One of our websites is showing Referrals from mail.google.com. How is that different from traffic that comes through the Email channel?
Here are the definitions of those two channels:
So if we have traffic coming from mail.google.com, why is that showing up in the Referrals channel rather than the Email channel?
Google Analytics will record clicks from a browser as 'referral' rather than 'email', so if you click over from Gmail or Yahoo mail in your browser, the click will be recorded as referral, not email. If you use URL builder to code each link in your email, you can get reporting on how emails perform specifically within GA, and this is a good practice.
The URL builder helps you add parameters to URLs you use in custom web-based or email ad campaigns. A custom campaign is any ad campaign not using the AdWords auto-tagging feature. When users click one of the custom links, the unique parameters are sent to your Analytics account, so you can identify the URLs that are most effective in attracting users to your content.
You found another one of Google Analytics quirks!
The traffic from mail.google.com is likely driven by your own email newsletter, but there could also be other emails that included a link to your website.
For example, if a board member shared a link to your site with her friend, that traffic might appear as a referral from mail.google.com
The Email channel that you see in your Google Analytics account is actually driven by your email marketing software - outside of Google Analytics. All traffic that gets tagged Email is a result of your email marketing software adding specific markers to the links in your email marketing.
If you're interested in learning more about Google Analytics, you can start with my free mini course: https://smartnonprofitwebsites.com/google-training-analytics
(And if you're ready for a more advanced class about Campaigns, Segments and Goals, I'm teaching this class for NTEN next week: http://www.nten.org/event/course-advanced-google-analytics/)