What Is Not Considered a Source in Google Analytics by Default?

Google Analytics is an invaluable tool for website owners and digital marketers, providing a wealth of data and insights into website traffic and user behavior. One of the key metrics it tracks is the source of your website’s traffic. Understanding where your visitors come from is crucial for optimizing your digital marketing efforts. In this article, we will explore what is not considered a “source” in Google Analytics by default and delve into the reasons behind these exclusions.

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Understanding the ‘Source’ in Google Analytics

In Google Analytics, a “source” refers to the origin of your website traffic. It answers the question: “Where did my website visitors come from?” This information is essential for digital marketers to assess the effectiveness of their online marketing campaigns and make informed decisions to improve their strategies.

However, not all traffic is considered a source in Google Analytics by default. There are several reasons for this, and we’ll explore them in detail below.


Google Analytics does not consider this direct traffic a source by default because it lacks a clear referral path. It could originate from a variety of places, and without a specific source, it can’t be categorized as such.

2. Secure (HTTPS) to Non-Secure (HTTP) Referrals

In cases where your website is HTTPS (secure) and a visitor clicks on a link from a non-secure (HTTP) website, Google Analytics may not attribute the referral source correctly. This is due to browser security protocols, which often block the referral information, as it could potentially expose sensitive data.

As a result, when visitors come from an HTTP site to your HTTPS site, Google Analytics may categorize the traffic as direct, as it cannot accurately determine the referral source.

3. Traffic from Email

While email marketing is a popular and effective way to drive traffic to websites, Google Analytics doesn’t always classify email traffic as a source. This is because email tracking requires specific tagging, such as UTM parameters, to identify emails as a source accurately.

If you don’t use UTM parameters or similar tracking methods in your email marketing campaigns, Google Analytics may categorize email traffic as direct or under other referral sources, missing the opportunity to attribute it correctly.

4. Traffic from Some Social Media Sites

Most social media traffic is categorized correctly in Google Analytics. However, certain social media platforms, particularly those that use secure browsing (HTTPS), may not be accurately identified as the referral source.

Additionally, some social media platforms use URL shorteners that obscure the referral source, making it challenging for Google Analytics to attribute the traffic accurately. It’s essential to be aware of these limitations and to use UTM parameters when sharing links on social media, especially if you want to track the source effectively.

5. Organic Search Traffic from Some Search Engines

Google Analytics excels at tracking organic search traffic from Google, but it may not accurately classify traffic from other search engines. This can be particularly challenging for websites that receive international traffic.

To ensure that all organic search traffic is correctly identified in Google Analytics, it’s recommended to use UTM parameters or customize your settings to recognize specific search engines. This way, you can ensure that the data reflects the actual source accurately.

6. Traffic from Some Mobile Apps

When your website is accessed via a mobile app, the referral source can sometimes be challenging to identify. This is because the app might not always pass the necessary referral information to Google Analytics.

To address this, app developers and website owners can work together to ensure proper tracking and attribution of traffic. It’s crucial to implement app analytics alongside Google Analytics to get a comprehensive view of your traffic sources.

1. Direct Traffic

Direct traffic is often the result of a user directly typing your website’s URL into their browser or using bookmarks. While Google Analytics may categorize it as “direct” by default, there are ways to gain more insights into the origin of this traffic.

Solution: To better understand your direct traffic, consider implementing surveys or feedback forms on your website. You can ask users how they heard about your site and provide them with options to choose from. Additionally, using shortened vanity URLs can help you track offline marketing efforts, such as print advertising or events. These URLs can be configured to redirect to your main website, and you can analyze their performance separately in Google Analytics.

2. Secure (HTTPS) to Non-Secure (HTTP) Referrals

When secure websites (HTTPS) receive traffic from non-secure websites (HTTP), the referral information is often obscured. Here’s how you can address this challenge.

Solution: To ensure accurate tracking in these cases, consider migrating your entire website to HTTPS if you haven’t already. This provides a secure browsing experience and helps retain referral information. It’s also a good practice to inform external websites linking to your site that you’ve moved to HTTPS.

3. Traffic from Email

Email marketing is a powerful tool, and it’s crucial to track the success of your email campaigns accurately. Here’s how to do it:

Solution: Use UTM parameters in the links within your emails. By tagging your email links with UTM parameters, you can precisely identify email traffic in your analytics reports. This allows you to differentiate between different email campaigns and understand their impact on your website traffic.

4. Traffic from Some Social Media Sites

Social media is a major source of website traffic, but it can sometimes present challenges for accurate source tracking. To improve this:

Solution: Whenever possible, use full URLs in your social media posts instead of relying on URL shorteners. This provides Google Analytics with more information to identify the referral source correctly. Additionally, using UTM parameters in your social media links can help you track the performance of each social platform or individual posts.

5. Organic Search Traffic from Some Search Engines

While Google Analytics is excellent at tracking Google organic search traffic, it may not categorize traffic from other search engines correctly. Here’s how you can address this:

Solution: Configure custom search engine settings in your Google Analytics account.  This can be especially useful for international websites that receive traffic from regional search engines.

6. Traffic from Some Mobile Apps

Mobile app traffic can be tricky to track accurately. However, there are ways to improve attribution for this traffic:

Solution: Collaborate with app developers to ensure they pass the necessary referral information when users access your website from within the app. This may require custom app analytics implementation. Additionally, if you have a mobile app, make sure to integrate mobile app analytics tools like Firebase or similar services, which can provide a more comprehensive view of user behavior across both your website and app.

By implementing these solutions and best practices.

you can overcome the default limitations of Google Analytics and gain more accurate insights into your website traffic sources.

Additional Tips for Accurate Source Tracking

  1. Regularly review and update your UTM parameters: Ensure that your UTM parameters are consistent and properly documented. This will help maintain accurate tracking over time.
  2. Use campaign tracking: Google Analytics allows you to create campaigns that group related marketing activities. By using campaign tracking, you can easily distinguish the sources and mediums driving your website traffic.
  3. Leverage the “Acquisition” reports: Google Analytics provides various reports under the “Acquisition” section, which can help you analyze the effectiveness of different traffic sources. Explore these reports to gain deeper insights into your website’s performance.
  4. Consider using Google Tag Manager: Google Tag Manager simplifies the process of implementing tracking codes and tags, making it easier to track various traffic sources accurately.

Final Thought 

Accurate tracking of traffic sources in Google Analytics is essential for making data-driven decisions and optimizing your digital marketing efforts. While the default settings have limitations, implementing the solutions and best practices mentioned in this article can help you overcome these challenges.

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