Comprehensive Guide to Effectively Implementing Custom Channel Grouping in GA4

10/3/20239 min read


In the realm of Google Analytics 4 (GA4), the introduction of custom channel grouping has sparked widespread anticipation and is proving to be a highly valuable addition. While the default channel grouping lays a strong groundwork, the true potential lies in the realm of customization that custom channel grouping offers.

This feature particularly shines when dealing with scenarios involving the utilization of UTM parameters and the passage of custom source and medium values. When such instances arise, the default channel grouping's rules may not align with these custom values, leading to a substantial amount of traffic being assigned to an unassigned channel group. To navigate this challenge and maximize the insights gained from data analysis, it becomes imperative to explore the advantages of both default and custom channel grouping within GA4.

This article will delve into the benefits of these two approaches, guide you through the process of establishing custom channels, and illuminate various strategies for effectively harnessing them within the GA4 user interface. By doing so, a richer and more insightful understanding of user interactions can be attained.

What is Default Channel Grouping?

Google Analytics 4 (GA4) introduces a new approach to channel grouping, which is the process of categorizing incoming traffic sources into distinct channels to help you understand the performance of your digital marketing efforts. Unlike the previous version of Google Analytics, GA4's default channel grouping is designed to offer a more flexible and comprehensive way of organizing traffic sources.

In the traditional version of Google Analytics, predefined channel groupings like "Organic Search," "Direct," "Referral," and others were used to categorize traffic. However, GA4 takes a different approach by offering dynamic and customizable channel groupings based on user behavior and engagement.

GA4's default channel grouping utilizes a machine learning algorithm to automatically categorize different traffic sources based on their behavior and intent. It considers various factors like source, medium, campaign, and user engagement to create meaningful and relevant groupings. For instance, instead of a fixed "Direct" channel, GA4 might group traffic sources that show direct navigation intent into a "Engaged Direct" channel and those with minimal engagement into a "Non-Engaged Direct" channel.

The default channel grouping in GA4 might not perfectly align with a business's specific goals and marketing tactics. Every business has its own set of marketing channels, campaigns, and user behaviors that contribute to conversions. Custom channel grouping enables marketers to define their own meaningful categories that match their unique business structure and marketing efforts.

For example, a business might have specific referral sources that are highly relevant to their industry but are not recognized by the default channel grouping. Custom channel grouping allows them to create a dedicated category for these sources, ensuring that they are properly tracked and analyzed.

Why Use Custom Channel Groupings?

Custom channel groupings in GA4 offer several reasons to implement them alongside the default channel grouping. Here are three key reasons:

  1. Flexibility: Custom channel groupings in GA4 introduce a compelling reason to integrate them alongside the default channel grouping - flexibility. While the default channel grouping relies on predefined rules, custom channel grouping opens the door to complete flexibility in assigning sessions to various channels. This newfound freedom empowers you to generate nuanced analyses by crafting your own traffic rules that accurately reflect your unique business landscape and user behaviors. Instead of adhering to predetermined categorizations, custom channel grouping permits a tailored approach that aligns closely with your specific marketing and engagement strategies.

  2. Seamless UI Experience: The allure of custom channel groupings extends to providing a seamless user interface experience. While there are numerous external tools that furnish comprehensive reporting and analytical capabilities, not every user may require or prefer venturing beyond the confines of the GA4 user interface. Custom channel groups cater precisely to this preference. They cater to those who seek to conduct analyses directly within the GA4 UI, all without necessitating intricate API interactions or external platforms. This seamless experience ensures that users can delve into channel-related insights without leaving the familiar GA4 environment.

  3. Helps GA4 attribute Unassigned data: One of the most significant advantages of employing custom channel groupings in GA4 revolves around addressing the challenge of unassigned data attribution. When a business employs UTM parameters to convey custom source and medium values, the default channel grouping rules in GA4 can falter in appropriately identifying and attributing data to the correct channels. Inevitably, this leads to a majority of such data being aggregated under the "Unassigned" channel group, diminishing the accuracy of attribution. By defining and implementing your own custom channel group rules, this predicament can be averted. This proactive approach ensures that a substantial portion of the data is correctly attributed to the relevant custom channel groups, leading to a more precise data attribution paradigm within GA4.

Incorporating custom channel groupings into your GA4 strategy not only addresses the limitations of default channel grouping but also provides a more adaptable, user-friendly, and accurate approach to understanding and attributing user interactions.

Creating Custom Channels

A Step-by-Step Guide to Setting Up Custom Channels in GA4

1. Access the GA4 admin section and under Data Settings select Channel Groups.

2. Create a new channel group, providing a descriptive name and optional description.

3. Specify the conditions for each channel by defining new channel names and rules.

Note: Please note that the channel definitions below are just an example and may vary according to your requirements..

4. This new Custom Channel Group will include all the default channels mentioned right below it.

5. In the scenario provided, the objective is to consolidate all paid channels into a unified custom channel named "Paid." This consolidation is aimed at simplifying the reporting structure by eliminating the distinct paid channels while retaining dedicated channels for Email, Organic traffic, and Direct traffic. To achieve this customization,Click on Add a New Channel.

6. Name the channel as Paid.

7. Select Add condition group and define the channel conditions and save the channel. For the above example, we will be aggregating all default paid channels together as one channel.

Note: The process of configuring custom channel groupings in GA4 involves careful consideration of channel conditions. In the context provided, the focal point is on "Channel Conditions," where various options are available for selection, such as Default channel group, Source, Medium, Source Platform, Campaign ID, and Campaign Name. While the example's choice is the Default channel group condition, it's essential to tailor your selections to align with your specific tracking and reporting requirements.

8. Now, we will remove all other default channels in this custom channel grouping apart from the ones we need for Email, Organic and Direct traffic.

9. Once satisfied with the conditioning of the new Custom Channel Group click on Save Group.

10. Once the setup is done, you will be able to see your new Custom Channel group in GA4 UI.

Currently the Per-Property limits in regards to custom channel groupings is as follows,

To summarize the setup when creating custom channel groups in GA4, you have the following options:

  1. Start with the 18 basic channels provided by Google and modify them according to your requirements.

  2. You can edit, remove, or add channels within the custom channel grouping.

  3. Reorder the channels, this will ensure that the traffic is attributed to the first matching channel depending on the order.

  4. Dimensions available for creating channel definitions include default channel group, source platform, medium, source, campaign name, and campaign ID.

  5. You can use various expressions such as "matches exactly”,"ends with”, begins with, "matches regex”, contains and more to define the rules for grouping traffic sources.

Ways to Use Custom Channel Grouping in the GA4 UI:

Using custom channel grouping in the GA4 UI can be done through the following approaches:

  1. Primary Dimension in Standard Reports: A significant strategy to employ custom channel grouping within the GA4 UI involves utilizing it as a primary dimension in standard reports. This approach allows you to delve into performance analysis through the lens of your newly defined channel grouping. By incorporating the custom channel group as the primary dimension, you can effortlessly scrutinize various metrics and KPIs in alignment with your specialized categorizations.

In practice, this means that when you generate standard reports, the data will be organized according to your custom channel grouping structure. This organization provides a clearer understanding of how different traffic sources are contributing to your website's overall performance. Insights gained from this approach can influence marketing strategies, resource allocation, and campaign optimization decisions.

  • navigate to a report (i.e. Traffic Acquisition) and click on Customize report.

  • include ‘Session custom channel group’ as an added dimension.

Note: You have the option to now save this as your default report or save it as a New report as well.

  • Now you can save your new report.

  • You can open the added custom channel group dimension.

  • Select the Session Custom Channel group from the drop down and analyze performance based on ‘new’ report.

  1. Reconfiguring Secondary Dimension in Reports: Make use of the custom channel grouping as an additional dimension.

In this scenario, there is no requirement to initially include it in the report.

  • Click the 'plus' symbol in any preferred report. Look for 'custom channel grouping' and incorporate one of the dimensions into the report.

  • search for ‘custom channel group’ and add one of the dimensions to the report.

a. Dimension in Report Filter: Set up temporary or permanent filters based on custom channel group dimensions to narrow down and focus your analysis.

  • Transient Filter:

Apply the filter to any selected detailed report. The filter vanishes when the session is closed and subsequently revisited.

  • Persistent Filter:

Click on Customize report on a report of your choice and add a filter under REPORT FILTER.

3. Dimension in Exploration: Include custom channel group dimensions in Exploration reports.

Proceed to the Explore section, generate a Free-form report, and look for 'custom channel' within the Dimensions.

Once you've added 'Session custom channel group' as a dimension, include 'Sessions' as a metric.


In the dynamic landscape of Google Analytics 4 (GA4), the introduction of custom channel grouping has ushered in a new era of flexibility, precision, and user-friendly analytics. This comprehensive guide has illuminated the significance of custom channel grouping and outlined a step-by-step process for its effective implementation. By offering the ability to tailor session categorization based on unique business needs, custom channel grouping empowers users to gain deeper insights into user behavior and attribution.

Custom channel grouping stands out as an essential tool for several reasons. Its flexibility transcends the limitations of predefined rules, allowing businesses to craft their own traffic classifications that align seamlessly with their marketing strategies. This flexibility, combined with a seamless user interface experience within the GA4 environment, ensures that users can delve into granular channel-related insights without relying on external tools. Furthermore, the custom channel grouping feature effectively addresses the challenge of unassigned data attribution, ensuring that custom source and medium values are accurately attributed to relevant channels.

The process of creating custom channels is demystified in this guide, offering a step-by-step walkthrough of setting up channels, defining conditions, and configuring custom channel groups. The ability to consolidate, modify, and reorder channels provides a robust framework for adapting channel definitions to precise tracking and reporting requirements. By utilizing various expressions and dimensions, businesses can tailor their custom channel groups to capture the nuances of their data sources.

In conclusion, custom channel grouping in GA4 represents a pivotal advancement that empowers businesses to move beyond the limitations of default channel grouping. By embracing this feature, businesses can enhance their data analysis capabilities, refine their marketing strategies, and ultimately make more informed decisions to drive success. The combination of default and custom channel grouping provides a comprehensive approach to understanding user behavior and optimizing online performance in the GA4 ecosystem.