Source & Medium in Google Analytics

When you view your Acquisition> All Traffic report in Google Analytics, you have a choice among Source, Medium, and Source/Medium views.

You check your Acquisitions report to see where your website traffic comes from. Are those ads performing for you? Is social media providing a good ROI? Are you getting more direct traffic since you started putting your web address on your TV commercials?

But which of the views — Source, Medium, or Source/Medium — gives you the best information?

The traffic Source is the place where the traffic originated. For most optimized websites, that’s Google. However, it can also be referring sites. The Medium is the type of traffic: organic search, paid search, referral, and so forth.

Source/Medium gives you the most complete data, so it’s the default view. As you can see from the screenshot below, Source/Medium shows each combination of source and medium separately. So Google organic search traffic is shown and then Bing organic search traffic.


With hundreds of Source/Medium combinations, though, we can’t immediately tell whether organic search or referral is the most important source of traffic. The Medium view gives us a quick answer to that question:


This screenshot shows that organic search traffic brings almost 63% of the traffic at our lab site, with referral bringing another 27% and direct traffic accounting for the remaining 10%.

This site has no paid search, no ads, no email marketing — if it had those forms of traffic, they would also be listed in the Medium view. This view gives a quick report on what brings the traffic in. It will also show conversion rates, so we can easily see when paid ads bring more traffic but organic search brings more sales, or when referrals encourage newsletter signups.

The Source view doesn’t distinguish among different types of traffic, but shows all the sources of the traffic. For example, both Google organic search and Google CPC ads will be listed as “Google.” This report is identical to the Source/Medium view for our lab site, because we have no paid search or ads. For a site with ads, though, it can identify the most effective source of traffic without distinguishing between paid and organic traffic sources.


So which is the best view to use? It depends on the type of website you have and the kind of promotional strategy you’re using. It also depends on the question you’re asking.

Now you know.


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