September 28, 2022
A Guide to Acquisition Reports in Google Analytics 4
One of the most common use cases of Google Analytics is to view where your visitors are coming from. Even though Google Analytics 4 can show this data, some parts of the interface might be confusing compared to the previous version, Universal Analytics.
That’s why I decided to publish this blog post where I will explain how to use Acquisition reports in GA4.
Also, at the end of it, I will share several tips that will help you work with these reports faster.
Table of contents
+ Show table of contents +
- Why are these reports important?
- Navigating acquisition reports
- Default channel grouping
- User acquisition vs Traffic Acquisition
- Do not use Source, Medium, Campaign
- How to customize acquisition reports?
- Additional tips
- Final words
If you prefer video content, here’s a tutorial from my Youtube channel.
Why are Acquisition reports important?
If you are not sure what you can achieve with these reports, here are several ideas.
Identify top performers. What is a “top performer”? Well, this is up to you and your company to decide. If you are an e-commerce business, the top-performing sources will be the ones that generate the most sales/revenue and generate the most email subscribers. By identifying them, you might try to raise the hypothesis of what is common among top performers. Then try to replicate that success to other marketing channels (if possible).
Identify the weak spots. Instead of focusing on “what works best”, you can focus on “what performs the worst”. That might help identify weak spots that should be fixed. For example, you can check which traffic sources have more than 10000 monthly visitors, but convert worse than average.
Another example of weak spots could be traffic sources that get a lot of traffic but have a low engagement rate. That might indicate that maybe the landing page does not meet the visitor’s expectations.
Evaluate your campaigns. With UTM parameters, you can mark your marketing campaigns with certain parameters (like utm_source, utm_medium, etc.). When that data is collected by GA4, you can see the results in acquisition reports. For example, which campaign/ad generated the most leads for your business?
Overview of Acquisition reports
You can find these reports by going to Reports > Acquisition. By default, there are 3 options:
- User acquisition
- Traffic acquisition
Overview is a dashboard of what’s going on with your website traffic. You will find there a bunch of widgets (cards). Most of them also have links that will open a more detailed report.
If you have connected Google Ads or Search Console to your Google Analytics 4 property, additional cards will be displayed in the overview.
User acquisition and Traffic acquisition reports show you more details about traffic sources.
Navigating acquisition reports
Let’s go to Traffic acquisition. Here you can change the primary dimension at the top-left corner of the table…
or you can add a secondary dimension by clicking the Plus icon.
For example, in the Traffic acquisition report, let’s see what campaigns perform best. In this context, let’s say that the “best performer” means “drives the most conversions”.
In the drop-down menu of a primary dimension, select “Session campaign”.
Now scroll horizontally and see how many conversions each campaign drove. If you want to be more specific, you can select a particular conversion event name.
If some of the metrics aren’t useful for you, you can customize the report (I’ll talk a bit about that later in this blog post).
If you want to see source/medium and campaign at the same time, you should first select Session source/medium as the primary dimension and then click the Plus icon. Here should go to the Traffic source and then select Session campaign.
And done! You now see the list of all campaigns and their performance.
You can also you a search feature above the report table. It looks for partial matches in the first two columns (dimensions).
For example, here’s how you can see all email campaigns. While having “Session campaign” as a secondary dimension and “Session source/medium” as a primary dimension, I just entered “email” in the search field. This matched all rows where “email” was mentioned.
Default channel grouping
The default primary dimension in Traffic acquisition and User acquisition reports is either Session default channel grouping or First user default channel grouping. It’s the way how Google categorizes various traffic sources into larger groups. For example, Organic search includes traffic from search engines that are recognized by Google.
If you want to learn more about what other groupings represent, read this documentation.
If you have some traffic sources that are not added to any grouping, they will be displayed as Unassigned.
User acquisition vs Traffic Acquisition
After browsing Acquisition reports for a bit, you might be wondering what the difference is between User Acquisition and Traffic Acquisition reports. The answer is that they attribute conversions to different parts of a user journey.
User acquisition report focuses on the first traffic source that led a visitor to your website.
Traffic acquisition report focuses on the most recent traffic source that led a visitor to your website.
If you are familiar with attribution modeling at least a bit, the user acquisition report uses first-click attribution while traffic acquisition uses last-click.
That is why if you look at the dimension names in those reports, you will notice that the User acquisition report’s dimensions start with First user… and Traffic Acquisition’s start with Session…
Let me explain the difference between these two reports visually.
Imagine that we have a visitor who first landed on our website from Google Search, subscribed to a newsletter, and then came back the next day from an email campaign.
In total, we have two sessions of the same user. However, two reports will show different data.
- The user acquisition report will attribute both sessions to google/organic (because that’s the first source/medium the user came from).
- Session acquisition will attribute 1st session to google/organic, and the 2nd session will be attributed to email/newsletter (because the Traffic acquisition report cares about the traffic sources of each session individually).
If you are looking for a replacement for Universal Analytics (GA3) Source/Medium report, the Traffic acquisition report is the closest thing you can get in GA4.
Do not use Source, Medium, Campaign
Google Analytics 4 has 3 types of dimensions related to traffic sources:
- The ones that start with “First user”
- The ones that start with “Session”
- And the plain ones, e.g. Session, Medium, Campaign, etc.
This can be confusing for those who have worked with GA3 in the past, but if you want to see sources, mediums, or campaigns of your *sessions*, you need to use dimensions that start with the word Sessions.
Don’t use plain Session, Medium, Session/Medium, Campaign, and other similar dimensions. They use event scope, which is not what you are looking for. You are looking for session-scoped or user-scoped dimensions, so it’s important to use dimensions that start with that word.
How to customize acquisition reports?
Personally, I am not a fan of the default settings in the acquisition reports. Charts are not useful, default dimensions are not the ones I often use, and some metrics are unnecessary or missing.
If you feel the same way, this article chapter is for you.
Let’s say that we want to customize the Traffic acquisition report. First, open it and then click the Pencil icon in the top-right corner.
If you don’t see the icon, it means that you do not have enough permissions in that GA4 property.
A sidebar will appear on the right side. Click Dimensions. The default dimension here will be the Session default channel grouping. Personally, I like Session source/medium more. Thus I would recommend clicking 3 dots next to that dimension and settings it as default.
If you want to add more session-related dimensions, you can do that by clicking Add Dimension. For example, Session manual term (a.k.a. utm_term) or Session manual ad content (utm_content) are worth consideration. Once you select the dimensions, click Apply.
Next, “the numbers”.
If you want to add/remove particular metrics, click Metrics on that very same right sidebar.
Click X next to the metrics you don’t find useful. And if you want to add additional ones, then click Add metric. Here you can select from a lot. For example, Ecommerce purchases might be useful if you want to quickly see how many times visitors purchased on your website.
If you want to change the order of dimensions/metrics, drag them with this icon.
Once you are happy with your modifications, click Apply.
Then charts. Personally, I don’t find the Bar chart useful, so I often disable it. The line chart could also use some improvements (e.g. I would like to see the total number of sessions, not just the top 5 sources). Maybe GA4 will fix this in the future, but maybe not. Who knows.
Anyway, if you want to hide a particular chart, click the Eye icon next to it.
When you have finished all the customizations, it’s time to publish these changes. Next to a date picker, click Save > Save changes to the current report.
Then click Save and done. You have now customized the report.
Another customization idea for you: include conversion rates in Acquisition reports. Learn more about that here.
Phew! We’re almost at the end of this blog post.
For dessert, let me share with you a few quick tips (they might be obvious, but, hey, if even one reader benefits from this, I’m happy).
One of the problems I have with the GA4 interface is that tables are way too wide and don’t fit in on most of the screens. Thus horizontal scroll appears. And I don’t like that.
Many important metrics are on the right side of the table (like Conversions or Revenue). Sure, I can rearrange them, but maybe other metrics are also useful. I would like to see them all at once.
So if your screen is not large enough, consider zooming out. Yeah, I know, #captainobvious.
But in my opinion, this is an underrated tip. Zoom out a bit (e.g. by holding CTRL and – ). See if that makes the report a bit better. Also, you can hide the sidebar of standard reports by clicking here:
This will add some space.
Quickly replicate the report in Explorations
What if you prefer working with explorations instead? Like I do. Replicating the acquisition report from scratch will require a lot of clicks, which feels cumbersome.
Luckily, there is a hidden feature in GA4 that allows you to replicate a standard report in explorations with a single click.
When you are in a Traffic acquisition or User acquisition report, click this icon (it’s called Edit comparisons).
A sidebar will appear on the right side. At the bottom of it (which is a totally unintuitive location for this), click Explore.
That very same report is recreated as a Free Form exploration.
That was a time-saver. But again, the table is too wide, and it does not fit on most screens. So consider removing unnecessary metrics, zooming out the report, or hiding the sidebars.
Acquisition reports in GA4: Final words
Now you are skilled enough to use acquisition reports and find what you need.
I admit that the interface is not as intuitive as it could be, and it requires some customizations. But once you’re past that, you will be navigating the interface with more confidence.
Some of the customizations I would recommend:
- Change the default primary dimension (if needed) to Session source/medium or First user source/medium
- Include session or user conversion rate metrics
- Get rid of unused charts, they just clutter the view