Understanding Channel Grouping in Google Analytics

This article is in conjunction with the article: Understanding Channels in Google Analytics where I explained the concept of traffic sources, medium, and channels in great detail.

I also explained, how to create your own marketing channels in GA. If you have not already read that article, then I would suggest you read it first. The knowledge acquired through that article will help you greatly in understanding the concept of channel grouping.

In this present article, I will take you one step further and show you how to create and use channel grouping for advanced data analysis.

Introduction to Channel Grouping

Channel grouping is a rule-based grouping of marketing channels.

Channels groups are created for two main reasons:

  1. To change the way Google Analytics label and aggregate the incoming traffic for advanced data analysis.
  2. To quickly check the performance of a set of marketing channels or set of traffic sources.

There are four types of channel groupings available in Google Analytics:

  1. Default Channel Grouping
  2. Custom Channel Grouping
  3. Private Channel Grouping
  4. MCF Channel Grouping

Default Channel Grouping

Default Channel Grouping is a rule-based grouping of default marketing channels.

You can see default channel grouping in Google Analytics by:

#1 Navigating to Acquisition > Overview report:

#2 Navigating to Acquisition > All Traffic > Channels report:

Note: Default channel grouping appears as a primary dimension both in Acquisition > Overview report and Acquisition > All Traffic > Channels report.

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Editing a default channel grouping in Google Analytics

By editing the default channel grouping you can:

  1. Redefine an existing marketing channel(s)
  2. Add a new marketing channel(s)
  3. Remove existing marketing channel(s)

Redefining an existing marketing channel(s)

To redefine an existing marketing channel(s) follow the steps below:

Step-1: Navigate to the ‘Admin’ section of your main reporting view in Google Analytics.

Step-2: Under the ‘View’ column, click on Channel Settings > Channel Grouping:

Step-3: Click on the ‘Default Channel Grouping’ link:

default channel grouping link

Step-4: Let us suppose you want to change the definition of ‘Social’ channel. To do that click on the ‘Pencil’ icon next to ‘Social’:

 

You want the traffic coming to your website from traffic sources like Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, etc to be all labelled as ‘Social’ Traffic. Though you can’t change the system definition of ‘Social’ channel (which is ‘System Defined Channel‘ matches ‘Social‘):

System Definition of Social

You can redefine the ‘Social’ channel by using a different dimension (i.e. a dimension other than ‘System Defined Channel’).

Step-5: Remove the ‘System Definition’ of Social by clicking on the ‘-‘ button:

After removing the system definition, your ‘Social’ channel is going to look like the below:

Step-6: Define a new rule for the ‘social’ channel as shown below:

Here, facebook|twitter|t\.co$|linkedin is a regular expression.

Step-6: Click on the ‘Done’ button.

Step-7: Scroll down to the bottom of your screen and then click on the ‘Save’ button.

Note: Avoid changing the definition of default marketing channels unless you are absolutely sure what you are doing and how to interpret the reports going forward. Any edits to a default channel grouping permanently change how new traffic is classified and reported by Google Analytics.

Adding a new marketing channel(s) to the default channel grouping

To add a new marketing channel to the default channel grouping follow the steps below:

Step-1: Click on the ‘Default Channel Grouping’ link:

default channel grouping link

Step-2: Click on ‘Define a new channel’ button:

Step-3: Name your new marketing channel and define the rules for your new channel like the one below:

Here I have created a new marketing channel called ‘Optimize Smart Newsletter‘ to measure the performance of my newsletter campaigns.

Step-4: Click on the ‘Done’ button.

Step-5: Scroll down to the bottom of your screen and then click on the ‘Save’ button.

Now going forward, my default channel grouping will also include a new marketing channel called ‘Optimize Smart Newsletter’:

optimizesmart channel2

Note: Avoid adding new marketing channel(s) to the default channel grouping as it could inflate your aggregate data if you are not very careful with your setup.

For example, if you are adding a new marketing channel for your newsletter to default channel grouping then make sure that the ‘Email’ marketing channel does not contain traffic data from your newsletter. Otherwise, GA will count your newsletter traffic twice while computing aggregates.

The rule of thumb is

If you are not 100% sure about your channel grouping set up and how to interpret analytics reports going forward, avoid adding new marketing channel(s) to your default channel grouping. Avoid redefining default marketing channels.

Instead, create and use custom marketing channels and custom channel grouping.

Removing an existing marketing channel(s) from default channel grouping

To remove an existing marketing channel(s) from the default channel grouping, follow the steps below:

Step-1: Click on the ‘Default Channel Grouping’ link:

default channel grouping link

Step-2: Click on the cross button next to the marketing channel you want to remove:

Step-3: Click on the ‘Delete Rule‘ button:

Step-4: Scroll down to the bottom of your screen and then click on the ‘Save’ button.

Note(1): Don’t remove any default marketing channel from default channel grouping. Whatever changes you want to do, do it in a custom channel grouping. Keep default channels and default channel grouping intact.

Note(2): Any change to default channel grouping, permanently change the way new traffic is labeled in Google Analytics reports. However, this change does not affect historical data.

 

Custom Channel Grouping

Custom Channel Grouping is a rule based grouping of user defined marketing channels.

You can create custom channel grouping at the view level and/or user level.

If you want your custom channel grouping to be visible to all the users of your reporting view then create the custom channel grouping at the view level.

If you want your custom channel grouping to be visible only to the user who created it then create the custom channel grouping at the user level.

Creating a new custom channel grouping at the view level

To create a new custom channel grouping in Google Analytics at the view level follow the steps below:

Step-1: Navigate to the ‘Admin’ section of your main reporting view in GA.

Step-2: Under the ‘View’ column, click on Channel Settings > Channel Grouping:

Step-3: Click on the ‘+NEW CHANNEL GROUPING‘ button:

For the sake of explaining how a custom channel grouping can be used in a real work situation, I would create a new custom channel grouping called ‘Time of the Day‘. This channel group is a rule-based grouping of following four custom marketing channels:

  1. Morning
  2. Afternoon
  3. Evening
  4. Night

Step-4: Name the new channel grouping: ‘Time of the day‘ and then click on ‘Define a new channel‘ button:

time of the day new channel

Step-5: Name the new custom marketing channel ‘Morning‘ and then define it according to the specifications below:

Here ‘Time of the Day’ is a custom dimension which reports on the time of a day (Morning, Afternoon, Evening and Night) when a user visits your website. This time is based on a user’s local time and not the time configured for your GA account. I have explained about creating this custom dimension in great detail, in the article: How to correctly measure Conversion Date & Time in Google Analytics

Step-6: Click on the ‘Done’ button.

Step-7: Click on ‘Define a new channel‘ button:

Step-8: Name the new custom marketing channel ‘Afternoon‘ and then define it according to the specifications below:

Step-9: Click on the ‘Done’ button.

Step-10: Click on ‘Define a new channel‘ button:

Step-11: Name the new custom marketing channel ‘Evening‘ and then define it according to the specifications below:

Step-12: Click on the ‘Done’ button.

Step-13: Click on ‘Define a new channel‘ button:

Step-14: Name the new custom marketing channel ‘Night‘ and then define it according to the specifications below:

Step-15: Click on the ‘Done’ button. Your new channel grouping settings are going to look like the one below:

Step-16: Drag and drop the channels one by one to specify the order in which they should apply.

The final channel grouping settings is going to look like the one below:

Step-17: Scroll down to the bottom of your screen and then click on the ‘Save’ button.

Step-18: Once you have created the new custom channel grouping, navigate to Acquisition > All Traffic > Channels report.

Step-19: Click on the ‘Primary dimension’ drop-down menu:

Step-20: Select ‘Time of the Day’ as the primary dimension:

Once you selected ‘Time of the Day’ as the primary dimension, the data table is automatically going to update and would look something like the one below:

From the report above, we can conclude that the majority of users visit the website in the afternoon, followed by morning, night and evening. Similarly, you can also determine the time of the day when users purchased the most. And if you are planning to run a time-sensitive campaign, then this information would be of great help to you.

This is the kind of insight you can get from a custom channel grouping.

Note: Custom channel grouping can be applied as a primary dimension or secondary dimension both in Acquisition > Overview report and Acquisition > All Traffic > Channels report.

You can also apply both default channel grouping and custom channel grouping at the same time in the ‘Channels’ report as a primary and secondary dimension:

Note(1): When you create a new custom channel grouping, you can immediately select it in your GA reports. You can also apply custom channel grouping retroactively and analyze historical data classified by your new channel definitions.

Note(2): You can create a maximum of 50 new Channel Groupings per reporting view.

 

Creating a new custom channel grouping at the user level (Private Channel grouping)

To create a new custom channel grouping at the user level (formerly known as private channel grouping) follow the steps below:

Step-1: Navigate to the ‘Admin’ section of your main reporting view in GA.

Step-2: Click on the ‘Custom Channel Grouping BETA‘ link under ‘Personal Tools and Assets‘ section in the ‘View’ column:

Step-3: Click on the ‘+NEW CHANNEL GROUPING‘ button:

Step-4: Name your new custom channel grouping.

Step-5: Click on ‘Define a new channel’ button.

Step-6: Name your new channel.

Step-7: Create rules for the new channel.

Step-8: Click on the ‘Done’ button.

Step-9: Repeat steps 5 to 8 for each new marketing channel you want to create and add to your custom channel grouping.

Step-10: Drag and drop the channels one by one to specify the order in which they should apply.

Step-11: Scroll down to the bottom of your screen and then click on the ‘Save’ button.

Step-12: Once you have created the new custom channel grouping, navigate to Acquisition > All Traffic > Channels report.

Step-13: Click on the ‘Primary dimension’ drop-down menu and then select your new custom channel grouping as the primary dimension.

Note(1): You can create a maximum of 100 Custom Channel Groupings per user.

Note(2): When you create a new custom channel grouping, you can apply it retroactively (i.e. you can apply it to historical data). But when you edit a default channel grouping, you can not apply it retroactively. This is one big advantage of creating a custom channel grouping instead of editing the default channel grouping.

 

Editing a custom channel grouping

Once you have created and saved a new custom channel grouping, you can edit it by either clicking on its name or by clicking on the ‘Edit’ option from the ‘Actions’ drop-down menu:

Copying a custom channel grouping

If you want to create a new custom channel grouping by using an existing channel grouping as a foundation then copy the channel grouping.  You can copy an existing channel grouping by clicking on the ‘Copy’ option from the ‘Actions’ drop-down menu:

Once you clicked on the ‘copy’ link, a new custom channel grouping will automatically be created:

Deleting a custom channel grouping

You can delete a custom channel grouping by clicking on the ‘Delete’ option from the ‘Actions’ drop-down menu:

Note: You can not delete a default channel grouping.

Promoting a custom channel grouping

If you want the custom channel grouping created at the user level to be visible to all the users of your reporting view then click on the ‘Promote’ option from the ‘Actions’ drop-down menu:

Click on the ‘Promote’ button:

Promoting a custom channel grouping creates a copy of it at the view level. 

Now if you navigate to Channel Settings > Channel Grouping, you can see a copy of your custom channel grouping:

If later you delete this new channel grouping at the view level, it will not automatically delete the corresponding channel grouping at the view level.

Note(1): The promoted Channel Grouping will count toward the view’s limit of 50 Channel Groupings.

Note(2): You can not promote a default channel grouping.

Sharing a custom channel grouping

You can share your custom channel grouping with other users by sharing the template link. When you share a Custom Channel Grouping, only the configuration information is shared. Your analytics data is not shared.

To share a custom channel grouping, click on the ‘Share’ option from the ‘Actions’ drop-down menu:

Click on the ‘Share’ button:

Copy the template URL and then share it with others:

Note: If you want to share your custom channel grouping with the general public then select the ‘Share in Solutions Gallery‘  option.

 

Default Channel Grouping Rules

If you recall, Channel grouping is a rule-based grouping of marketing channels.

So what are these rules?

Default channel grouping in Google Analytics has got 9 rules.

These rules decide how channel grouping should work.

These rules are executed in the order in which they are defined. So the first rule that will execute is for Direct channel and the last rule that will execute is for Display.

Since the first rule is for Direct channel, GA will look for all the traffic sources whose traffic source is unknown and bucket them under ‘Direct’ channel for reporting purposes.

Since the second rule is for organic search channel, GA will look for all the traffic sources (other than unknown traffic sources) whose medium is organic and bucket them under ‘Organic Search’ channel for reporting purposes.

Similarly, all other rules will be executed in the order in which they are defined.

You can change the order in which these rules are executed by simply dragging and dropping marketing channels:

However, avoid changing the order of default marketing channels in default channel grouping.

If you have the need to change the order then make a copy of the default channel grouping, give it a new name and then change the order.

Custom Channel Grouping Rules

Just like default channel grouping, the custom channel grouping is also governed by a set of rules. These rules decide how the channel custom grouping should work. These rules are also executed in the order in which they are defined.

 

Next Read: MCF (Multi-Channel Funnel) Grouping in Google Analytics

Another article you will find useful: Understanding the Anatomy of Conversion Optimization

   

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Himanshu helps business owners and marketing professionals in generating more sales and ROI by fixing their website tracking issues, helping them understand their true customers' purchase journey and helping them determine the most effective marketing channels for investment.

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