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Your move - traffic sources in Google Analytics and how to use them

We all have the afterimage of the Black Friday and Black Week promotions in our eyes. In many stores, traffic in the last seven days has pierced the ceiling or at least slightly scratched it with the spike in the chart. And if you're reading this shortly after publication, you also know what we're talking about: for customers, crazy discounts, higher-than-usual advertising rates for stores, and a lot of work. Finally, counting up. Because giving customers pleasure is one thing (which of us does not like it), but the whole thing must finally be in line with the bills and also benefit the store owner.

By the way, we are talking not only about shops. For example, Mikołaj travels all over the world and runs a blog. Mainly for family and friends, so they know he is doing well, you know. Over time, however, its popularity grew, and he began to be invited to travelers' meetings and to radio interviews. After each such meeting with audiences, his blog is affected by another wave of people interested in his travel reports. In his spare time, Mikołaj looks into his Google Analytics account and watches with curiosity who read about his travels and from where.

And this is how it works, isn't it? The main reason for using tools such as Google Analytics is to measure and analyze website traffic. In this article, I will focus on explaining where traffic is coming from, how it is being recorded, and what you can learn from it. I will also explain what is hidden under the names used in the reports and why sometimes long strings of (seemingly) random characters are "glued" to the addresses of our web pages.

We start as always with the table of contents - you can jump directly to the topic you are interested in:

Where does the traffic come from, or a few words about the source, medium and channels

As I wrote in the introductory article on Internet traffic (Traffic on the website and what's so important about it), programs that record what is happening on websites collect data about the activity of devices such as Internet browsers. So when we talk about a user visit, we mean actually the views of specific pages in a web browser, and when we talk about measuring the source of traffic, Analytics gives information about the web domain from which the user came to your website. So we look at one step before - the one that led to the visit to your website.

The traffic source data can be found in Google Analytics reports for source / medium (Acquisition > All traffic > Source / medium) or for channels (Acquisition > All traffic > Channels). What do the dimensions shown there mean and how do they differ?

Source - this is the source where the traffic related to your content comes directly from, such as a search engine (google, bing, or a domain (, There may also be a "(direct)" result for direct inputs.

Medium - This is a general source parameter, such as organic search results, paid cost-per-click (cpc) search results, and referral site. There may also be a result of "(none)" for direct inputs, i.e. those where your website URL has been typed (pasted) directly into the browser's address bar.

These dimensions are therefore read directly from the URLs from which users come to your site with Analytics attached.

The sources grouped according to certain characteristics are channels. By default, the configured channels are as follows:

  • Direct - corresponds exactly to the medium "(none)".

  • Organic Search - corresponds exactly to the medium "organic".

  • Referral - corresponds to the sources assigned to the "referral" medium, but excluding those domains that are associated with social media. So will appear as the source / medium: / referral, but in channels it will be assigned to Social.

  • Social - contain those sources assigned to the "referral" medium that are related to social media, such as Facebook, LinkedIn, Blogger or Zalo.

  • Email - corresponds to the sources assigned to the medium "email".

  • Paid Search - corresponds to the sources assigned to the medium containing, among others, "cpc", "ppc", "paidsearch".

  • Affiliates - this corresponds to the "affiliate" medium (keep it in mind for your own use 😊).

  • Display - corresponds to the sources assigned to the medium containing, among others "display", "cpm", "banner".

  • Other Advertising - corresponds to sources assigned to the medium containing, among others "cpv", "cpa", "cpp", "content-text".

  • (Other), that is, the rest.

Traffic Channel Report: Acquisition> Overview

When checking reports of individual pages, you can also add a channel or a source / medium as an secondary dimension and check where users came from most willingly.

The source and medium for a specific page in the Behavior> Site Content> All Pages report (with added filter to the page containing "basket" and a secondary dimension).

What are „gclid” and „fbclid”?

Mikołaj likes to check whether blog articles that he recommends during meetings are gaining popularity. He looks into each of them separately, checks the source and medium using the secondary dimension option, and the data from specific days. However, he noticed that sometimes you see extra strings next to his post URLs, such as:


These are elements that identify clicks on specific posts, in this case on Facebook (element "fbclid"). There may also be "zarsrc" for Zalo, and certainly other "signatures" from social media platforms. Write in the comment below the article if you met other ones. This may help other readers 😊

Miki started paying attention to various add-ons to web addresses and discovered that when he clicked on a Google Ads ad, he sees a string with the element "gclid" in the address bar. This cannot be seen in Analytics, but if you advertise on the Google Network, your Analytics can record traffic data from specific campaigns and ad groups, thanks to the "gclid" elements of this string. However, it may happen that there are redirects between the ad and the landing page where the store or specific product is located. They cause the "gclid" element to disappear and neither Analytics nor Ads are able to read which ad is coming from a particular visit. Then it goes to the (direct) / (none) bag, into which Analytics throws not only direct inputs, but also everything that cannot be assigned to other sources. That is why it is worth controlling traffic as much as possible.

Can we influence the type of incoming traffic?

There is a way for Analytics to correctly assign the source and medium (and therefore channel) of traffic to sessions as per our intentions. UTM elements are used for this, which can be attached to the URL provided in a post, article or e-mail. UTM might look like this (bold part):

To the appropriate parameters ("source", "medium", "campaign", "ID", "term" - for paid keywords, "content" - for additional information) are assigned values that will be loaded into Google Analytics reports, for example :

Source: newsletter

Medium: mail

Campaign: Argentina

In the case of advertising campaigns, of course, it is worth adding information about paid keywords or other important information that will distinguish campaigns from each other. However, these three parameters above are the basic ones.

And where then can you check the collected data? In the Acquisition > All Traffic > Source / Medium reports, and in Acquisition > Campaigns. Besides, of course, you can add them as an "secondary dimension" in other reports.

How to use the potential of UTMs for the source, medium, campaign?

So, if you want to control data regarding visits to your website, UTM will be useful to you. Remember, however, that programs in which you create external landing pages and newsletter programs very often add their UTMs, which can overwrite yours. Check at the beginning how it works for you, so as not to duplicate your work. Also, make sure how the names of the campaigns in these programs are formed. It happens that the name is duplicated when copying the template from the previous newsletter and a "Copy copy copy Newsletter 1" is created. This is not a bug, technically speaking, but it would be more convenient to analyze data if you had clear campaign titles, right?

Protip: When creating UTMs, think about how you want each parameter to be saved to avoid confusion, such as the media "email", "e-mail" and "Email" which will be three different values for Analytics. It is best to list them on a spreadsheet available to the entire team.

In addition, I recommend creating a "lowercase" filter in the Analytics view for the source, medium and campaign name (each needs to be created separately). Thanks to this, even if someone enters "email" in one UTM medium and "Email" in the other, they will be loaded as one medium with the value "email".

Where to do it? Go to Admin > View (right column) > Filters. Name the filter "Medium Lowercase" and select Advanced > Lowercase, then select "Campaign Medium" from the list. Save.

Configuration of the lower case filter for the medium

Do the same with "Campaign Source" and "Campaign Name".

But don't do this with urls! Google Ads ad parameters (the "gclid" element) have uppercase and lowercase characters. By unifying them to small ones, they will stop keeping the original data about campaigns and ad groups.

How to build a UTM?

You can use the online tool Campaign URL Builder. It is a form where you enter the landing page URL, source name, medium, campaign, other parameters, and the ready address with integrated UTM parameters appears at the end of the form. You can copy it and use it right away.

If you build a more elaborate UTM structure, containing many sources and other parameters, then maybe it will be more convenient for you to use a spreadsheet. In a sheet you can create rules that will automatically connect the entered elements and the address of the destination page together with the ready UTM. This will avoid discrepancies in the nomenclature of individual parameters.

How to read reports based on inbound traffic data?

How to use the data you have about the sources of website traffic? As always with Analytics, be sure to ask it questions. For example, Mikołaj asks: how many people have entered my blog after the last radio interview, using the link on the program's website? After that, he goes to the report Acquisition > All traffic > Source / medium and checks traffic from / interview. He put these parameters in the UTM and now knows exactly who used his link. This data will be copied along with the link when someone copies it from the radio website and sends it by text or messaging (WhatsApp, Messenger, Telegram, etc.). Otherwise, traffic from instant messaging is also direct entry.

What other activities can be measured with links from UTMs?

a. Organic promotional campaigns - information posted on social media that has a specific purpose, such as social campaigns without a paid advertising budget.

b. Newsletter - it is worth checking how many people enter the website after reading the newsletter and whether they come back.

c. Mailing - that is, more and more popular campaigns conducted by e-mail - it is worth measuring their effects well.

d. Buttons with an address to be "shared" in the media - often have the medium of "share", which shows which button worked to drive traffic to the site.

Why is it worth adding UTM to a link posted on social media?

We already know that Facebook adds an entire long string to the URL to track clicks on fanpages and posts in groups. Theoretically, all social networks are recognized by Google Analytics as sources of traffic. In practice, however, it happens that some of them become unrecognizable (too many redirects?) And eventually end up in reports as "(direct) / (none)". I used to test LinkedIn once and saw such results personally. To avoid an unpleasant surprise, you can just use links from UTM and not worry about the data afterwards. Especially when (as on LinkedIn) the original address of your website is hidden under an abbreviation or under words.

Protip: Once you have entered your source / medium data system using UTM and, let's say add data from paid traffic from social media, remember that you can modify the traffic channels in Google Analytics and, for example, add the "Paid Social" channel. It will be assigned to the medium you use in paid campaigns on Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram, TikTok etc., for example for the medium "socialcpc".

Now that you know exactly how you can influence the accuracy of the data in your Analytics reports, so it's time for your move :-)

Additional materials (click to go)


If you have questions or topics that are not covered here, and you are particularly interested in, write to me, I will be happy to help. Mayeb the next article will be an answer to your question.



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