Understanding Channel Groupings in Google Analytics 4 (GA4)

Table of Contents For Understanding Channel Groupings in Google Analytics 4 (GA4)

  1. Understanding channel groupings in Google Analytics 4
  2. Caveat
  3. Default channel groupings in Google Analytics 4
  4. Summary

In this article, I am going to talk about understanding channel groupings in Google Analytics 4 (GA4)

Understanding channel groupings in Google Analytics 4

Channel groupings in Google Analytics 4 are rule-based groupings of your traffic sources. If you want to know more about channels, source and medium you can find it here: Google Analytics Channels, Source and Medium explained in great detail

Google Analytics 4 provides default channel groupings and through the Traffic Acquisition report you can see your data organized according to default channel groupings like paid, organic search, referral, etc. 

Channel Groupings in Google Analytics 4

Default channel groupings define the system definition which reflects in the Google Analytics reporting view. 

 
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You cannot edit the default channel group definitions but you can use them to tag your landing page URLs. GA4 also does not enforce any case sensitivity if you use the default channel grouping when you use these definitions in your landing page URLs. For example:

www.xyz.com/blog?utm_medium=email

www.xyz.com/blog?utm_medium=Email

Both the above URLs will be counted under one single default channel grouping as ‘Email’

You can access the Channel Grouping report by following steps:

Step 1: Log in to your Google Analytics 4 property and click on ‘Acquisition’.

Step 2: Click on ‘Traffic Acquisition’.

You will get a reporting view like below.

Step 3: Now click on the drop-down option available under ‘Session source/medium’.

Step 4: An overlay will appear, click on ‘Session default channel grouping’.

You’re done, now you can see your reports by default channel group.

Caveat

One thing to notice in the case of Google Analytics 4 is that custom channel grouping is missing. Most marketers rely on this to measure the channel performance. This means you cannot create custom channel grouping in GA4 like you used to do when using Universal Analytics.

Also, you cannot edit the default channel group definitions, which means you need to follow a disciplined approach while using the UTM parameters for all the links.

Let’s look at the default channel grouping definitions provided by Google Analytics 4 and their definitions.

Default channel groupings in Google Analytics 4

Direct: 

Direct traffic can be the result of a user entering the URL into their browser or using a bookmark to directly access the webpage. If a user clicks on the links available in a Microsoft Office document or a PDF file, that traffic will also be considered as direct. If the medium in the URL is ‘not set’ or ‘none’ the traffic will be considered as direct traffic.

The default definition for direct traffic in default channel groupings is as below:

Source exactly matches direct

AND

Medium exactly matches (not set)

OR

Medium exactly matches (none)

Organic search:

Traffic will be assigned to the organic search channel group when the medium matches ‘organic’. This channel group defines the traffic coming from a search engine like Google or Bing. 

Paid social:

When users arrive on your landing page using a link via a paid social campaign, such traffic will be attributed to the ‘Paid Social’ channel group. For example if you are running a Facebook campaign for one of your landing pages, let’s say a product page, if the user on Facebook sees the advertisement and then clicks on it then he will be considered as ‘Paid Social’ traffic. 

The definition of paid social traffic in default channel groupings is as below:

Source matches matches regex ^(internal list of social sites)$

AND

Medium matches regex ^(cpc|ppc|paid)$

In this case, the ‘internal list of social sites’ is defined by Google. You must    ensure that you configure the campaign url using the proper definition. For example:

www.optimizesmart.com?utm_source=facebook&medium=cpc 

You can use the Campaign URL Builder for a better understanding.

Organic social:

When a user arrives on your landing page using a link via an organic social media post (not paid), such traffic will be attributed to the ‘Organic Social’ channel group. For example, users coming to a website from a general Facebook post will be attributed to ‘Organic Social’.

The definition of organic social traffic in default channel groupings is as below:

Source matches matches regex ^(internal list of social sites)$

OR

Medium matches regex ^(social|social-network|social-media|sm|social network|social media)

Email:

When a user clicks on the link from an email campaign, follow up email, and even email signatures, such traffic will be attributed to the ‘Email’ channel group.

The definition of email traffic in default channel groupings is as below:

Medium = email|e-mail|e_mail|e mail

OR

Source = email|e-mail|e_mail|e mail

Affiliates: 

The affiliate channel indicates traffic from affiliate marketing efforts. If you have a list of affiliates you can ask them to include affiliates definitions to tag your landing page URLs.

The definition of affiliates traffic in default channel groupings is as below:

Medium = affiliate|affiliates

Referral:

The referral traffic channel in Google Analytics 4 groups the users coming from sources outside of its search engine. When a user clicks on a link to navigate to a new web page, GA4 will track the link as a ‘referral’ to the new web page and the original web page will be considered as a ‘referrer’.

The definition of referral traffic in default channel groupings is as below:

Medium = referral

Paid search: 

Traffic coming from paid search ads which appear on search engines like Google, Bing, or AOL, will be attributed to the ‘Paid search’ channel group. Paid search traffic is determined by the medium of cpc, ppc, or paidsearch. It also excludes traffic coming from  display ads.

The definition of paid search traffic in default channel groupings is as below:

(GA Medium matches regex ^(cpc|ppc|paidsearch)$

AND

GA Ad Network does not exactly match DISPLAY)

OR

GA Ad Network exactly matches PAID_SEARCH

Video: 

When a user clicks on paid video ads (Google Network only) and lands on the web page, such traffic is attributed to the ‘Video’ channel.

The definition of video traffic in default channel groupings is as below:

GA Ad Network exactly matches VIDEO

Display: 

When a user clicks on display ads (Google Network only) and lands on the web page, such traffic is attributed to the ‘Display’ channel.

The definition of display traffic in default channel groupings is as below:

GA Ad Network exactly matches DISPLAY

Summary

Default channel groupings in Google Analytics 4 attributes traffic by definitions (rules) which reflect Google Analytics’ current view of what constitutes each channel. 

You can not edit these definitions and have to strictly follow default rules. 

Another thing which is missing in GA4 is custom channel groupings, which means you cannot create your own custom channel like in Universal Analytics. 

Frequently Asked Questions About Channel Grouping in Google Analytics 4 (GA4)

What are channel grouping in Google Analytics 4?

Channel groupings are rule-based groupings of your traffic sources.

How do you view default channel groupings?

You can view default channel groupings through the Traffic Acquisition report. Through this report, you can see your data organized according to default channel groupings like paid, organic search, referral, etc.

Can you edit the default channel group definitions?

No, you cannot edit the default channel group definitions. This means you need to follow a disciplined approach while using the UTM parameters for all the links.

Can you add custom channel groupings in GA4?

No. Custom channel grouping is missing in Google Analytics 4. This means you cannot create custom channel grouping in GA4 like you used to do when using Universal Analytics.

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