Improved Attribution: Custom Channels using Google Analytics 360

December 3, 2019

Optimal budget allocation is one of the most critical requirements for a successful digital marketing campaign. You also need a clear understanding of how your channels work together, which helps your business make weighed decisions in budget allocation. CMOs report that their marketing budgets face cuts if they can’t prove ROAS. Therefore, Attribution is more critical than ever as part of your digital marketing solutions. 

Google Analytics 360 provides you with a standardized basic grouping of channels, which works well for basic data analysis. However, it’s essential to recognize that the default behavior is not adjusted for specific business needs of your organization so that it may become a less accurate reflection of your traffic as your tactics and sources grow. Default grouping, in this case, may simply not work for your organization’s advanced analytics purposes. An example? On average, 3 to 10% of traffic is attributed incorrectly or lost in the “Other” channel.

If you are planning to diversify your marketing efforts or want more granularity when analyzing your traffic, you may need to adjust the way Google Analytics 360 understands and displays the traffic channels. If you need more information on Attribution, read our guide which covers the variety of attribution options that Google’s Digital Stack offers.

From Acquisition to Multi-Channel Funnels Visualization, your conversion data can be displayed in a much more granular way if you customize the Channel Groupings. Customizing the channel groupings is just one way you can improve your Attribution, so let’s walk you through the process.

TIP: Before you start working with custom groupings, make sure you clean up and verify your traffic tagging first. This is an essential step you should take before you start customizing your Channel Groupings. Not sure how to clean up your data? Our article outlines how you can improve your source tracking and complete a thorough clean-up so that you’re ready to create custom groupings.

Step 1: Decide how granular you want to get with your channel groupings.

First, you need to define which channels you want to separate. For example, you might separate email campaigns, detailed Paid Search traffic, or a particular media vendor that should display separately in the path to a conversion. A few tips from our team:

Custom channel groupings bring your third-party vendor traffic to the surface. In situations where several media agencies contribute to your ROI, it’s helpful to evaluate the true performance of each agency’s efforts. Do this by segmenting traffic down to individual campaigns or line items.   

First things first, define the channels that you want to see separated. It could be Email campaigns, detailed Paid Search traffic or a certain media vendor that you want to be displayed separately in the path to a conversion.

Step 2: Set up the Custom Channel Grouping

You will need to update the Google Analytics account set up in order to further customize each of the channels you’ve just created. You can either create a new grouping or copy the default and update its rules. 

To create a grouping from scratch, go to Admin -> Custom Channel Groupings at View level and click “New Channel Grouping”.

A channel grouping is a set of labels that you can see in the reports. By defining rules for each channel in a grouping, you specify which sources of traffic are allocated to which labels.

If you want to update the default channel grouping by adding a few more labels, then you can copy it from the Channel Groupings dropdown in your reports.

Remember, rules are hierarchical. Therefore, rules apply to objects in the order you place them within a grouping, working as a set of filters. Traffic that doesn’t match the first criteria falls into the second set of criteria. The remaining traffic will fall into the third, and so on. 

 What happens if you have traffic that doesn’t match any of the specified conditions from your channel rules? It will show as source “Other” in your reports. Let’s work through an example to demonstrate what we mean. 

In this case, our task is to split all Paid Search traffic into Branded and Non-Branded Categories. Non-Branded should show separately for Product Listing Ads and Text Ads, while we should filter all Bing search traffic into a separate label.

To start, we create two main buckets for branded and non-branded search. We define this traffic by Medium matching “CPC” or “PPC” and Campaign containing “Brand.” Use “AND” if you want data to meet both conditions.

In this case, Non-Branded Content should not contain “Brand” in the Campaign name, which we can also use for the separation of Text versus Product Listing Ads. To exclude Bing into a separate channel, we add one more condition: Source does not contain “Bing.”

Bing traffic will now fall into the next channel rule where two conditions capture it: Medium matching “CPC” or “PPC” and Source matching either “Bing” or “bing.com.”

Once we save this set of rules, all paid search traffic splits into one of the following labels: Branded, Non-Branded Product Listing Ads, Non-Branded Text Ads, and Bing Search. The conversion paths now contain more details about the way each of these labels work in your conversion funnel.

#3 Check and refine your settings for higher accuracy

Ideally, if all rules are set up correctly and cover all source/medium variations, you should not see any “Other”’ traffic in your reports. If it still shows up, we suggest fine-tuning your rules to include this traffic in one of your created channels. 

To check if your setup is correct, go to Acquisition -> All Traffic -> Channels, only filter out the “Other” channel if it shows up, and apply a secondary dimension: Source/Medium. Now you should see which type of traffic your rules did not include. 

 Now go back to Custom Channel Setup and add the missing traffic types to your label definitions. Repeat this until the “Other” channel does not appear. 

Remember that making any significant updates to your traffic tagging may require you to tweak the channel setup correspondingly.

TIP: Choose a broad date range for this check, optimally it should be six months back or more.

#4 Share the new setup with your teammates

Remember that Custom Channel Groupings are available only to the user who created them. So, don’t forget to share them with your teammates if you want your new setup to be visible and used collectively.

The Final Takeaway

It’s important to note that creating custom channels does not mean you should stop using the default channel grouping! You don’t want to lose any conversions in the ‘“Other” channel. Customize your channels to get granular conversion data, and segment your marketing channels to analyze them in detail. Finally, correct attribution analysis always starts with a thorough data clean-up – there is nothing worse than making decisions based on the data that is not honest.


Ready to take your ads, and your business, to the next level? Get in touch with the DELVE team today.

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