When reviewing traffic in Google Analytics, you have likely seen information on traffic Source and Medium. It’s pretty easy to get the two mixed up – Google Analytics even has them combined in the same Acquisition report.
Understanding the basics of Source vs. Medium will help you better understand the traffic coming into your website and assess how it has performed during different time periods.
What is Source in Google Analytics
Source is the specific location that referred a person to your website. In cases where there was no source attributed, the source would be considered “Direct”.
For example, if you wanted to know how many visitors came to your website via Facebook over the past month, you would look at that information in the Source report in Google Analytics.
Source traffic reports can be a great way to assess how much traffic you’re getting from particular websites. If you wrote a guest post on a prominent industry website and you linked to your website in the author bio, you may want to know how many people click through to your website.
Traffic sources also help answer questions about sudden spikes or dips in overall traffic. If you happen to see a sudden spike in traffic over a short time period, looking at traffic sources is a great way to pinpoint the cause of the spike.
What is Medium in Google Analytics
The Medium traffic report in Google Analytics is a more consolidated list of the sources to your website. It takes the traffic sources to your website and lumps them into distinct categories, which might include:
- CPC (Paid)
- None (Direct)
Medium traffic reports give you a great breakdown of the makeup of traffic to your website. If you’ve been working hard on SEO, you can keep track of organic traffic in comparison to the other traffic mediums.
In most situations, however, we prefer to look at the “Channels” report in Google Analytics, as this report more accurately categorizes traffic sources to your website – at least in the time of this writing. For example, you do not see Social as a medium in Google Analytics unless you set up custom URLs, which leads us to our next point:
Creating Your Own Sources & Mediums
It’s easy to create custom sources and mediums in Google Analytics. This is valuable if you run several campaigns and like to more precisely keep track of where visitors are coming from. For example, if you send out multiple email newsletters, you may want to specify the medium as “email” and the source as “summer-newsletter”.
The simplest way to do this is by creating custom URLs with UTM parameters and can be done using Google’s Campaign URL Builder.