GA4 Custom Channel Grouping – Campaign ROI optimization

The predefined Google Analytics 4 channel group gives you a granular view of the channels that drive traffic to your site, web shop or app. Handy, but not if you aim for growth. To truly understand and optimize the impact of your off-site campaigns on your traffic, you’d better start with custom channel grouping. Little effort, high rewards…

Highlights

  • The default GA4 channel group gives you a general idea about the performance of the usual traffic channels.
  • Custom channel grouping allows you to create dimensions – directly in GA4 – for channels that matter the most to you. 
  • Use these in your reports for a quick and yet deep analysis of the performance of campaigns that drive traffic
  • Maintaining, auditing and organizing your custom channel groups ensures clean and relevant data. 

What are channel groups in Google Analytics, anyway?

Google Analytics has categorized different types of traffic sources, campaigns, mediums into channels and grouped them.

This makes it easy to distinguish visitors coming from email campaigns, social media, paid search and so on. 

At this moment, the predefined Google Analytics 4 channel group contains 18 channels. 

The list has traditional traffic generators, such as organic search and referral traffic

But since the Internet evolves, you can also find, for instance, push notifications here. 

All of this is useful as you can, for instance, see in the traffic acquisition report

So, what is even the point of customized channel groups? 

Let’s find out…

GA4 default versus custom channel groups

To truly understand the value of creating your own custom channel groups in GA4, you need to understand the limitations of the default channel group first.

Carved in stone

You cannot change the default custom channel group in GA4. On the other hand, this makes sense because tempering with it, may result in fewer insights for less experienced GA4 users. 

Focused on Google

To no surprise, Paid Shopping and Paid Search rank in the top 4 of the default channel group. These channels generate Google’s revenue, but for you, they can be irrelevant.  

Use-case for customizing channel groups in GA4

Let’s assume the following:

  • You have a web shop with a bunch of awesome products.
  • To get eyeballs on your merchandise, you are active on different social media platforms: Instagram, TikTok and Facebook.
  • Your team is creating content for organic reach.
  • And you are, of course, also paying for ads on the platforms.
  • As cherry on the cake, you have set up Google remarketing campaigns.

In short: you are set up for success. But without closely following up your campaigns, you don’t know if you really are. 

It’s a challenge to find out in Google Analytics 4 

  • which ads,
  • which organic content master pieces, 
  • on which social media platform 
  • drove visitors to your web shop
  • and on which remarketing ads clicked visitors to revisit your web shop
  • to ideally buy them?

I wish you good luck and piles of patience to find this out with default channel dimensions. And not only now, but also for your future campaigns. 

Without custom channels, you will end up with a table like this:

A living hell to make conclusions from that thing. 

So you better learn…

How to create a custom channel group in GA4?

There are several ways to create a channel group that fits your exact needs to measure channels, sources, mediums and campaigns. The steps below give you general guidelines, but you need to adapt them to your campaigns.  

Step 1: Open your Admin settings

Click on the clog in the left bottom corner. 

Step 2: Click in the property column on Data Settings > Channel groups

Here you also find the Default Channel Group. 

Step 3: Copy the default channel group, or click Create new channel group 

If you are more experienced and know exactly which channels you need, it’s better to create a new channel group from scratch.

Copying the default channel group can save you time. 

Step 4: Give your new channel group a Name 

  • Name: Make it as descriptive as possible. 
  • Description: optional, but useful for team members. 

Step 5: Click Add new channel or copy/edit an existing channel

To create a new channel, you can use 3 different ways.

  • Click on the button Add new channel and start from scratch.
  • Edit an existing channel by clicking on the channel name, or arrow at the right
  • Copy an existing channel and then edit it. Click on the 3 dots and then choose Copy to create new.

Step 6: Give your channel a Name

Describe your custom channel so there are no misunderstandings for your GA4 users about where the traffic is coming from. 

Step 7: Choose a dimension for your channel conditions

You first need to choose which dimension you want to use. 

  • Default channel group
  • Medium
  • Source
  • Source platform
  • Campaign ID
  • Campaign name

Step 8: Click Add edit condition or on an existing condition

  • If you started building a channel from scratch, you can add a condition. 
  • If you are editing an existing or copied channel, click on the rule that is next to the dimension. 

Step 9: Configure your condition

  • Choose an operator: begins, ends with, regex, etc.
  • Enter a value. 
  • Click Apply 

At any moment, you can always add, edit or remove conditions

Step 10: Save your channel

Step 11: Save your custom channel group

Step 12: Test if your custom channel group works correctly

Always test your channel and group customizations. The procedure is straightforward: visit your site by clicking on the link(s) of your custom traffic channels.

Alas, this is not always easy or even possible. 

If, for instance, you plan to run a campaign in the future, the links to your site do not even exist.

So, what to do best? 

Audit your GA4 custom channel groups

The Internet is quite a vivid environment. Apps, sites and links come and go. Platforms change their rules. Sometimes without warnings in advance and no logic behind it. 

Your organization or business evolves too. 

  • One day you are spending money on TikTok ads. The next day, you realize  it was all fun and games, but not worth it for you. 
  • One day, John Doe is head of marketing. The next day, he retires without a trail of what the heck he had actually been doing the last couple of months. 

GA4 audits are a smart investment in your future

A periodical audit of your custom channels and groups can reveal mistakes and missing tracking opportunities. 

Organize your custom channels for success

You can do this when setting up your custom channel groups. Or you can apply this when needed.  

Reorder channels

Which channel requires your attention the most, right now? That isn’t necessarily the one that drives the most traffic. 

It may as well be 

  • one that is underperforming (“too much money spent, time to get it back”)
  • or a channel that is converting the best and thus deserves more budget and attention

If it’s high on your agenda, put it high on the custom channel group list 

To reorder your channels,  go to Admin > Data Settings > Channel Group > your custom channel and click on Reorder.

Click on the 6 dots of a channel, drag it to the position it deserves and click Apply

Add, edit, remove conditions, channels and even groups

You can almost customize everything in your channel groups. That’s a benefit, but also a potential threat. 

  • Are the names of your channels clear and reflecting what you are exactly tracking? 

Jeff Sauer, founder and lead instructor of Data Driven U, once shared a cool tip about this. 

Put everything that doesn’t fit in any of your channels into a bucket and call it, for instance, “The darkness”. If you prefer calling it out explicitly, name it “Not worth my time”. 

  • Do you need this exact channel (group)?

Channel groups in GA4 have limits. For the standard (free) version:

  • You cannot change the default channel group.
  • You can only create 2 custom channel groups.
  • Each group can have 25 channels.

If, at one point, you reach those limits, you can either upgrade to the paid GA4 360 version, or delete whatever you no longer need. 

You can, e.g., remove a custom channel group from your property

Go to Admin > Data Settings > Channel Group > Click the 3 dots next to your custom channel > Click Delete > Confirm your choice by clicking on Yes

To delete a channel, go to Admin > Data Settings > Channel Group > Click your custom group > Click on the 3 dots next to your custom channel > Click Remove channel > Save your changes. 

  • Are the conditions for channels configured correctly? 

The moment you suspect the data is odd, you can best check the rules for your dimensions. 

Go to Admin > Data Settings > Channel Group > Click your custom group > Click a channel > Go to the Channel conditions section. 

The numbers on the screenshot above correspond with the actions you can do to alter channel rules:

  1. Remove a condition
  2. Change the dimension 
  3. Change the operator and value for the dimension
  4. Add another OR condition
  5. Add a condition group for AND

The combinations are endless. 

But that is also true for marketing campaigns. You can, for instance, use all of the above to better analyze your QR code campaigns.

And that makes custom channel grouping so powerful

On behalf of the DDU team, I hope this article will set you on the right track to better track in GA4 where your traffic is exactly coming from. Now, it’s our time to find out how you landed on our site. If it’s not from our newsletter, you are definitely missing out. 

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