Online Authority Blog

Align your Google Analytics Channel Groupings with your marcom plan

by Kelly Kubrick on April 17, 2017

Cast your mind back to Planes, Trains and Automobiles, the Steve Martin / John Candy comedy where those modes of transport were to deliver the travellers home. Media has a similar concept with sources, or channels, that deliver prospects to us. Traditionally, those channels included direct mail, radio or TV, and newspapers or magazines.

Today, we have “new” media sources like Google and Bing (search), or Facebook and Twitter (social). When rolled up into categories like Search or Social those categories are known as Channels. However, sources are increasingly fragmented (how many social networks are out there today?), distracting us from knowing which channels are working for us.

Are you confident you know which marcom activities are worth continued investment?

Picture a busy but under-resourced marketing communications team challenged with finding prospects for a new brand. From the get-go, this team has done everything right. They undertook comprehensive market research and used it as the foundation for their strategic plan. That plan led to multiple outreach tactics / activities:

  • Forming strategic partnerships with established, aligned, non-competing organizations
  • Creating relevant, valuable content to be shared across multiple social media networks
  • Publishing relevant blog posts to encourage community engagement
  • Producing a monthly educational email newsletter (with just a hint of promotion) to efficiently leverage their blog
  • Purchasing advertising to to uncover potential pockets of customers
  • Launching an affiliate marketing program to entice bloggers and other websites to promote their message for them

Further, the team put together a measurement plan with established targets, and set Google Analytics up correctly to ensure they captured ‘clean’ prospect data. And, gold star to them – they were executing comprehensive digital campaign tracking to measure the impact of their individual activities.

However as the time requirements for juggling that many activities increased, the available resources did not.

Increased pressure to undertake more (and more) activities without additional resources

Within a few months, everyone wanted to know if all the activities were worth the level of effort required to support them, or if some could / should be cut. However, even as the data flowed in, Google Analytics seemed disconnected from the team’s activities and their reports didn’t support decision making. For example:

The team regularly reviewed their Google Analytics’ Channels report, labelled in the Google Analytics interface as “Default Channel Grouping”.

Default Channels Grouping

Google Analytics Default Channels Grouping Report

If you aren’t familiar with it, Google explains that the Channels report displays

“rule-based groupings of your traffic sources, [showing] your data organized according to the Default Channel Grouping. Default groupings are the most common sources of traffic, like Paid Search and Direct.”

And, according to Google, this allows “you to quickly check the performance of each of your traffic channels.”

The problem is that Google’s Default Channel Groupings aren’t necessarily how organizations might describe their Channels internally. Further, Google’s language labelling the individual Channel might not even exist in your organization’s vocabulary.

Even with measurement best practices, it can be hard to prioritize

So, although the concept of Channels makes sense in theory, typically, the Default Channel Groupings only make sense to the person familiar with your Google Analytics UTM code naming conventions. And, as with many organizations, the majority of the marketing communications team members weren’t familiar with the UTM name/value pair naming conventions (how are we counting paid social? is our email traffic really captured correctly?).

This meant team members weren’t confident in knowing which activities were captured in which Channel. And, if there’s a lack of confidence in the data, people start disregarding it.

Frustratingly, even when this Google Analytics savvy-team used advance reporting features such as expanding their report view to include Source/Medium as a second dimension of data (see screenshot below), the volume of data still obscured any insights to help them prioritize their efforts.

Google Analytics Channels report by Source Medium dimension

Google Analytics Channel report with Source/Medium as a secondary dimension

What does (Other) mean?

One of the frustrations of Google Analytics is the (Other) line item found in many of its reports. In the Default Channel Groupings report, it’s particularly difficult to discern what (Other) contains. Even when used with a second Source/Medium dimension applied, the underlying data still only makes sense to those familiar with the original UTM campaign parameter naming conventions. Even then, Other can take a lot of digging.

Instead, what if (Other) could be eliminated and the remaining Channels sorted into buckets labelled in a way that makes sense to your team? That way, colleagues would have much more confidence interpreting what the reports are showing them.

What to do? Take charge of the Channel rules

Fortunately, instead of using the Default Channel Groupings provided by Google Analytics, you can create your own, reflective of your own marketing-communications activities. Google Analytics provides a useful, and relatively friendly, “make your own rules” tool that allows you to override its ‘system-defined’ rules.

Thus, instead of hoping Google attributes your email traffic correctly, you can ensure your Email traffic does in fact land in the Email channel. Or, instead of having Google lump all your social traffic into Social, you can segment it into paid versus organic.

The ‘Custom Channel Groupings’ tool is in the Admin section of your reports, by View, under Channel Settings > Channel Groupings. With it, you can create a custom set of your own business rules to define Channels, and then toggle between it and the Default Groupings View. This screenshot below illustrates how you can toggle between the two:

Toggle between Default Channel Groupings and your customized channel groupings

Toggle between Default Channel Groupings and your customized channel groupings

 

Six steps to customize your Default Channels Grouping

You can create a Custom Channels Grouping report for your team using these step by step instructions. It’s time to take control of how your traffic sources are attributed in your Google Analytics reports!

1 Review your historical Google Analytics “All Traffic” report, ideally for a minimum of 3 months of data.

2. Look carefully at the “Other” group, and categorize it according to your organizational lingo. Do the same for Sources and Medium, identifying consistencies in both – by determining ‘typical’ sources and mediums (media, for the grammatically inclined). How do those compare to your activities? Which are the sources / mediums of traffic that represent your traffic driving activities versus sources of traffic you’re receiving ‘passively’?

3. In your TEST Google Analytics View (not sure what a TEST view is? See Why you want multiple Views in your Google Analytics), create a new custom Channel Groupings (View Settings > Custom Channel Groupings > + New Channel Groupings) report. In it, define your rules. For example, create a rule that states:

a) If “Medium” exactly matches “organic”, attribute that traffic to the Channel “Organic Search”; or

b) If Medium contains a string of characters generated by your email service provider, attribute traffic to Email

4. Leave your traffic to accumulate for at least 1 week in the TEST view. Go look to see where your traffic has ending up, by Channel. Is it where you expected?

5. Regularly refine the rules and with the intent of squeezing your ‘Other’ bucket to insignificance. Rinse and repeat to identify, classify and refine traffic as it materializes on your website in your TEST view. This is why it’s critical to build the report in TEST; it’s a safe place to refine your rules without affecting your production data.

6. Once you are happy with how your traffic is being attributed by Channel, re-create the same report in your Master View (again, see Why you want multiple Views in your Google Analytics). However – excellent news – instead of needing to recreate it manually, Google Analytics offers a wonderfully efficient way of “sharing an asset” within your own Google Analytics account, via email. In a matter of seconds, this feature allows you to ‘import’ your beautiful new Channels report into your Master View.

Once you’ve imported the new report in your Master View you can now choose to view data using your custom channels. Ta dah!

Below is a final screenshot that shows the difference in traffic attribution between the Default and the Custom Channel Groupings. Take note of a few of the items noted on the screenshot itself:

  • Red circle: Notice how (Other) has been reduced from 16.39% of the traffic to a mere 1.11% of the traffic? This helps eliminate confusion about what (Other) represents;
  • Navy blue circle: Notice how Referral has been broken out in to 2 Channels – MLL Brands and MLL Partners? For this particular team, Partners represents their organization’s strategic partnerships, showing them exactly how much traffic is coming from organizations whom they have formal agreements with (instead of mixing their traffic with other random websites that might be sending traffic). MLL Brands equate to this teams suppliers and represents a different expectation / relationship to the organization (known only to and meaningful only to that organization).
  • Yellow circle: Notice how Social has been segmented into 3 channels – “Paid Social” where paid media buys drove social traffic; “Organic Social (driven by MLL)”, representing traffic originating from their own organic, UTM tagged updates distributed through their own social media networks, and finally, “Organic Social (received by MLL)”, representing social media traffic they have received without sending out updates.

Default vs Custom ChannelsThis Custom Channel Groupings report offers the team much clearer insight into the impact / effectiveness of their efforts. This allows for faster decision making about which activities to pursue.

I strongly recommend you consider implementing it in your organization’s Google Analytics account.

If you have any questions or would like to discuss how to implement this at your organization, please feel free to contact us at your convenience. It would be our pleasure to put together a proposal for your review.

Have fun!

Kelly Kubrick

Digital Analyst and President of Online Authority; co-author dStrategy Digital Maturity Model, COO of MyLiberty.Life, co-founder, Digital Strategy Conference; co-owner 3rd generation family business. Downhill Skier. Foodie. Fan of all things digital.

Kelly KubrickAlign your Google Analytics Channel Groupings with your marcom plan

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