Google Analytics is filled with terms, and it takes quite some time to learn all the differences among them. In order to help you understand Google Analytics terminology better, we’ve created this article on what is the difference between source and medium in Google Analytics.

Not only will you know the difference between the source and medium in Google Analytics and how to use analytics vocabulary correctly, but will also gain insights into why Source / Medium reports and attribution reports don’t match in Google Analytics.

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What is the Difference Between Source and Medium in Google Analytics

Difference Between Source and Medium in Google Analytics

First things first, where do you find a medium or source in Google Analytics in general? Well, both these terms are usually related to the subject of your website’s traffic and its referral. When you or your digital marketers feel the urge to find out where did most of your visitors come from, which ad channel worked out the best or which UTM link brought the most leads the Source / Medium tab comes in quite handy.

Since they are used so interchangeably, how do you decide what’s the difference between source and medium in Google Analytics? 

In short, they both refer to where your website visitors come from, but particular aspects of it. While source suggests where your visitors came from, pointing to the exact link, the medium tells you the story of how your visitors arrived, providing you insights on how much you’ve done to attract them either through referral, cost per click campaigns, calls or other mediums.

Let’s look into Source / Medium differences in Google Analytics in more detail.

What is Source in Google Analytics

The source in Google Analytics refers to the origin of your traffic. Source displays which place – email, search engine, social media page or a specific site – your visitors came from. Source tab in Google Analytics also specifies which exact mail service, search engine or other sources your traffic pours from, meaning you’ll see words like “Yahoo” or “Gmail” as opposed to general terms describing your users’ starting point.

In case your users were not referred to your website by another source, or it was, and there is no data to support it, the source will read (direct) and the medium will read (none), because, well, nobody referred them. This happens when web visitors type in your website in their browsers directly, use a pre-made bookmark or come from an offline tool or say, pdf document, which is impossible to track. In all other cases, there is a definite value under the Source / Medium column. 

What is Medium in Google Analytics

Now the medium is a more narrow description of your referral traffic. While your visitor might have arrived through a source of “google”, it is not clear if it was a paid campaign or organic search, for example, that brought him here. This is why along with a “Source” we also have “Medium” next to it.

There are a number of categories that describe common mediums, which include:

  • Organic (organic traffic you have not paid for)
  • Email (mail services like Mailchimp or Hubspot)
  • Social (social media sites like Facebook or Twitter)
  • Referral (referral link from another website)
  • Calls (web or CRM calls you’ve decided to track)
  • Display (display ads which usually include text, images, gifs, videos etc)
  • CPC/PPC (cost-per-click or pay-per-click advertising campaigns, a whole article on the topic here)

Conclusion

So here’s a cheat sheet. The source is responsible for identifying the exact website your visitors came from, while Medium shows you the way – paid, referral or organic – they arrived at your website. 

Since we know you loved this short educational article (we know you did, we know everything), here’s a list of other awesome reads on Google Analytics for you to check out: