Google Analytics and AdWords in the “(Other)” Traffic

One of Google Analytic’s great strengths is in how easily it can be a source of knowledge for an entire company to find interesting and useful, from marketers to CEO’s to copy writers to packers and on and on. This presumes, though, that the information it is showing is complete, visible, and useful. In this article, I’m going to focus on the “visible and useful” part, starting with the belief that the implementation is done properly (and, if you’re not sure, drop me a line). More than that, I’ll be speaking to the way that channels (e.g. Organic, Direct, Email, Paid Search, etc…) are reported against, and how to fill in what is likely a puzzle with pieces under the box.

How much of the “(Other)” channel is made of AdWords?

How big a problem is the Google Analytics "(Other)" channel

How big a problem is the “(Other)” channel?


#1 (Other) Problem: AdWords Traffic Showing Under “(Other)”

You’re looking at the “All Channels” view of your analytics report, and see that 40% of your traffic is coming in from the default junk bucket of “Other”, but you know that most of that traffic is from Paid Search. You wonder, “Is something wrong with the way that I’ve implemented Google Analytics?” Maybe you ask yourself, “Did someone not tag our URL’s correctly?”

Either could certainly happen, and GA (Google Analytics) is working correctly for your other channels. Email seems fine. You checked your Display vendors’ traffic, and it matches up really well. What really confuses you is that SOME or MOST of your Paid Search traffic is showing up correctly under “Paid Search”, so it can’t be systematic, right? Well, there’s a bit of a quirk with the definitions of the Default Channel Grouping that Google Analytics provides, and it has to do with the Google Display Network.

First, let’s dive into the definition for what falls under the “Paid Search” acquisition channel. In order to be grouped in this bucket, traffic must have a medium that matches “cpc” or “ppc” and NOT be from an ad distribution network called “content” (because Google Analytics wants to be nice and group your AdWords-powered banner advertisements under “Display”).

“Display”, as an acquisition channel, is defined as having a medium of “cpm” or “banner” or “display” but NOT including ad formats that are “text” (because, well, “text” ads aren’t images or videos, which is what we think of as “Display”).

So, what’s wrong with that? Well, what happens to our text ads running on the Google Display Network? So many marketers use text-formatted ads because they are easier to come up with, can be tested quickly, and are often already available from their search campaigns. Unfortunately, because Google Analytics is uncomfortable presuming whether text ads on the content network should fall under “Paid Search” or “Display”, they get grouped with “Other”. This issue is incredibly common, and if your company uses the content network (and, at the very least, most companies should be running remarketing campaigns through it), then you may want to check your “Other” bucket in Google Analytics, looking for a “source / medium” of “google / cpc”. If it’s there, it’s likely because of this issue.

To check to see how much of that “Other” bucket is from AdWords, you can click on “(Other)” in the “Overview” “Acquisition” report in Google Analytics. It will take you to a breakdown by source. Add a secondary dimension of “Source / Medium”, and if you are seeing a significant portion of that traffic as “google / cpc”, then this can help you.

How much of the "(Other)" channel is made of AdWords

How much of the “(Other)” channel is made of AdWords?

OK, we have a problem, but how do we fix it? This is where some happiness comes into play, because the solution is very easy to implement.


Fixing the #1 (Other) Problem: We Just Need A Little Definition

First, come to an agreement about where you want that traffic reported under. Do you want it under “Paid Search” with other text ads from Google AdWords? Do you want it under “Display”, since it uses the Google Display Network? Do you want something entirely new for it (e.g. a brand new channel called “Text Ads on the Content Network”)?

Second, edit the “Default Channel Grouping”. Go to the Google Analytics “Admin” tab. Under the “View” column, select “Channel Settings” (see below). When that reveals more options, select “Channel Grouping”.

Access the Channel Grouping settings in Google Analytics

Access the Channel Grouping settings in Google Analytics.

Click on the “Default Channel Grouping” (or, if you’re feeling adventurous, create a whole new grouping, but that’s for another story). If you are adding this traffic to an existing “Channel”, click the pencil (edit) icon at the right of it. If you are creating a new “Channel”, then click “Define a new channel” at the top of the selection list. Either way, proceed to enter the definition as it looks below.

Channel definition for content network text ads

Channel definition for content network text ads.

Click “Done”, and then “Save”.

Third, enjoy a better signal from your “Channels”, and no longer lose sight of what your AdWords marketing team is doing for your company.


Some notes:

  • Changes to these definitions do not take effect retroactively, so data from yesterday will still have the old channel label, but tomorrow’s will have the new one. It may be worthwhile to add an “Annotation” to your Google Analytics report, so that others have context around the change, and what date the change went into effect.
  • The more sophisticated and complex your channel grouping becomes, the higher the chance that you’ll accidentally have overlap in where some sources of traffic get categorized. Take a mindful approach to defining channels, and have all of your channel definitions on one sheet/whiteboard, so that you can check for these overlaps.

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  • Brandon

    Is it possible to combine the old channel data with the new channel data count?

    March 18, 2016 at 3:52 pm

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