What is a source? What’s a medium? And why should you care?


First of all, why?

Source and Medium are important tools in Google Analytics because they tell you not only how people are engaging with your website, but also where they’re coming from. This section of GA breaks this down by showing you the inbound links, what types of links they are, and which sites are linking back to your own.
When you’re playing the SEO game, links are votes. Or you could think of them as recommendations: When you have a certain domain that is higher in authority, the one link you get from that one website will help boost your SEO more than if you get many links from lower-authority websites. Better SEO and higher-quality linking leads to more, (and more engaged) traffic on your site. Consider below the site ranking at 38.4: It receives a lot of inbound links from a number of lower-ranking sites. But just one link from that 38.4 site to another site doles out a rank of 34.3.
Moral: Not all links are created equal.

link votes seo

Okay, some definitions


Mediums are broad buckets of categories that describe the kind of traffic being driven to your website. For example, “Organic” is a Medium because it encompasses traffic coming from search engines such as Google. “Referral,” “Social,” and “Paid” are other examples of Mediums.


Sources are the actual domains sending traffic to your website. Google Analytics will automatically fill these in, or you can change them for specific campaign URLs using UTM tagging. In the case of “Organic” traffic, the Source would be “Google.” For “Referral” traffic, the Source could be nytimes.com. For “Social” traffic, the Source could be facebook.com… you get the picture.

So… how?

So where do you find Source/Medium in Google Analytics? Go to Reports » Acquisition » All Traffic, and you’ll see them all there. Certain channels will already be set up for you under Medium: These include Organic, CPC (AKA cost per click for digital ads), Display (for display ads specifically), Direct, Referral, Social, Email, and (Other).

If you are running campaign tagged links that do not match up with the default naming structure of Google Analytics, they may be falling into the “Other” Medium. For more information on “Other” traffic (and how to fix it), check out our guide.

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How to use Source/Medium

In addition to tracking your campaigns through Source/Medium, you can also be using this aspect of Google Analytics to see how people are linking to your site. You can monitor the activity your website is getting through certain key partner and press links. You may even find some Source/Medium links you didn’t know were coming in!
Beyond just the number of sessions, you can also see the behavior patterns of each Source/Medium to determine which ones are more or less engaged with your site content.

Let’s get tracking!

Go check out the Source/Medium section of your Google Analytics account and see how people are finding your website. For more Google Analytics tips, sign up for our newsletter below.