Everything You Need to Know About Custom Channel Groupings in Google Analytics

Two years ago when Google released version 5 of Google Analytics, an entire host of new features came along with it. One of the most helpful of these was the Multi-Channel Funnels reports which was designed to help GA deal with a problem that had been plaguing analytics tools for years - goal attribution.

In Google Analytics, goal completions are always attributed to the last non-direct visit. There are however a couple of exceptions to this - for example, a visit from AdWords overrides all subsequent traffic sources for the next six months, or you can use utm_nooverride to apply the same rule to a campaign which you're currently tracking.

The problem with this is that the final non-direct visit isn't necessarily indicative of what actually caused that visitor to convert. Just think about how you browse the web. How often do you go to a website and immediately make a purchasing decision?

If you're anything like me, not that often. You do some initial research, check out some competitors, and hours or even days later come back (often through a different source than you originally visited through) to make your purchase.

With this attribution model, there is an awful lot of data being left out of your goal conversion reports. Thankfully, Multi-Channel Funnels helps bring some of that data back by showing you which sources assisted with the final conversion and even maps the complete path that visitors took to complete your goals.

By default, Google Analytics will break down all of your assisted conversions into eight basic channel groupings:

  • Display
  • Paid Search
  • Other Advertising
  • Organic Search
  • Social Network
  • Referral
  • Email
  • Direct

These are a great start, but it's possible to open up another level of detail by creating your own custom channel groupings. Here we'll be discussing a few of the possibilities you have with these custom groupings.

How to create custom groups

To start off, you'll need to navigate to either the Assisted Conversions or Top Conversion Paths reports under the Conversions > Multi-Channel Funnels section.

multi-channel funnels

Next, just below the line graph, select the Channel Groupings dropdown menu and then choose "Copy Basic Channel Grouping template...". It's possible to create custom groupings without copying the template, but using the template to start off the process will make things much cleaner in the end.

copy channel groupings

More Organic Detail

Copying the basic template will open up a new dialogue box giving you options to edit or delete any of the basic groupings. The first thing we're going to do here is delete Organic Search - don't worry, we'll be putting all this data back but with much more detail.

delete organic grouping

After you've deleted Organic Search, click the "Add new Rule" button and we'll start building our custom channel groupings.

A quick side note here: some of the custom groupings we'll be creating will require basic knowledge of Regular Expressions. If you are not too confident about your RegEx skills, you can read a basic overview in this article I previously posted about Advanced Segments in GA.

(not provided)

Let's just get this one out of the way first. None of us are fans of (not provided) but it's important to view this keyword data separately from the rest. Without separating it, you'd be clouding the rest of your organic data with incomplete information. Set the statements below and click save.

not provided

Branded Keywords

Next, you'll want to differentiate your branded keywords from your non-branded keywords. Here you'll need to use a Regular Expression that matches any branded terms (or misspellings of those terms) which people might use to find you online. Separate each term with a pipe (|) to create an "OR" statement in your RegEx.

branded keywords

Non-Branded Keywords

To separate your non-branded keywords, you'll need to use the same Regular Expression used in the your branded keywords channel, but this time set it to "Exclude" rather than "Include". Make sure you also create a statement to exclude (not provided).

non-branded keywords

Non-Branded Head

Not happy with simply separating your organic keyword data into branded and non-branded? Well we can bring up even more detail by replacing the Non-Branded Keywords grouping we just created with Non-Branded Head and Non-Branded Long Tail keywords.

The RegEx that we'll use here is a little more complicated, but it's not difficult to implement. Just take the Non-Branded Keywords grouping mentioned above and add an "AND" statement to include keywords matching this Regular Expression which will match any keyword phrase with 1 or 2 words: ^s*


non-branded head

Non-Branded Long Tail

For long tail keywords, we'll do the exact same thing except this time, we'll use a RegEx that matches keyword phrases with 3 or more words: ^s*[^s]+(s+[^s]+){2,}s*$

non-branded long tail

Email Campaigns

Using Campaign Tracking in Google Analytics opens you up to a huge variety of custom channel groupings you can create. Your various email campaigns are an obvious choice here, but this can be expanded to anywhere you use campaign tracking URLs - RSS feeds, mentions/listings on other domains, etc. Here's an example of a grouping I made for our email newsletters.

email campaigns


By default, GA will put your ad traffic into three different groupings: Display, Paid Search and Other. As with the Organic Search traffic grouping, we can get lots of additional detail with some custom groupings. Of course, the groupings you create will depend on the ad campaigns you're running. You might want to create a grouping just for your retargeting campaign. Alternatively, you can separate your AdWords traffic into its various campaigns so you can get a better insight into which campaigns are most effective. Here's an example of a grouping I created for our affiliate marketing campaign.


Dark Social

One traffic source I've been thinking a lot about recently has been dubbed as "Dark Social". We often think of Direct traffic as visitors who've typed in your URL or clicked a bookmark, but the truth is that Direct traffic is really just any visit that doesn't fall into a more descriptive source.

It's unlikely that someone is actually typing in the 40 character long URL of your blog article, so it's safe to assume that Direct visits to your pages with long URLs have actually been shared through a source that GA can't track, such as instant messages or an email from one friend to another.

We can track some of this Dark Social traffic by creating a rule that matches Direct visits and visits that landed directly on a blog article. In this example, I've used a Regular Expression that matches 2010 - 2019 because we always include the year in our article URLs. You may have to adjust your RegEx accordingly.

dark social

Putting It All Together

Once you have set all you new channel groupings, you should have a nice long list like this.

all channel groupings

It's important to note that your channels will be applied in the order they are listed here, so make sure you have things ordered so some categories won't be overwritten by others. For example, Affiliate Marketing needs to go before Other Advertising or that traffic will just be grouped into the Other Advertising channel before the Affiliate channel gets processed. The same goes for Email Newsletters and Other Email, and Dark Social and Direct.

You might also notice that I created a separate channel for Facebook. This is because Facebook is by far our most prominent social network site and I want to track it separately from the others. So again, in this case, Facebook will have to be placed above the Social Networks grouping.

Now when you take a look at the Assisted Conversions report, you'll find much more information about what's going on.

all channels in action

One small thing we can do to clean things up even more is double checking the (Other) groupings for anything that might fit into a more descriptive channel.

Drop in a secondary segment for Source / Medium, run a quick search for "other" and you'll see everything else that you might have overlooked.

getting rid of other

Here you can see our retargeting campaign was overlooked because the campaign tracking we used doesn't match the mediums that the default groupings are searching for. Some quick adjustments to the groupings can clean all of these up.

Remember, you aren't limited to the channel groupings I've put together here. Take a look at your traffic and decide which sources are under-represented in the standard Multi-Channel Funnels reports. Pay special attention to sources that bring in a high percentage of new visits. These are likely sources through which visitors are discovering your brand and, even if it looks like they don't do much in the Goals, these sources still play an important role in the conversion funnel.

About the Author: Tim Kelsey

Tim Kelsey is the SEO & Social Media Manager at Pronto Marketing, a web presence management agency. When he isn't digging through mountains of analytics data, Tim spends his time searching for the perfect carnitas burrito.

The Pronto Marketing Blog

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