Channel Groups in GA4: Never Ask Again

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Introduction

Channel Groups are an important tool in Google Analytics 4 (GA4) for analyzing the sources of user traffic. They categorize incoming traffic into distinct channels such as organic search, direct, referral, social, and more, providing valuable insights into the performance of marketing campaigns.

Unlike traditional GA, GA4 uses machine learning algorithms to dynamically categorize traffic, adapting to evolving online behaviors and channels. This dynamic strategy gives marketers a better understanding of user acquisition and engagement across several digital touchpoints, allowing them to make data-driven decisions to optimize their advertising efforts.


What is a Channel Group?

 

In GA4, a channel group is a classification system that divides incoming traffic into various groups based on its source and medium. Organic search, direct, referral, social, email, and paid search are common channels in these groups.

Each channel represents a different avenue through which users arrive at a website or app. For example, organic search includes traffic from search engines, whereas direct traffic comes from users inputting a website’s URL or accessing it through bookmarks.

 

Let’s take another example of ‘organic search’. It is a marketing channel and it can be made up of the following traffic sources as long as the medium is ‘organic’:

  • google (as in google/organic)
  • yahoo (as in yahoo/organic)
  • bing (as in bing/organic)
  • aol (as in aol/organic), etc 

Note:
Source (or traffic source) is the origin of your website traffic. It is the website from which people visit your website.

For example: if people visit your website from google.com, your website traffic source is ‘google’.

Medium (or traffic medium) is the category of the traffic source as defined by GA4.

Following are examples of mediums: ‘organic’, ‘cpc’, ‘referral’, ‘email’, etc

 

Types of Channel Groups in GA4

 

There are three types of channel groups available in GA4:

  1. Default Channel Group
  2. Primary Channel Group
  3. Custom Channel Group
 
1.GA4 Default Channel Group

The default marketing channels are pre-defined marketing channels provided by GA4 like:

 

  • Organic Search: Visitors who find your website through a search engine, such as Google, without clicking on a paid ad.
  • Direct: Visitors who type your website’s URL into their browser or use a bookmark.
  • Email: Visitors who visit your website after clicking on a link in an email marketing campaign.
  • Paid Search: Visitors who click on paid advertisements in search engine results.
  • Paid Social: Visitors who click on paid advertisements on social media platforms.
  • Organic Social: Visitors who come to your website through non-paid posts and shares on social media.
  • Referral: Visitors who come to your website by clicking on a link from another website.

 

The default channel group is the predefined channel group provided by GA4, which cannot be edited:

2. Primary Channel Group


By default, the primary channel group is a copy of the default channel group.

 

However, you can make any custom channel group as primary by following the steps below:

 

Step – 1: Navigate to ‘Admin’ > ‘Channel Groups’ (under Data display)

 

Step – 2: Click on the Pencil icon

 

You should now see a screen like the one below:

Step – 3: Select one of your custom channel groups as primary and then click on the ‘Save’ button.

You should now see your custom channel group listed as the primary channel group:

 

Note: 

1.When you set up a custom channel group as the primary, its categorization rules are applied to all future website traffic. This implies that future website visitors will be classified according to the parameters you provide in the custom channel group.

 

2.You can only have one primary channel group per property.

 

3.Custom Channel Group

The custom channel group is a rule-based grouping of default and/or custom marketing channels. These are also known as user-defined marketing channels.

 

Advantages of creating a custom channel group in GA4:

  • You can report the performance of marketing channels much more accurately
  • You can make GA4 reports much easier to understand, esp. for your clients
  • Custom channel groups can be applied to GA4 reports retroactively

Limitation of custom channel grouping

One significant drawback of custom channel groups is that they cannot be used as a dimension in the ‘Conversions Paths report’. 

However, there is a way around it. 

You can set up your custom channel group as a ‘Primary channel group’.



After that, your custom channel group will be available as a dimension in the Conversions paths report:

 

How to create a custom channel grouping in GA4?

Creating custom channel groupings in GA4 requires a systematic approach that uses regular expressions (regex) and rules-based configurations.

In the following section, we will look at two alternative approaches for creating custom channel groups.

Approach – 1: Creating a new custom channel group

 

Step – 1: Navigate to the admin area of your GA4 property.

 

Step – 2: Click on ‘Channel Groups’ under ‘Data Display’.

Step – 3: Click on the button ‘Create new channel group’.

 

 

Step – 4: Provide a descriptive name for your new custom channel group.


Step – 5: Add a brief description to clarify the group’s purpose. (optional)

Step – 6: Modify channel definitions by:

 

1.Editing existing channels: You can modify the conditions for existing channels within the group.

2.Adding new channels: Click on “Add new channel” to define additional channels within your group using specific criteria based on various dimensions like medium, source, campaign ID, etc.

 

3. Removing channels: If needed, remove any irrelevant channels from the group.

 


Step – 7: Reorder channels (optional): You can drag and drop the channel names in the list to adjust their order by clicking on the ‘Reorder’ button.

 

Once you have done reordering, click on the ‘Apply’ button.

Note: The first channel in the list will take priority when assigning traffic sources to the group.

 

Step – 8: Once everything is finalized, click “Save Group” to create your new custom channel group.

Approach – 2: Creating a new custom channel group

 

Step – 1: Navigate to the admin area of your GA4 property.

 

Step – 2: Click on ‘Channel groups’ under ‘Data Display’.

 

Step – 3: Click on the three dots menu (ellipses) next to the channel group that you want to use as the starting point for your new channel group.

Step – 4: Click on ‘Copy to create new’.

Step – 5: Provide a descriptive name for your new custom channel group.

 

Step – 6: Add a brief description to clarify the group’s purpose (optional).

 

Step – 7: Modify channel definitions.

 

Step – 8: Reorder channels (optional).

 

Step – 9: Once everything is finalized, click “Save Group” to create your new custom channel group.

Conclusion

Channel Groups are a cornerstone of Google Analytics 4 (GA4), acting as an essential tool for determining the origins of user traffic. By categorizing incoming traffic into distinct channels such as organic search, direct, referral, and social, GA4 gives marketers meaningful data on the effectiveness of their marketing campaigns.

 

Unlike its predecessor, GA4 uses machine learning algorithms to dynamically classify traffic, ensuring adaptation to changing online behaviors and channels. In essence, mastering the art of channel grouping in GA4 provides marketers with a formidable toolkit for navigating the complex environment of digital marketing, resulting in real results and sustainable growth for their businesses.

FAQs

  • What is the maximum number of custom channel groups that can be created in GA4?

  • What is the need to use a custom channel grouping?

     

    The need to use a custom channel grouping arises from the requirement to tailor traffic categorization according to specific business needs.

    For example, suppose we’re using a paid marketing platform, like Klaviyo, to generate traffic to our website, and in the session source/medium, we have used Klaviyo / DM.

     

    Now GA4 will not be able to identify this traffic source as per the standard conventions, it may be incorrectly assigned to the wrong channel group, such as ‘Unassigned’. This misattribution can lead to inaccurate insights into the performance of our marketing activities.As a result, by using custom channel groups, we can precisely classify paid traffic and better understand its impact on our total marketing performance.

     

About Author

Ananya Seth is a dynamic and skilled IT Professional specializing in Web Analytics and Data Visualization. Serving as a tech consultant, she is dedicated to solving technology-related business problems with innovative solutions. Ananya's expertise spans Core Java, Scripting Languages, Database Administration, Front-End Web Development, and Web Analytics Technologies. In the ever-evolving landscape of information technology, her interest in learning more ranges from Data Analysis to Networking to Cyber Security to Technology Research.

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