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Understanding The Fine Line Between Medium & Source in Google Analytics

source and medium in google analytics

The terms of source and medium in Google Analytics are often mixed up even by the best digital marketers. Even though the Google support and guidelines are easy, sometimes it can get a bit wordy, confusing the advertiser. Here is our attempt to simplify the explanation of Google Analytics source & medium.    

Let’s start with understanding what Google Analytics is

Google Analytics is a free web service that provides statistics through analytical tools for SEO and other online marketing purposes. It helps the advertiser to identify the best source of user traffic and track the performance of the overall website. The use of Google Analytics also includes various customer behavior analytics which can be used to improvise the marketing campaign and retain visitors.   

Google Analytics attributes a source and medium for every website visit. A source is the specific origin of the traffic while the medium is the category of the source. In simple terms, they are the indicators of how and where the visitors discover the website.  

What is a MEDIUM in Google Analytics?

Medium is the broad collection of categories that includes all kinds of traffic being driven to the website. Examples of mediums include organic, referral, social, paid, and others. 

  • Direct Traffic: Represents the visitors arriving directly on the site, by typing the URL in the address bar, through a bookmark, or by clicking on a link in mail or SMS. 
  • Referring Traffic: This counts the visitors who click on a link on another site and is considered an indicator of social media marketing success. 
  • Search Engine Traffic: As the name suggests, the traffic comes by clicking on any search result page.   

What is a SOURCE in Google Analytics? 

Source in layman’s language is where the traffic comes in from, which can be individual websites, search engines, Facebook, etc. Sources are the actual domains from where the traffic reaches the site. Different sources are categorized under different mediums. For example, traffic from google falls under organic medium, while ones from facebook falls under social traffic.  

Source enlightens the place where the visitors came from. The source tab in Google Analytics specifics which exact sources from where the traffic pours in. The source is generally referred to unless the source isn’t referred to by the visitor. This is possible when the visitor types the website directly or uses a pre-bookmarked site, or an offline tool.    

How to get to Source in a Google Analytics Report: 

  • Go to acquisition in the left panel of Google Analytics Home 
  • All Traffic-> Channels-> Source/Medium
  • Click on the source from the primary dimension on top of the data table    

How to get to Medium in a Google Analytics Report:

  • Go to acquisition in the left panel of Google Analytics Home 
  • All Traffic-> Channels-> Source/Medium
  • Click on the medium from the primary dimension on top of the data table   

Key differences between Sources & Medium

Sources are where the audience was before they came to the site, while the medium is the way they reach. A source can use multiple ways to get the audience to the site. Let’s suppose, the traffic starts from Google, could land on the site, via CPC or organic traffic, referral traffic, paid traffic, or email.     

To Sum Up: 

If Google Analytics is a journey, the source is where one came from, while the medium is the transportation mode. Let’s say, if the medium is the train, the source is the railway station. One more feature of Google Analytics is channel grouping. This might look similar to medium, have similar attributes but isn’t the same.

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