Google Analytics Channels Explained

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In digital marketing, few resources are as valuable as analytics data. To help assemble that data, more than 28 million websites rely on Google Analytics. On July 1, 2023, all of those users will transition from Google’s Universal Analytics to the newest version known as Google Analytics 4. These tools are very helpful, but they aren’t the easiest to understand.

What Are Channels in Google Analytics?

Channels in Google Analytics are the sources that bring traffic to your website. Some of the default channels include organic, direct and referral. Google Analytics helps us sort data from different channels in terms of how they interact with your site and individual pages. It’s beneficial to get this data to guide strategies that improve search engine optimization (SEO), conversion rate optimization (CRO) and more.

GA4 vs UA: What’s Different?

Universal Analytics will eventually sunset and be replaced by GA4. There are several new features and different terminology in the new tool, including the ways you’ll analyze data based on Google’s default channel listings. If you currently use UA for your website, you’ll need to transfer your account to a GA4 property. Let us know if we can lend a hand!

Google Analytics Default Channel Definitions

Google Analytics features several default channels that are automatically identified in your UA or GA4 accounts. These can be found within the “Acquisition” tab through the “Traffic Acquisition Report.”

For more thorough definitions of these terms, check out our Big Bad List of SEO Terms You Need to Know.

Google Analytics navigation

Organic Search

Organic searches cover all traffic from search engines like Google, Bing, Yahoo, Duckduckgo and more. If you use Google Business Profile for your business (which you should) this traffic will also be included in this channel.

Looking at your organic traffic by landing page is a great way to see how each page of your website performs.


If you use traditional advertising, you might have people come to your website by directly typing in your address. Depending on your service, people might bookmark your site for easier returns. If someone shares a link to your site, this will be considered as direct as opposed to organic, as the user came directly to your site and didn’t search for you.

Direct traffic can be a good indicator of brand recognition, as users who aren’t familiar with your brand are unlikely to reach the website directly.

Paid Search

If you’re using any Pay Per Click campaigns (PPC), this traffic will appear under this segment. For best results, you can segment your PPC campaigns to get results about your campaigns individually, as opposed to combining them all together.


If you purchase display ads, ads that appear on websites you don’t own, they will appear in this channel. Viewing the performance of traffic in this channel is an effective way to gain a better understanding of how often clicks on your display ads turn into conversions.


Referral traffic includes all non-paid traffic that arrives on the website after a user clicks a link on another website. Referral traffic can help us understand how our backlinks are working for us. With backlinks being a valuable ranking factor for search, it’s important to keep an eye on referral traffic and identify strategies for increasing it.


The social channel tracks users who arrived on your website after clicking a link from social media, whether on one of your posts or something from your site shared by another user. While social media platforms provide data on how your posts are performing, taking a closer look at social traffic to the website in Google Analytics will tell you how users are actually converting once they reach your site. It will also give you an idea of how your content is reaching users outside your own audience on social.


You can probably guess where this traffic starts. This is only traffic generated from emails you send, though. As we mentioned above, if a user shares a link to a page on your site via email, that will show up as direct. To best utilize your email campaigns, implement UTM parameters to track which campaigns are leading to conversions.


Google Analytics always has a section for traffic they aren’t able to identify. When it comes to channel groupings, (other) is exactly that. Sometimes this traffic comes from direct ad buys, misguided UTM parameters or other sources.But what if your traffic comes from a channel that Google can’t identify? When it comes to channel groupings, (other) is exactly that. Sometimes this traffic comes from direct ad buys, misguided UTM parameters or other sources.

What Next with GA4 Channels?

Although GA4 will separate your traffic based on the source, there are a few easy ways to take your segmentation to the next level. Using UTM parameters and advanced segments will let you manipulate Google Analytics data in the way that works best for your business.

Still Feeling a Little Lost? Oneupweb Can Help

If you’re still a little unsure about how channels work within GA4, and what they mean, don’t panic. Oneupweb is an official Google Partner; we eat, sleep and dream data, and we’re always happy to help. Contact us online or give us a call at (231) 922-9977. We’ll help you make sense of your Google Analytics data.

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