The Beginner's Guide to Google Analytics Channels for Nonprofits

Channels, (the ones in your Google Analytics account, not TV), refer to different kinds of site traffic. Think of channels as buckets, organizing the many different paths to your site by type. There are 6 main default channels you want to watch, but you can also add new channels in the Admin section of your account if necessary. Now, what are those “buckets” and why should you care about them? This definitive guide to Google Analytics channels will answer those questions, as well as highlight any unique weirdnesses can you expect from certain channels.

1. Direct

“Direct” refers to traffic from users who go directly to your domain (see what GA did there?). This means they either bookmark your website, or type it directly into their browser. Sometimes, if a person shares your website in an email and doesn’t campaign tag the link, traffic from people who click through will be labeled as “direct.” Over time, Google Analytics has been hiding more and more data, so this is also where a lot of that traffic gets filed, with the medium (not set).

2. Organic Search

“Organic Search” refers to traffic from users who find your website through a search engine. They’ve gone to a Google or a Bing, searched for a word or question, and found your organization. Building your organic traffic is a great way to widen the top of the funnel and introduce more users to your nonprofit. You can use Google Search Console to find out what people were searching when they found your site.

3. Social

“Social” refers to social media traffic! Pretty self-explanatory, this traffic can be from Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, LinkedIn, Instagram, and any other social platforms that you (or your supporters) might be using. Note that “” means someone came to your site from Facebook mobile, and Twitter comes up in GA as “”

4. Email

“Email” refers to traffic from Britney Spears. Just kidding. Another self-explanatory one, this channel pulls in any traffic that comes from your newsletter, or from people who share your site in an email and campaign tag the link. As mentioned above, if they don’t tag the link, the traffic will get filed as “direct,” so you may be getting more email traffic than you think.

5. Referral

“Referral” refers to traffic from other websites. Keep an eye on this channel, because you’ll be able to see what sites are linking to you so you can

  • Know if your partners are linking to you
  • Find opportunities with other organizations that are linking to you
  • Remove referrer spam :-/

Building your referral traffic from reputable and authoritative sites (especially .edu’s and .gov’s) will also help boost SEO.

6. Paid Search

“Paid Search” refers to any traffic from ads. This channel encompasses Facebook advertising, Google AdWords, Google Display ads, YouTube ads, and the like. When running Facebook ads, be sure to use UTM tags so you can track this data in Google Analytics. Whether or not you are paying your own $$ or Google grant $$, you’ll want to watch this channel to make sure those $$ are sending engaged traffic.
Those are the 6 main channels to watch (so to speak). Go forth, and track! Seeing (Other) in your account? Find out what it means and how to fix it.