HubSpot's original source explained

Phil Vallender avatar
Phil Vallender

Nov 08, 2023

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HubSpot's original source properties (often thought of as lead sources) indicate which channel contacts used to find your website telling you how they arrived and where from. They are a key part of HubSpot's software attribution reporting.

Most HubSpot users quickly become familiar with the Original Source property, and the two 'drilldown' properties, as they are compelling ways to segment and analyse your website traffic and database. Knowing which sources bring in the most traffic, contacts, and customers, is useful information for any revenue or marketing team.

The fact that HubSpot automatically and accurately populates the Original Source values for any contacts, companies, or deals that are added to your database makes it even more valuable.

What is Original Source, really?

Original Source is a default property on HubSpot contact, company, and deal (called Original Source Type on deals) records with a fixed set of values. The values represent the different sources of the records in your database.

For the most part, these sources are the identifiable digital channels by which visitors arrive at your website before converting and entering themselves into your CRM.

HubSpot attempts to capture the source of the very first visit to your website, even if it's not the visit on which they convert. It does this by storing the original source value in the HubSpot Cookie placed on the visitors browser while they remain anonymous. If they go on to convert and the cookie with an original source is still present, then that value will be used and put on the contact record.

Clearly, the presence of this cookie in the visitor's browser, and the time between their first visit and the visit on which they convert, are key to the accuracy of the Original Source information. If the user deletes the cookie or more than six months passes or HubSpot's analytics cookie expires (after 6 months), Original Source will take on a new value when the visitor returns to your site.

"While the available options for Original Source cannot be changed, you can't add your own, you can update the value after a record has been created to make it more accurate."



What do Original Source values mean?

The meanings of the values available in the Original Source property may seem self-explanatory. But there can be areas of confusion or different interpretations. Here's how to understand them.

Organic search

Organic search is the original source applied to all visitors and contacts who's first tracked visit came from a non-paid search result on known search engines. This is as it sounds, and applies to visitors who find you in any search result ranging from long tail to head term, informational to commercial, branded and non-branded.

Most search traffic is encrypted, meaning you will not know which keywords or queries led visitors to your website. It's important to understand and be intentional about where you appear in search results.

Read our step-by-step guide to B2B SEO here and master search engine  optimisation for your business today.

Paid search

Paid search is another fairly clear source. It applies to all the visitors coming from paid search results in those same, known search engines. Paid adverts on these search engines generate traffic that carries UTM tags detailing information about which query, campaign, and ad group generated the visit, making it possible to analyse and optimise paid search expenditure over time.

Email marketing

Email marketing is the original source applied to any visitors rst visiting your site either from a marketing email you sent them, or by clicking a link to your website containing 'email' in the UTM parameters.

Typically, your marketing emails are sent to contacts who are already known to you and have been entered into your HubSpot database some other way. This means that Email Marketing is unlikely to be the original source of many unless you syndicate content or partner with other organisation that send emails on your behalf. Email Marketing is therefore more commonly used to analyse monthly sessions on your site, then new contacts created.

Read our guide to B2B email marketing here and start improving your email  marketing today.

Organic social

Organic Social is applied to visitors who's first visit originates from a click on an organically posted piece of content on a wide range of social media platforms, websites, or apps. Here is the current list of social networks identified by HubSpot.

Paid social

Paid Social, similar to Paid Search, is the original source applied to visits originating from paid-placements on this range of social media platforms.


Referrals is applied to visits arriving directly from links on other websites that point to you, excluding search engines, social media platforms, and most paid placements. If other companies link to your content (known as backlinks in SEO) it can generate visits attributed to this original source.

Direct traffic

Direct traffic is the tricky one. It's traffic that can't be specifically attributed to other sources, meaning you don't know where its coming from. This can cause issues as direct traffic is one of the largest sources of traffic and contacts for many HubSpot users.

Direct traffic can't be assigned a source because the necessary information is missing from the 'header' that comes with the request to load your site. Often, this is explained as being the result of users manually typing (or more likely using autocomplete on) one of your URLs into their browser's address bar, or having it bookmarked.

However, the use of directly entered URLs like this simply can't account for the high volume of direct traffic that some sites will see, especially visits to pages deeper within the sitemap. Furthermore, direct traffic will be assigned to visits where the header information was intentionally removed for privacy reasons, even if the true source is one of the other ones listed.

In 2014, Groupon performed a fascinating study on direct traffic by de-indexing their entire site from Google organic search for six hours. It led them to conclude that up to 60% of direct traffic was in fact organic search traffic, a significant proportion of it coming from mobile devices.

And there are a handful of other points of origin that will always end up in direct traffic links in documents and presentations, some social media and messaging platforms, secure (HTTPS) to unsecure (HTTP) referrals, and more.

While it may be impossible to know where 'direct traffic' is coming from, if it and your other sources are growing, you are probably going to benefit.

Other campaigns

Other campaigns is the original source applied to visits that carry UTM tags that specify a particular campaign, besides traffic that is identifiably from the other sources listed above. This traffic is usually created by the custom tracking URLs that can be created, in HubSpot or elsewhere, to track bespoke activities that might generate visits to your site. An example of this could be advert or content placements that are brokered directly with the publisher.

Offline sources

Offline Sources is the catch-all original source that is applied to all contacts that do not come through the other, tracked, digital channels. The primary origins of these contacts will be manual creation for example by your sales team, import of data, or creation by a third-party system via a connector or the API.

Blend reccomends: It's possible to enable third-party systems to report a more accurate original source, if they know it, by using the form submit API, and passing the HubSpot cookie at the same time, or by updating the original source after creating the record.

What is Original Source drill-down?

While the predefined values of Original Source are very useful, they are not specific or detailed enough. This is where HubSpot's two original source 'drill-down' properties come into play.

Original Source Drill-down 1 and Original Source Drill-down 2 contain increasing levels of detail about the original source. In the case of paid sources, drill-downs help you understand which platforms and campaigns drove which visits and contacts. For offline sources, drill-downs will inform you which method or app was used to create the contact for example distinguishing between contacts created in UI, by list import, or by a connected app.

Often, drill-down values can be the critical component in identifying a specific cohort of contacts or understanding the performance of a specific channel, so it pays to become familiar with using them in your reports and lists.

Company and deal Original Sources

Both company and deal objects in HubSpot have their own Original Source and drill-down properties that enable you to look at their creation, and value, through the lens of channels and sources.

HubSpot automatically applies the Original Source of the contact to associated companies and deals so that you don’t have to. Although, you can always update these afterwards if required.

For companies, the Original Source of the earliest created associated Contact will be applied. For Deals, the Original Source of the associated Contact with the earliest activity will be applied. If there is no associated Contact, the Original Source of the associated Company on the deal will be used.

Original Source vs Lead Source

Original source is like lead source for many marketers, especially those familiar with other CRMs. Lead source is typically a property used to track the point of origin of a lead, contact, company, or opportunity, and is similar to original source.

Lead source is a customisable property that can be extended to include bespoke channels and touch-points including in-person events, referrals from specific people, or groups. This provides additional granularity that is useful, but it can also become confusing. Some of the values in a typical lead source property may be applied automatically, but usually not all are.

HubSpot's Original Source property, on the other hand, has a fixed list of values that you cannot customise or extend. Predominantly they refer to digital sources/channels that can be automatically identified and applied to visitors when they convert on your website or content. There is one catch-all property for records entered directly into the database (manually, by import, or via API) called 'offline-sources'.

Values in Original Source are applied automatically and are therefore more trustworthy than modified lead source properties.

If you want the best of both worlds the solution is to create custom properties that combine the two values, using workflows to automatically copy values over from Original Source.

A word of warning about software attribution

HubSpot's Original Source properties are a form of software attribution, which means the software is using what it knows about a contact to attribute their creation to a specific channel. This is usually quite accurate within the context of what the software can know about your contacts, for example, the traceable and trackable interactions that precede conversion.

However, there is a gap. Software cannot know what goes on in the world of your contacts prior to them performing something that your software can track and attribute. For this reason, there's a big difference between what a buyer would say led them to you in the first place versus how software attribution will tell you they arrived at your site for the first time. Software attribution is only an indication of how contacts made their way to your site, while they were already on their journey.

Self-reported attribution is a powerful way to augment your software attribution with the actual voice of your customer. It helps you understand both what is setting buyers off on a journey towards you, as well as how they get there.

What to do next with Original Source

Now you know what the Original Source properties and their drill-down values are all about, you can begin applying them to your filters, lists, reports, workflows, emails and more to understand your marketing in even greater depth and optimise performance over time.

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