Better From Go: Using Google Acquisition Reports to Sharpen How You Market

It All Starts With Acquisition

Long before digital marketing was even a thing customer acquistion was a qey focus point of any demand generation strategy. Whether it’s a retail salesfront or a global B2B giant, growth happens fastest where there are solid and efficient customer acquisition strategies in place.

If we click into the digital marketing world, we our web sites replace our store fronts and showrooms. No matter how sophisticated overall marketing efforts get, your site will remain the most important ‘source of truth’ about your brand, products, and services. This makes understanding how you acquire website visitors absolutely essential to both digital efforts and your overall marketing and demand gen strategies.

Google Analytics Acquisition Reports give you powerful tools for helping track this foundational information. They not only provide the important data about where site visitors are coming from, they can also help answer other fundamental questions such as:

  • Do we understand customer habits and preferences?
  • Are we investing in the right tactics and targets?
  • Can we see trends that might illuminate new opportunities?

What’s in the Acquisition Reports

Turning data points into answers

Google Acquisition Reports give you a collection of important data points that combine to answer important questions about how the site is being used by customers.

Setting Up Acquisition Reports

What You Need Before You Start

Before you run your first Google Analytics Customer Acquisition report, make sure you have:

  • An active Google Analytics account
  • A website with tracking installed and active
  • A period of sufficient data capture and collection
  • Code implementation via global site tag or Google Tag Manager
  • UTM parameters added to destination URLs
  • Optional: defined conversion events

If your site has been up and running for a while most of these things are probably already in place. If you’re not sure, check with the people that built or run your site.

Not sure if you set your Google Analytics up? Stop!

You’ll need an active GA account to start tracking site traffic. If that’s not already done, do it and then return to this article when complete.

Get a guided tour

Want to see a report in action? Google has an excellent video overview for you.

Step-by-step directions

Ready to run your first acquisitions report? It’s just a login and a few clicks away. Understanding the report is a little harder but also a lot more fun. But we’ll get to all that next. For now:

Opening the Acquisition Overview

  1. Log into Google Analytics
  2. Navigate to Acquisition Reports:
    • On the left-hand menu, click Acquisition.
    • Then, click on Overview to see a summary of all traffic channels.

Exploring the Dashboard

When your first overview opens, you’ll see some of the information we discussed earlier, although it’s presented a little differently. You’ll probably also see either acquisition reports you can dig into. There’s a lot of goodness there, but focus on the overview for now.

What’s in the overview

Top Channels graph gives you an easy visual to understand acquisition channel mix. This is the fastest way to understand how visitors are arriving at your site.

Users and Conversions trends let you see how site visits and behavior are changing over time.

You’ll then see the number of users and sessions per Acquistion channel, further breaking down the graph up top

Next, it’s the Behavior of site visitors, letting you know pages per session and number of people who bounced (left after one page).

Last but not least, it’s the reason you probably built the site to start with: Conversions. This is where you’ll see success versus defined conversion “events”.

In our example, these events have been configured to capture actual revenue by event. If things are going well, this is probably going to be your favorite metric!

Interpreting the Data

You’ve now got yourself a pile of numbers. So what do they all mean? The whole point of these reports is to sharpen how you market — so let’s get started.

Still seeing lots of zeroes on your reports? Don’t stress just yet — you might not have enough activity over time!

Organic Search

Organic search traffic comes from people finding your website through search engines like Google or Bing. High organic traffic means good SEO performance.

“The power of organic search as a marketing strategy is undeniable, so why don’t more businesses take advantage of it? Time, time and more time.”
How to use the data
  • Look at Keywords
    Check which keywords are bringing visitors to your site. If certain keywords are performing well, create more content around those topics.
  • If you’re worried your targeting the wrong keywords, it might be time to do some more research. The smart people at HubSpot have a guide that can help.
  • If you don’t know about longtail keywords, the folks at Wordstream have some resources ready for your perusal.
  • Improve SEO
    If your organic traffic is low, consider improving your SEO efforts. This includes optimizing your website content, meta tags, headers, and ensuring your site is mobile-friendly.
Neil Patel knows his stuff. This is an excellent way to spend 30 minutes.

Example: Let’s say you run a blog about healthy eating, and your Acquisition Report shows that the keyword “quick healthy recipes” brings a lot of traffic. You could create more articles around that topic, such as “10 Quick Healthy Breakfast Recipes” or “Quick Healthy Dinner Ideas.”

You might also realize you have recipes that might be appropriate for the air fryer–and people still can’t stop talking about those. So it might be time to add some content and keywords to capture people looking for air fryer recipes.

Paid Search

Paid search includes traffic from paid advertising campaigns, like Google Ads. This can bring targeted traffic to your site. This can be a stressful metric because unlike organic search, you’re paying for results here. This might frequently be your least favorite number, but remember there’s always room to optimize and evolve your strategies.

How to Use This Data
  • Check ROI: Compare the cost of your ads to the revenue they generate. If a campaign is not performing well, consider reallocating your budget to better-performing campaigns.
  • Optimize Ads: Look at which ads are performing well and why. Test different ad copies, keywords, and targeting options to see what works best.
A very helpful walkthrough on ad optimization with real numbers and results.

Example: Imagine you run an online store selling fitness equipment, and your Acquisition Report shows that your Google Ads campaign for “home gym equipment” has a high conversion rate.

You might increase your budget for this campaign and create similar ads targeting related keywords, such as “compact home gyms” or “affordable home gym setups.”

Social Media

Your media traffic comes from platforms like Facebook, Twitter/X, LinkedIn, and Instagram. These numbers will reflect the results of your online engagement with fans, followers, and customers.

How to Use This Data
  • Identify Top Platforms: See which social platforms drive the most traffic and engagement. Focus your efforts on these platforms.
  • Tailor Content: Create content that performs well on your top platforms. Use the insights from your Acquisition Report to understand what type of posts drive the most traffic.

Example: Suppose you run a fashion blog, and your Acquisition Report shows that Instagram drives the most traffic. You could focus on creating more visually appealing content, like high-quality images and short videos, to engage your Instagram audience. You could also use Instagram Stories and Reels to increase visibility and engagement.

Direct Traffic

Direct traffic captures people who type your URL directly into their browser or come from a shortcut or bookmark (not a referral link).

How to Use This Data:

  • Easy URL: Make sure your URL is easy to remember and type. Short, catchy URLs are more likely to be typed directly.
  • Promote Offline: Use offline marketing methods, such as business cards, flyers, or events, to encourage people to visit your site directly.

Example: Imagine you own a local bakery, and your Acquisition Report shows a significant amount of direct traffic. This could be due to your customers typing in your website after seeing your URL on flyers or business cards.

You might consider running a local promotion, where customers get a discount if they visit your website and sign up for your newsletter. You can also make sure your site URL shows up on all your collateral and merchandise.

Referral Traffic

Referral traffic comes from other websites linking to your site. This can boost your site’s authority and bring in new visitors.

How to Use This Data:

  • Identify Top Referrers: See which websites are sending you the most traffic. Build relationships with these sites for more collaboration opportunities.
  • Create Shareable Content: Produce high-quality content that other websites would want to link to. Infographics, guest posts, and case studies are good examples.

Example: Let’s say you run a tech blog, and your Acquisition Report shows that a popular tech news site is driving a lot of referral traffic to your blog post about the latest smartphone release. You might reach out to this site to explore opportunities for guest blogging or other collaborations to increase referral traffic further.

If you’re seeing your own site as a referral URL, you’re trapped in a self-referral loop. Seek help!

Email Marketing

Email marketing traffic is generated from your email campaigns.

How to Use This Data:

  • Track Campaigns: Check which email campaigns drive the most traffic and conversions. Use this data to improve future campaigns.
  • Optimize Emails: Look at your email open and click-through rates. Experiment with different subject lines, email content, and designs to improve engagement.

Example: Imagine you run an online bookstore, and your Acquisition Report shows that your monthly newsletter drives a lot of traffic to your site. You could analyze which links in the newsletter get the most clicks and focus on promoting similar content in future emails. For instance, if book recommendations perform well, you might include more personalized book suggestions in your emails.

Sharpening Your Marketing Strategy

So all this data is supposed to drive decisions, right? We want to always make sure we identify what’s working and what’s not. This gives us the easiest guide of where we should continue to invest time and attention and where we might need a new strategy.

The upside of Google reporting is that it’s a lot of data, with lots of potential opportunities hiding where you least expect them. The downside is the same thing. It’s a lot of data, and users can easily get distracted and lose sight of the big picture. This makes where you focus very important.

Step One: Analyze Performance Across Channels

  • Identify Trends: Look for patterns in your data to see which channels consistently perform well. For example, if organic search is steadily increasing, it means your SEO efforts are paying off.
  • Compare Metrics: Use metrics like bounce rate, conversion rate, and average session duration to evaluate channel performance. A high bounce rate might indicate that your landing pages need improvement.

Example: Suppose your Acquisition Report shows that your social media traffic has a high bounce rate. This might mean that visitors from social media are not finding what they expected on your site. You could improve your social media posts to better align with your landing page content, or you could optimize your landing pages to be more engaging.

Step Two: Identify Highest and Lowest Performing Channels

  • High-Performing Channels: Focus on scaling efforts in channels that drive high traffic and conversions. Allocate more resources to these channels to maximize results.
  • Low-Performing Channels: Investigate why certain channels underperform and make necessary adjustments. This might involve tweaking your strategy or reallocating your budget.

Example: Imagine your Acquisition Report shows that your email marketing drives high conversion rates but low traffic. You might decide to increase the frequency of your email campaigns or expand your email list to drive more traffic.

Not sure which channels are right for your business? The experts at Chronogram have a very useful discussion on how to decide.

Sharpening Each Channel

  • Organic Search: Regularly update your SEO strategy based on keyword performance and search trends. Consider using tools like Google Search Console to identify new keyword opportunities and monitor your site’s search performance.
  • Paid Search: Continuously test ad creatives and targeting options to maximize ROI. Use A/B testing to compare different ad variations and determine which ones perform best.
  • Social Media: Engage with your audience and post consistently to build a strong social presence. Use social media analytics tools to track engagement metrics and refine your content strategy.
  • Direct Traffic: Simplify your URL structure and promote your brand offline to drive direct visits. Consider using vanity URLs for marketing campaigns to make it easier for people to remember your site.
  • Referral Traffic: Build quality backlinks and collaborate with influencers to boost referrals. Reach out to industry websites and blogs for guest posting opportunities to increase your site’s visibility.
  • Email Marketing: Segment your email list and personalize your content to increase engagement. Use email marketing software to automate your campaigns and track performance metrics.

So you’re smarter. Your marketing is sharper, now what?

Google Analytics Acquisition Reports are really where smart marketing starts, especially for digital businesses.  Understanding how site users find you and how they behave during visits gives you a lot of insight into what you can (and should) do to improve your efforts. 

As with all information, you need to be able to connect datapoints into a story about performance.  Not just success towards collective digital outcomes, but actual business goals.  That’s how these critical pieces of information driven even more important steps towards action.

Six Questions to Ask, One Thing to Watch For

  1. How do digital efforts fit into our overall CAC (customer acquisition costs)?
    If you’re new to CAC, BigCommerce has an excellent overview.
  2. How can changes in digital marketing reduce CAC while boosting revenue?
  3. Which channels should be invested in, which might be left behind (for now)
  4. What content and keywords are bringing visitors to your site?
  5. What can you do on the site to reduce bounce rates and low session scores?
  6. How can you build and measure more meaningful conversation events?
  7. Finally, and this is an ongoing task.  Make sure that as you digital marketing stack grows, everything flows to/from these acquisition reports.
     While they’ll never be your single source of marketing truth, they’ll remain your most valuable.
Sean Dineen

Sean Dineen

20+ experience years as a technical and marketing communicator.

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