Editing Google Analytics Channel Groups

by Annie Clare June 12, 2020

One of the benefits of Google Analytics is that it comes with a lot of great out-of-the-box reporting ready for you to use. Default Channel Groups is one of these ready-to-go features.

A Channel Group is the highest level of reporting for marketing channel attribution, and is a great place to get a quick view of relative channel performance, or for use in management reports.

While the out-of-the-box Default Channel Groups usually offer a very good start for organising your activity, as each business is unique, there are usually a few tweaks that need to be made. This may be to make the groupings more accurate (for example is your Email activity going into the ‘other’ channel and needs to go into the Email channel?) or to adapt the channels for your preferred internal language or definitions. Some brands like to split their paid search into Branded Search and Unbranded Search groups, or split Social into separate Paid Social and Organic Social groups.

In this post I’ll step through how to view and make changes to your Channel Group rules.

What is currently being captured in each Channel Group?

There are two ways to check this. You can review the current rules for your Default Channel Group.

1.Review the current Channel Group rules

In order to review the current rules go to the Admin panel in your Google Analytics account and go to the relevant View. From here click on Channel Settings > Channel Groupings.

Image of Google analytics Admin panel navigation to find the Channel Group settings

Here you will see the pre-populated Default Channel Grouping. You can tell if this has already been adapted by your team by the ‘Last Modified’ column. If there is no date showing in here then your rules have not been modified.

Where no modifications have occurred then the rules will be as set by default by Google Analytics.

If modifications have been made then you can click on each Default Channel Group name to open the editing interface, where you can see what the rules are.

Image of editing interface for Channel Groups

2.Check your current data

You can also see what is actually happening by reviewing your current data.

Go to your Google Analytics reporting interface and in the left hand navigation select: Acquisition>All Traffic> Channels

Image of GA reports navigation panel for Channel Group report

When you open the Channel report you will see a report with dimensions similar to below:

Image of Channel Group report dimensions

As Channel Groups are usually organised by a combination of source and medium rules, you can validate the data going into each group by applying a ‘secondary dimension’ of source/medium.

Image of applying source/medium as secondary dimension in Channel report
Image of Channel Group report with secondary dimension added

From here, check that each source/medium line is matched with a Channel Group that makes sense.

In particular, look at the ‘Other’ group and see what is going into this? Would you prefer some of these to be allocated to a named Channel Group. Its also often worth plotting the line of your ‘Direct’ group over time. (To do this plot the row and look at the trend in the line chart).

Image of instruction to Plot direct channel group as a row

If the Direct channel has big spikes in visits, this can sometime indicate that a particular activity, such as an Email send is not bringing source/medium data into Google Analytics via a UTM tag  and therefore GA sees it as a direct visit. For more information on UTM tags see my post ‘UTM tags in a Nutshell’.

Changing channel group rules

Channels are set in Google Analytics at a View level, so if you use several Views for different reporting purposes, you’ll need to make changes in each.

Go to the Admin panel in your Google Analytics account and go to the relevant View. From here click on Channel Settings > Channel Groupings.

You can make any number of changes to the pre-populated Default Channel Grouping: the order of the groups; the group rules; add new channel groups; rename a group; or delete groups.

Create a copy

Rather than diving straight in and making changes, I recommend you first create a copy of the existing Default Channel Grouping, and in this copied version test your proposed changes.

To do this, click on the Actions button in the Channel Group admin interface and select Copy. Name your copy and away you go.

Image of how to create a Copy of an existing channel grouping

Revise a rule

Open the specific group that you want to change the rules for, revise the rule and rename it if you wish. After you have updated each group click done.

Example of a new Channel Grouping and editing a rule for the Social Channel Group

Change the order of groups

You can drag and drop to change the order that each rule is activated based on the waterfall principle. This means it starts organising data at the top group and captures those visits that fit that rule. If a visit doesn’t get captured in the first group then it flows into the next group, and so on and so on. When a visit doesn’t fit any of the specified channel rules it is put into the ‘Other’ channel. Ideally you would only have a handful of outliers in this ‘Other’ channel with everything else captured higher up the waterfall.

Save and test

Once you have updated all your groups and put them into the right order, click the blue Save button.

To test the impact of your changes go back to your Acquisition> Channel report and change the primary dimension from the Default Channel Group to your test grouping and see the difference.

Image of switching from Default Grouping to Test grouping as dimension in Channels report

You can check that everything is as you expect it by using the Channels report and adding ‘source/medium’ as a secondary dimension.

Image of Channel Grouping report with secondary dimension

Do all the source/medium combinations align with the Channel Groups you wanted them to? If some of your Channel Groups have rules based on Campaign or Landing Page, you can also use these dimensions as your secondary dimension to check these are allocated as you want. If I’m working with complex channel group rules that use multiple dimensions, I create a custom report for the validation process.

Once you are happy with the revised groupings in your copied grouping, you should over-write the Default Channel Grouping with the same rules and order.  Before doing this I usually save an unchanged copy of the Default Channel Group, so that I have a reference point if I want to wind my changes back.

Note that while you can overlay a secondary Channel Group to re-organise historical data, your main Default Channel grouping dimension will only collect data according to the new rules once those rules are in place and saved (not retrospectively).

I highly recommend that you review the data after a day (or a suitable period depending on traffic volume) to ensure that the changes you made are collecting data as you expect and nothing is slipping through the cracks. Its also helpful to create an annotation in GA on the date and specific of the changes made – this way you, or other users, have a reference.

Final thought

Channel Groups are a very handy attribution dimension. This is usually my start point when looking at overview reporting. It doesn’t take long to set them up to suit your reporting needs and they make for efficient and tidy high-level data. It is useful to go through the review process periodically to ensure that everything continues to fall into the right channel, and particularly to keep an eye on consistent naming protocols for campaign tags.

While you could create a multitude of Channels, I recommend keeping this to a manageable number – maybe around a maximum of ten groups. You always have the medium, source and campaign dimensions to use when you want to slice and dice to a finer level.

Good luck getting started with Channel Groups yourself, or feel free to get in touch for assistance.

Annie Clare Consulting helps brands take the guess-work out of decisions, through data-driven insights, strategies and optimisation.

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