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Improved Attribution: Custom Channels using Google Analytics 360

Andy Semenihin   
January 31, 2018  3min. read
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Optimal budget allocation is one the most important requirements for a successful marketing program. Clear understanding of how your channels work in combination allows for making weighed decisions in budget allocation. CMOs are reporting that their marketing budgets are being cut if they can’t prove ROAS, making attribution more important than ever as part of your digital marketing solution.

Google Analytics 360 provides you with a standardized basic grouping of channels which, in most cases, works fine. However, the default behavior is not adjusted to the specific business needs of your organization and may become less accurate as your tactics and sources of traffic grow. Default grouping in this case may simply not work for your organization’s advanced analytics purposes. On average, 3-10% of traffic is attributed incorrectly or lost in ‘Other’ channel.

So, if you are planning to diversify your marketing efforts or want more granularity in analyzing your traffic, you may need to adjust the way Google Analytics 360 understands and displays the traffic channels. We’ve covered the variety of attribution options that Google’s Digital Stack offers.

From Acquisition to Multi-Channel Funnels visualization – your conversion data could be displayed in a much more granular way by customizing the Channel Groupings. Today we’d like to delve more extensively into one way to improve your attribution.

TIP: Before you start working with custom groupings, please make sure you clean up and verify your traffic tagging first. This is an essential step that should be taken as a matter of priority. Have a look at how source tracking could be improved in this article: 6 Simple Ways to Clean Up Your Data

Step 1: Decide on how much granularity you will need

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.

  • Paid Search traffic is typically split into Branded vs. Generic. While default channel grouping will display both as one you may want to analyze the behavior depending on your branded keywords. You could also go further and split your Text Ads and Google Shopping PLAs.
  • Social traffic could be split into Organic vs. Paid. This will provide a better picture of how your social marketing budgets work.
  • Separate your Programmatic Prospecting and Retargeting traffic. Since these two work differently in your funnel they should be displayed and analyzed separately. Ideally, you should see that your prospecting channel works better in the top of the funnel while retargeting is most likely to be closing the conversion.
  • Certain referral traffic may be more valuable or could require deeper analysis. Custom channel groupings will help analyze the impact of this traffic compared to the rest of referral traffic.
  • Bring your 3rd party vendor traffic to the surface. In situations when several media agencies contribute to your ROI, you may want to see the true performance of each agency’s efforts by slicing this traffic down to certain campaigns or even line items.   

Step 2: Set up the Custom Channel Grouping

To delve deeper into each of the custom channels, you will need to update the GA account setup. 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 see in the reports. By defining rules for each channel in a grouping you specify which sources of traffic will be 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:

All rules are applied in the order you place them in a grouping. This means that they work as a set of filters placed one above the other. Any traffic that doesn’t match the first criteria will fall into the second. Then the remaining traffic will fall into the third and so on. If after going through all your channel rules, there is still  traffic that doesn’t match any of specified conditions, it will be shown as ‘Other’ in your reports.

In the below example, our task was to split all Paid Search traffic into Branded and Non-branded. In addition, the latter should be shown separately for PLA and Text ads while all Bing search traffic should be filtered into a separate label.

We started by creating two main buckets for branded and non-branded search. This traffic could be defined by Medium matching “cpc” or “ppc” and Campaign containing “Brand”.  Use “AND” if you want both conditions to be met.

Non-branded traffic in this case should not contain “Brand” in the Campaign name, which could also be used for separation of Text vs. PLA ads. To exclude Bing into a separate channel, we added one more condition: Source does not contain “bing”.

Bing traffic will fall into the next channel rule and will be captured by two conditions: Medium matching “cpc” or “ppc” and Source matching either “bing” or “bing.com”.

So, once you save this set of rules, all paid search traffic should be split into one of these labels: Branded, Non-branded PLA ads, Non-branded TXT ads and Bing Search.

The conversion paths will be now containing more details about the way each of these labels work in the conversion funnel:

#3 Check and refine the settings for higher accuracy

Ideally, if all the rules are set up correctly and cover all source/medium variations, you should not see any ‘Other’ traffic in reports. If it still shows up, we suggest fine-tuning your rules to include this traffic in one of the channels. This will ensure you don’t lose any valuable traffic.

To check if your setup is correct go to Acquisition -> All Traffic -> Channels, filter out only channel “Other” if it shows up and apply secondary dimension Source / Medium. Now you should see which traffic was not included into your rules. Now go back to Custom Channel Setup and add these missing traffic types to your label definitions. Repeat this until “Other” channel is no longer shown.

Remember that any significant updates to your traffic tagging may require tweaking the channels setup to work correspondingly.

TIP: Take a wider date range for this check, optimally it should be 6+ months.

#4 Share the 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 this setup to be visible and used collectively.

The Final Takeaway

This optimization does not mean you should stop using the default channel grouping! It may work fine, but you don’t want any conversions lost in the ‘Other’ channel. Customize the channels to get granular conversion data and slice your marketing channels to analyze them in detail. Finally, correct attribution analysis should be always preceded with a thorough data clean-up – there is nothing worse than making decisions based on the data that is not honest.


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