Channel Definitions


Channels are your sources of traffic. The Channels property in Kissmetrics automatically reads incoming traffic data and organizes it into three different Kissmetrics Channel properties so you can analyse your acquisition data without any extra work.

The three Channel properties are:


  • Channel — the traffic source (e.g., Direct, Organic, Referral, Email, Paid, Social)
  • Channel: Origin — the traffic source + original referring URL/domain or Campaign Name
  • Origin — the referring URL/domain or Campaign Name

Channel definitions


  • Direct — Visits from direct referrers, typing your site into the browser, or bookmarks
  • Organic — Visits from search engines
  • Referral — Visits from 3rd party
  • Paid — Visits from Paid sources such as cpc, cpm, display, ppc, and more (details below)
  • Social — Visits from social networks/sites

How we calculate Channel:

Our channel definition reminds a flowchart. When a criteria is met, we assign a channel, if not, we proceed to check if the incoming data meets the next criteria and so on. In this document the flowchart is defined as steps.

Paid Channel

Step 1 - is there a UTM medium with a known value?

UTM Medium

Before categorising any traffic to a specific Channel - the main parameter we check for in the referral URL is Google Campaign UTM Medium Parameter (utm_medium).

If we detect that utm_medium parameter is present, we proceed to evaluate its value.

If the value is well-known, here’s how we group these values into channels:


  • Paid = utm_medium of “cpc”, “cpm”, “display”, “cpv”, “cpa”, “cpp”, “ppc”, or "paid"
  • Email = utm_medium of “email” or “e-mail”
  • Organic = utm_medium of “organic” or “search”
  • Social = utm_medium of “social”, “social-network”, “social-media”, “sm”, “social network”, or “social media”

When you drill down into Channel:Origin for these visitors, people will be also categorised under the Campaign Name UTM (i.e., utm_campaign) that was also defined at the same time.

For example, a utm_medium of “email” with utm_campaign of “spring_promo” would read as Channel:Origin => “Email: Spring Promo”.

Property nameProperty value
Channel Email
Channel:OriginEmail: Spring Promo
Origin Spring Promo

If the Campaign Name UTM is missing (it usually shouldn’t be as it’s required along with Campaign Source and Campaign Medium), it will be labeled as Channel Origin => “Email: Campaign Name Unknown”.
Property nameProperty value
Channel Email
Channel OriginEmail: Campaign Name Unknown
Origin Campaign Name Unknown

Step 2 - is there a Gclid Parameter?

AdWords gclid parameter

If a campaign medium UTM parameter isn’t detected, the next thing Kissmetrics looks for is a Google Adwords gclid parameter on the referral URL.

Traffic with a gclid parameter is placed in the Paid channel and under AdWords in the Origin drilldown.

Property nameProperty value
Channel Paid
Channel: OriginPaid: Adwords
Origin Adwords

Google AdWords uses a gclid parameter when you set up auto-tagging in your Google AdWords account.

The auto-tagging feature of Google AdWords is for the Google Analytics integration, but Kissmetrics and other analytics providers cannot read that parameter. Google restricts access to read the gclid parameter. We won’t know which AdWords campaign/keyword was used but we do know that the traffic is from Google AdWords at least.

Basically, any traffic with a gclid parameter will be added to an AdWords Origin within the Paid channel.

By putting AdWords after Campaign Medium UTM, the UTM (with known values) acts as an override. Since we can’t get AdWords campaign values because Google blocks access to information like Campaign Name, Campaign Source, etc, we recommend that you add UTM parameters to AdWords links even if you have Google AdWords auto-tagging/gclid enabled.
So if you’ve added UTM parameters (where utm_medium matches the known values listed above), we’ll use that data. If not, we’ll group them under the Paid channel as a generic AdWords Origin.

Organic channel

Step 3 - is referrer a well-known search engine?

If we detect that the value of Referrer is a search engine, people will be placed into the “Organic” channel.

When you drill down into the Origin of the channel, you will see the search engine that drove the visit.

Property nameProperty value
Channel Organic
Channel:OriginOrganic: google
Origin google

Social channel

Step 4 - is referrer a well-known social domain?

We have a list of 276 social domains and subdomains including major social networks such as Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Pinterest, Reddit, Quora, Tumblr, and more.

If the top-level domain value of the Referrer link matches one of these, people will be grouped into the Social channel. When you drill-down in the Social channel, you should be able to see the actual social network that drove the visit.

Property nameProperty value
Channel Social
Channel: OriginSocial: Facebook
Origin Facebook

If you see a referring domain that should be grouped into the Social channel, please email [email protected], and we’ll add it to our list of domains to be considered for the Social channel.

Referral channel

Step 5 - is there a referrer?

Basically, this group will contain the top-level domains of any traffic that doesn’t fit into any other category. When you drill-down into this Channel:Origin, you get a list of the referring domains.

Property nameProperty value
Channel Referral
Channel: OriginReferral: sitedomain
Origin sitedomain

Direct channel

Step 6 - is visiting directly?

Any people that have a site visit with a direct referrer (bookmarks, typing your site into the browser, no tagged referral URLs from emails, links tagged with noreferrer values). Such visit will not have an Origin.

Property nameProperty value
Channel Direct
Origin Direct

Unknown channel

Step 7 - channel is unknown?

If a visit doesn’t fall into any of the categories above, we’ll place them into the Unknown channel. If you see traffic categorised as Unknown, it may be from data that you imported from a database or CSV upload. This data usually doesn’t contain acquisition/visit data unless you include it in the upload.

Property nameProperty value
Channel Unknown
Channel: Origin Unknown
Origin Unknown


Here are a couple of examples showing the referral URLs with different parameters and how they are going to be categorised into different channels.


utm medium (known value) + gclid + utm source + utm campaign
Property nameProperty value
Channel:OriginPaid: february


utm medium (known value) + gclid +utm source - utm campaign
Property nameProperty value
Channel Paid
Channel:Origin Paid:Adwords
Origin Adwords


utm medium (known value) + utm source
Property nameProperty value
Channel Paid
Channel:Origin Paid: Campaign name unknown
Origin Campaign name unknown


utm source only (link from email)
Property nameProperty value
Channel Direct
Channel:Origin Direct
Origin Direct