Which Default Traffic Source Dimensions Does Google Analytics Report For Each Website Visitor?

Gordon Choi
Gordon Choi


One of the main jobs of Google Analytics is to get the traffic sources correct in your reports.

  • Google Analytics determines where a user came from (i.e. referrer) when he / she arrives at your website.
  • Google analytics gets the referrer information (i.e. the URL of the previous web page) from the user’s browser.
  • The two dimensions (i.e. Source and Medium) are assigned values of referrer information by Google Analytics.
  • By default, Google Analytics categorizes traffic sources into organic search, referral and direct.

Organic search traffic

Organic search is the traffic that comes from search engines where source is the name of a search engine (that is in the default list of search engines of Google Analytics, or that has been manually added to your Google Analytics property’s new search engine), and medium is “organic”. For example:


Referral traffic

Referral is the traffic that comes from a non search engine website. i.e. The domain name of this website is not in the default search engine list of Google Analytics, or it has never been manually added to your Google Analytics property as a new search engine. Source is the domain name of the non search engine website, and medium is “referral”. For example:


Direct traffic

Direct is the traffic that has no source. It happens when a user types in your site’s URL into the browser, uses a bookmark in the browser, or clicks a hyperlink (of your site’s URL) that automatically opens a browser. Source is “direct” and medium = “(none)”.


The last-click attribution

In web analytics, attribution refers to the method of crediting traffic sources to metrics or actions. The metrics can be a session, a page view, a goal conversion or other measurable events.

Let’s consider an example.

  • A user could have visited your website multiple times through multiple sources.
  • For all the sessions of this user that have happened on your site, Google Analytics recorded all the traffic sources.
  • By default, Google Analytics uses the last-click attribution model to report traffic sources for this user.
  • The exception is if this user’s last-click to your site has recorded source “direct” and medium “(none)”, then Google Analytics would report the source and medium information from the user’s previous session to your site. This means by default direct traffic cannot overwrite the traffic source that is not direct traffic.

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Content on Gordon Choi’s Analytics Book is licensed under the CC Attribution-Noncommercial 4.0 International license.

Gordon Choi’s Other Books:
The China Mobile SEO Book
Mobile Website Book

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