Channel Grouping in GA4

2022-07-12 | Article | Insights

One of the most important things to do as an Online Marketer is to understand the value of traffic channels. Depending on the channel, a lot of money might be spent on specific channels and therefore an in depth analysis of these are important.

In comparison to Universal Analytics there are quite a few changes in GA4. Within the Traffic Acquisition report in GA4, data can be analyzed by different channel groups such as organic search, paid search, referral, etc. The report can be accessed as follows:

Step 1 - Once logged into the GA4 account click on Reports

Step 2 - Click on Acquisition

Step 3 - Click on Traffic Acquisition

This is what will be displayed - per default the Session Default Channel Grouping is chosen and you can see the report organized by the default channel group:

One of the main differences to the previous Universal Analytics version is that there is no more Custom Channel Grouping in GA4. This might have the impression of a step backwards but in reality there are ways to handle this.

One way to see e.g. Facebook traffic is to change the first dimension to source / medium and then search for facebook in the search box above. All Facebook referrals will then be displayed.

This is a rather manual way to analyze data as this would need to be done every single time for every single request. A more elegant way would be to use the Explorer functionality where an individual report can be generated:

In this example it’s important to use the filter:

What’s currently also not working in GA4 is the option to edit default Channel Grouping definitions. The only way to accommodate this is to strictly follow the naming convention rules when using UTM parameters for all links. As the default Channel Grouping categories are known upfront the UTM parameters shall be used accordingly - special hint: information is not case sensitive.

For example:
Both variations will be treated the same and will be grouped in the "Email" category.

If you wonder which sources are categorized into the different channel groups, here is a comprehensive list giving an overview of channel grouping categorization. [Link]

So, how are the different default channel groups defined? Here is a definition of each channel:


If a user types in the URL directly in the browser, using a bookmark to access the website directly, or clicks a link in a PDF file, traffic will be treated as Direct. This is also the case if utm_medium in the URL is 'not set' or 'none'.

The ‘technical’ definition of direct traffic is:

Source exactly matches direct 
Medium exactly matches (not set) 
Medium exactly matches (none)

Organic Search

This channel is for traffic which comes from search engines such as Google or Bing. utm_medium needs to be ‘organic’ to fall into this category.

Source matches any search engine 
Medium exactly matches (organic)

Paid Search

Similar to Organic Search, Paid Search is automatically categorized based on the list of search engines if it’s CPC, PPC or paidsearch. Traffic from display ads will be excluded.

(Google Analytics Medium matches regex ^(cp.*|ppc|paid.*)$ 
Google Ad Network does not exactly match DISPLAY) 
Google Ad Network exactly matches PAID-SEARCH

Paid Social

If a user lands on a landing page coming from a paid social ad this traffic will be attributed to ‘Paid Social’.

Source matches list of social sites 
Medium matches regex ^(cp.*|ppc|paid.*)$

To make sure that traffic is recognized correctly the naming of the social site needs to be the same as it is in the list of identified sources. [Link]

Organic Social

Similar to Paid Social a visit from a social media website will be attributed to Organic Social - if it’s not a paid social campaign or ad.

Source matches list of social sites 
Medium matches regex ^(social|social-network|social-media|sm|social network|social media)


Traffic will be categorized into the Email group when a user comes from a link of an Email campaign or an Email signature.

The definition is as follows:

Medium = email|e-mail|e_mail|e mail 
Source = email|e-mail|e_mail|e mail


Referral is traffic coming from an external website which is not a search engine. The definition is as follows:

Medium = referral


To track affiliate campaigns these websites / these campaigns shall use the correct UTM Parameters to assign the traffic correctly.

The definition then is as below:

Medium = affiliate|affiliates

Paid Video

This only works for Videos within the Google Network if a user clicks on paid video ads and lands on the landing page.

The definition of video traffic is as follows:

Source matches a list of video sites
Medium matches regex (.*cp.*|ppc|paid.*)$

Organic Video

Users coming from websites marked as video sites in the overview list of sites will be attributed as organic video.

Source matches a list of video sites
Medium matches regex ^(.*video.*)$


The categorization for Display traffic only works for the Google network. Traffic will only be assigned to Display when the ad was delivered via Google and the user lands on the landing page.

Here is the definition:

Google Analytics Ad Network exactly matches DISPLAY

Paid Shopping

If a user comes from a website which is on the list [Link] and marked as a paid shopping site, the visit will be attributed to Paid Shopping.

Source matches a list of shopping sites
Campaign Name matches regex ^(.*(([â-df-z]|^)shop|shopping).*$)
Medium matches regex ^(.*cp.*|ppc.paid.*)$

Organic Shopping

Users coming from a website which is marked as a shopping site on the overview list, or if the campaign name carries the word shop in its name, traffic will be attributed as Organic shopping.

Source matches a list of shopping sites
Campaign name matches regex ^(.*(([â-df-z]|^)shop|shopping).*)$


To attribute traffic to the audio channel medium needs to be exactly named with audio.

Medium exactly matches audio


To attribute traffic to SMS channel medium needs to be exactly named with sms.

Medium exactly matches sms

Mobile Push Notifications

To attribute traffic to mobile push notification, the medium either needs to end with the word push or shall contain the words mobile or notification.

Medium ends with "push"
Medium contains "mobile" or "notification"


GA4 Channel Grouping is a great way to view and analyze how different channels are performing in an easy transparent way. In comparison to the Channel Grouping from Universal Analytics a few things are different. E.g. Custom Channel Grouping is currently not available - this means that groupings happen in the given way, without the option to individualize them much further.

In any way, it makes sense to have a proper setup of GA4 and to take extra care of campaign parameters to have a good and solid database right away, as clearly defined naming conventions for campaign parameters are essential for accurate data and reports.

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