get a more nuanced understanding of where your traffic is coming from, and how it’s performing.

Another option is to use UTM parameters in your URLs to track specific campaigns or sources of traffic. UTM parameters are tags that you can add to the end of your URLs to provide additional information about the source of the visit. For example, if you’re running a Facebook ad campaign, you could include a UTM parameter like “utm_source=facebook” to track those visits separately from other social traffic. Similarly, you could use different UTM parameters for traffic from specific forums or blogs. This can be a powerful way to track the performance of your campaigns and channels, and get a more complete view of your traffic sources.

In addition to these tactics, there are a few other sources of traffic that aren’t captured by the default Channels report that are worth mentioning. One is dark social, which refers to traffic that comes from private messaging apps like WhatsApp or Facebook Messenger, or from email or SMS messages. Since these sources often don’t include referrer information, they can be difficult to track. However, there are tools like ShareThis and that can help you capture and track this type of traffic. Another source of missing data is cross-device visitors, who may visit your site from multiple devices without being recognized as the same user. Google Analytics offers a feature called User ID that can help you track these visitors across devices, but it requires some additional setup.

In conclusion, while the default Channels report in Google Analytics is a useful tool for understanding your traffic sources, it’s important to remember that it’s not comprehensive. By taking advantage of custom channel groupings, UTM parameters, and other tracking tools, you can fill in the gaps and get a more accurate picture of where your traffic is coming from, and how it’s performing.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *