Like most aspects of Google Analytics, the out-of-the-box implementation provides the foundation, but without customizing your implementation you might be missing out. This is certainly true for Google’s default channel groupings. With the default setup, you’re likely missing out on valuable data that can provide much greater insight into the success of your marketing efforts and missing opportunities to better understand channels specific to your business. Nina Hale recommends starting off with an audit of your most common traffic sources and adjusting them (or creating them from scratch) to fit your specific needs.
HOW DOES GOOGLE CREATE ITS DEFAULT CHANNEL GROUPING?
Google uses its own predefined set of rules to group different sources and mediums into different channels. For example, if the traffic medium exactly matches ‘organic’, then Google groups that traffic under Organic Search. Some definitions are a little trickier, like the Paid Search channel which is defined as when the traffic medium exactly matches ‘cpc’, ‘ppc’, or ‘paidsearch’ (created with a regex formula). You can see Google’s exact grouping definitions here.
WHAT’S WRONG WITH GOOGLE’S CHANNEL GROUPING?
Google’s default channel grouping does the heavy lifting for dividing up traffic into channels but depending on how many different traffic sources and mediums you leverage and, more importantly, how accurately you would like to report on those sources, you may have to do some channel customization to view that data conveniently in one place.
There are two main reasons to create your own custom channel grouping in Google Analytics:
- To realign misattributed channels to the correct channels, and
- 2) To capture channels that are specific to your business and marketing tactics.
COMMON TRAFFIC CHANNEL MISATTRIBUTION
- Paid Social Channels – Traffic from paid social posts generally show up under Paid Search in Google’s channel grouping instead of the Social channel where you would expect to find it. Facebook ads, for example, show up with a source / medium of ‘facebok / cpc’ and according to Google’s default channel definitions, the medium matches ‘cpc’ to the Paid Search definition.
- Organic Search Channels – There are a couple of notable organic search sources that show up as either Referral or (Other) in Google Analytics.
If you’ve ever seen ‘com.google.android.googlequicksearchbox’ come through as a source you might have been a bit confused. This is actually how mobile traffic appears when it comes from the Google Search app on an Android device, and it usually makes up a good amount of site traffic. This should be attributed to organic search traffic but because the source / medium doesn’t fit into Google’s streamlined definitions, Google Analytics puts it in the (Other) traffic group.
A variety of smaller search platforms also don’t get caught by Google’s default rules for the Organic Search channel. Duck Duck Go, MSN, and Charter Search are examples of organic search platforms that get categorized as Referral traffic in Google Analytics.
2. CAPTURE BUSINESS-SPECIFIC TRAFFIC CHANNELS
The rules for these channels can be based on sources and mediums specific to your organization, and will depend on which utm parameters you use most often in your campaign tags and how you choose to recategorize other channels, like referral traffic.
Some common examples include:
- Retargeting traffic channel
- Offline advertising channel (tv, radio, newspaper, etc.)
- Paid social channel (as referenced in the above section)
- Brand vs. Non-brand paid search channels
- Tactical email channels (promotional vs. triggered, e.g.)
- Partnership, vendor, or other business relationship referral traffic
WHAT STEPS DO YOU NEED TO TAKE?
Custom channel grouping should always start with an audit of your current state. This will allow you to understand how existing traffic is categorized and how best to move forward with realignment.
- Download 3-6 months of default channel data with source/medium data from Google Analytics to provide a recent view of your organization’s traffic sources
- To account for seasonal trends and dated referrers it may also be helpful to analyze historical data (18+ months)
- Starting with the top traffic channels, work your way down the list categorizing your traffic into your newly categorized channels
- Develop a rule-based definition for each channel that you can use in Google Analytics. For example, a Paid Social channel could be defined as: ‘Medium matches regex cpc|ppc|paid’ AND ‘Source matches regex facebook|twitter|linkedin|instagram|pinterest’.
- Develop a clear, understandable ‘public’ naming convention based on how the rules define the new channel – remember this is the name in your Google Analytics reports. It may be helpful to vet the names to make sure they are clear to those who manage media and executives who will be reading reports.
Once your rules are in place and your traffic is grouped appropriately, you can complete the setup in Google Analytics. Best practice is to use a third-party data analysis tool to preview how your data will look under this new lens, and once you are comfortable with the re-categorization then you can move forward with creating the channels in the platform.
There are two different ways to approach custom channels in Google Analytics:
- The easier option is to create a new channel grouping. This solution gives you the option to view your traffic in the new grouping without editing the default grouping (good for maintaining historical records). New channel groupings work retroactively so you can view all historical data in the updated channels without making any permanent changes to the data.
- Updating the existing channel grouping is a longer-term solution. It won’t affect any historical data – it only takes effect once it is put in place. But this allows you to permanently change the way Google categorizes your traffic, which is especially necessary when using the Google Analytics API to send data to other platforms.
Read more about the process of customizing your channel groupings in Google Analytics here.
Whether you’re customizing your existing channel grouping or creating a new channel grouping, it’s important that your traffic sources align properly in Google Analytics so you can get an accurate analysis of your marketing performance.