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How to Create GA4 Custom Channel Groupings

Last Modified on September 27, 2023

Have you tried the power of GA4 custom channel groupings?

If not, discover why this long-awaited feature is essential for your analytics success. This post will explore the importance of custom channel grouping and its advantages.

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We’ll explore how this feature can simplify your visualization, make your marketing analysis easier to understand, and provide actionable insights to your clients.

Here is an overview of what we’ll cover:

What’s New in It?

Google Analytics 4 has a new feature – custom channel groups. They will help you create custom channel groups from scratch or use the default channel group as a template. As a result, the users can adapt the channels as they need.

Custom channel groups can be used in any report supporting a default channel group as a primary parameter, e.g., within the Traffic Acquisition report. You can also use them as parameters in special reports when creating audience conditions.

Where can you find this? It’s located in the Admin panel under the Data Settings drop-down menu.

GA4 Admin panel: Channel Groups in Data Setting

What is Custom Channel Grouping?

Before understanding what custom channel groups are in Google Analytics, let’s revisit two primary terms in web analytics – source and channel.

Source – This is the last resource the user visited before they landed on your site. For example, it could be through the Google search engine or paid advertising in Google Ads. 

Channel – This is the source type. Examples include organic search (organic), paid advertising (CPC), transition from another site (referral), etc.

Google Analytics 4 has 18 standard default channels (compared to 9 in the previous version, Universal Analytics).

Default channel definitions in GA4

These channels comprise a channel group called the Default Channel Grouping in Analytics.

💡 Top Tip: Check out our guide on How to Use GA4 Default Channel Grouping to learn more.

Now you may ask why custom groups are needed if, by default, there are currently two times more of them than in previous versions. 

Now let’s figure out in which cases the default channel settings will not suit us, and how we need to modify them.

Why Use GA4 Custom Channel Groupings?

There are three key reasons to use GA4 custom channel groupings:

The Default Channel Group in GA4 Cannot Be Customized 

You cannot add, remove, modify, or change the processing order of channels. Custom channel groupings allow for more detailed analysis and flexibility within the GA4 UI.

You can access the report Admin → Default Channel Group.

Default Channel Group in GA4

Going deeper, we will see the conditions under which traffic enters a particular channel.

Channel details screen

Only Some People Need to Work With the GA4 API for Reporting or Analysis 

Custom channel groups provide a solution for users who prefer to work solely within the GA4 UI without needing external tools such as Looker Studio (former DataSudio) or BigQuery. You can apply any filters or grouping traffic sources using this third-party tool.

However, sometimes clients want to use GA4 only for visualization, and custom channel grouping is a good solution. Another reason might be that you need more knowledge to work with these tools.

GA4 Custom Channel Groupings Have Retroactive Capabilities 

You can rearrange all traffic data, including historical data, into specific channels based on predefined rules. It allows for powerful re-grouping of data without altering the original data itself.

Let’s explore it in practical cases and show you how it can be applied.

Available Options to Set Up a Custom Channel Group in GA4

You can start using groups based on the 18 definitions provided by default and customize from there; edit, add, or remove channels within the custom channel grouping; or reorder channels to determine how traffic is assigned based on matching definitions.

Available dimensions for channel definitions include default channel group, medium, source, source platform, campaign ID, and campaign name. So, you can combine statements to create channel definitions. 

Default Channel Group Dimensions

Matching rules can use expressions such as exact match, contains, begins with, ends with, regex match, partial regex match, etc.

Conditions and matching rules available in the channel group

While dimension options may seem limited, they cover the most important dimensions. You have flexibility in creating precise rules for grouping traffic sources into channels.

When Do You Need to Create a Custom Channel Group?

You Need to Group Several Different Referrers into One Channel. 

For example, you need to highlight Facebook in a separate group from other Organic Social sources.

Default sessions referrers of Facebook source

*This example is for demonstration purposes only. Your version may differ.

To accomplish this issue, we need to create a new channel.

Add a new channel while creating a new channel group

Then, choose a dimension by which you will filter your traffic and add conditions (rules) of grouping. In our case, its source contains Facebook.

Adding matching rules of a new Facebook separate channel
New created additional channel

Now you have one more additional channel (Facebook) within your new custom group of channels.

Also, you can exclude the Facebook source from other groups by choosing “does not” conditions to avoid duplicating data.

Exclude Facebook traffic from the Social Organic channel

Different Traffic Sources Are Part of the Same Marketing Campaigns

For example, you want to track all Paid Campaigns via a single source vs. Organic traffic, including Organic Social and Organic Shopping vs. other sources.

Default channel grouping

Let’s define the new channel names and rules:

Paid:

Default channel group – matches regex: Cross-network|Paid Shopping|Paid Search|Paid Social|Paid Video|Paid Other|Display

Organic:

Default channel group – matches regex: Organic Shopping|Organic Social|Organic Video|Organic Search

Referral, Direct and other channels will be left as it is.

Creating new organic channel based on our new rules

We should do the same with the paid channel.

Creating a new Paid channel based on new rules

We also deleted all separate channels we reorganized within newly created channels like cross-platform, display, paid social, etc. So, the final group will look like this. 

Naming the new group of channels

Also, such a grouping will help organize data on UTMs. For example, let’s say that you had many companies from different sources with varied upper cases or incorrect source spellings and wanted to group historical data into one channel.

Grouping and organizing channels by UTMs

You Want to Make the Report Easier for Business Owners to Understand 

Sometimes the client wants to see a simplified view of the data that is not in GA by default, e.g., a custom report from some concurrent two sources in the navigation bar on the left, as it was in our case.

Channels in a separate custom report in the left-sidebar menu in GA4

💡 Top Tip: You can read how to customize your GA4 reports here.

Fortunately, GA4 allows you to do just that – to create dashboards with visualization that will be suitable for a specific case. Let’s see where we can now see our created custom channel groups.

Where Can You Find Your Created Custom Channel Grouping?

Add Custom Channel Grouping as a New Dimension to Standard Reports

To utilize the custom channel group dimension in GA4, use it as the primary dimension. Initially, add it as a new dimension to the relevant report, like the traffic acquisition report.

Adding custom channel grouping as a new dimension to the traffic report
Editing dimensions in traffic report in GA4
Comparison of default and custom channel group overview

Use it As a Secondary Dimension to a Report

Adding the new channel group as a secondary dimension to a report in GA4

Choose the newly created custom channel group as a secondary dimension in the dropdown list.

The dropdown list of secondary dimensions

Add Custom Channel Grouping as Dimensions in a Comparison Feature or Filter

Editing filters or comparison features in GA4

Also, you can add the new custom channel group to report cards. 

Editing report cards due to custom channel group

Choose the custom channel group in the card customization screen.

Add a custom channel group to the report card in GA4

Custom Channel Grouping in Explorations

One more option is to include this dimension in an Exploration report.

You should go to Explore, make a Free-form report, and look for ‘custom channel.’ Then, append ‘Session custom channel group’ as a dimension and ‘Sessions’ as a metric.

Import custom channel group dimensions

Add Sessions as a metric and Sessions Custom Channel Grouping as a dimension.

Free form report in Explorations with custom channel grouping

Advantages of using GA4 Custom Channel Groupings

Now we know that using GA4 custom channel groupings offer several advantages:

  • Precise Reporting: Tailored channel groups improve marketing performance insights, enabling informed decisions.
  • Clear Client Communication: Aligned channel categorization simplifies explaining marketing results to clients, enhancing collaboration and satisfaction.

Summary

In this post, we explored how GA4 custom channel groupings enhance marketing analysis, simplify visualization, and empower client insights. You can now create custom channel groups and analyze data through GA4’s reporting interface.

Despite all of the improvements and new features GA4 offer, there are still some pestering issues to be addressed. These include unassigned traffic. If you notice a major chunk of your traffic is unassigned, check out our guide on How to Fix the Unassigned Traffic in GA4.

How has custom channel grouping transformed your GA4 experience? Share your insights below!