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 aritcle, then I would suggest you to 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 GA by going to Acquisition > Overview report or by going to Acquisition > All Traffic > Channels report:

default channel grouping

default channel grouping

Default channel grouping (Acquisition > Overview report)

Fig.2 Default channel grouping

Default channel grouping (Acquisition > All Traffic > Channels report)

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

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: go to the ‘Admin’ of the main view in GA and then click on Channel Settings > Channel Grouping under the ‘view’ section:

channel grouping

Step-2: click on the ‘default channel grouping’ link:

default channel grouping link

Step-3: Let us suppose you want to change the definition of ‘Social’ channel.

You want the traffic coming to your website from traffic sources like Facebook, Twitter, Linkedin, Google+ 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’):

Fig.3 System Definition of Social

System Definition of Social

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

To do this, click on the pencil icon, next to the ‘Social’ channel:

pencil icon

Step-4: Remove the ‘System Definition’ of Social by clicking on the ‘-‘ button:

remove system definition

Step-5:Define new rule for the social channel as shown below:

new social definition

Step-6: Click on the ‘Done’ button and then 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.

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

To add a new marketing channel, follow the steps below:

Step-1: click on the ‘default channel grouping’ link and then click on ‘Define a new channel’ button:

define a new channel button

Step-2: name your new marketing channel and define the rules for your new channel like the one below:

optimizesmart channel

Here I have created a new marketing channel to measure the performance of optimize smart newsletter.

Step-3: Click on the ‘Done’ button and then 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 can 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 set up and how to interpret 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 default channel grouping, follow the steps below:

Step-1: click on the ‘default channel grouping’ link

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

cross button

Step-3: Click on the ‘Done’ button and then 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 labelled in GA reports. However this change does not effect the historical data.

Custom Channel Grouping

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

To create a new custom channel grouping follow the steps below:

Step-1: go to the ‘Admin’ of the main view in GA and then click on ‘Custom Channel Groupings’ link under ‘Personal Tools and Assets’ section:

custom channel grouping link

Step-2: Click on the ‘+New Custom Channel Grouping’ button:

custom 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 custom marketing channels:

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

Step-3: 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-4: Define the new custom channel grouping as mentioned below:

morning channel

afternoon channel

evening channel

night channel

Here ‘Time of the Day‘ is a custom dimension which report on the time of a day (Morning, Afternoon, Evening and Night) when a user visit 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-5: Once you have created a new custom channel grouping, wait for at least 1 to 2 hours (to get new data) and then go to Acquisition > All Traffic > Channels report and then select ‘Time of the Day’ as primary dimension from the drop down menu:

time of the day primary dimension

From the report above, we can conclude that majority of users visit the website in Afternoon, followed by Morning, Night and Evening.

You can also determine the time of the day when users convert/purchase 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 primary dimension or secondary dimension in Acquisition > Overview report and in Acquisition > All Traffic > Channels report.

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

default custom channel grouping

Once you have created a custom channel grouping, you can copy, share or delete it via ‘Actions’ drop down menu:

copy share delete

Note(1): When you create a new custom channel grouping in a view, you can apply it retroactively(i.e. you can apply it to historical data). But when you edit a default channel grouping, you can’t apply it retroactively. This is one big advantage of using custom channel grouping instead of editing the default channel grouping.

Note(2): You can also copy and share default channel grouping. But you can’t delete it.

Private Channel Grouping

Private Channel Grouping is a rule based grouping of user defined marketing channels which is visible to only that user in a view which created it.

To create a private channel grouping, follow the steps below:

Step-1: go to the ‘Admin’ of the main view in GA and then click on ‘Private Custom Channel Groupings’ link under ‘Personal Tools and Assets’ section:

private channel groupings

Step-2: The rest of the steps are similar to creating a custom channel groupings.

Channel Grouping Rules

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

So what are these rules?

channel grouping rules

Default channel grouping in GA has got 8 rules. These rules decide how the 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 purpose.

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 purpose.

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:

drag and drop channels

Again 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.

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

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

Announcement about my new books

Maths and Stats for Web Analytics and Conversion Optimization
This expert guide will teach you how to leverage the knowledge of maths and statistics in order to accurately interpret data and take actions, which can quickly improve the bottom-line of your online business.

Master the Essentials of Email Marketing Analytics
This book focuses solely on the ‘analytics’ that power your email marketing optimization program and will help you dramatically reduce your cost per acquisition and increase marketing ROI by tracking the performance of the various KPIs and metrics used for email marketing.

Attribution Modelling in Google Analytics and Beyond
Attribution modelling is the process of determining the most effective marketing channels for investment. This book has been written to help you implement attribution modelling. It will teach you how to leverage the knowledge of attribution modelling in order to allocate marketing budget and understand buying behaviour.

Himanshu Sharma

Certified web analyst and founder of OptimizeSmart.com

My name is Himanshu Sharma and I help businesses find and fix their Google Analytics and conversion issues. If you have any questions or comments please contact me.

  • Over eleven years' experience in SEO, PPC and web analytics
  • Google Analytics certified
  • Google AdWords certified
  • Nominated for Digital Analytics Association Award for Excellence
  • Bachelors degree in Internet Science
  • Founder of OptimizeSmart.com and EventEducation.com

I am also the author of three books:

error: Content is protected !!