Changes to GA4 Default Channel Groupings (vs. Universal Analytics)


More Google Analytics 4 (GA4) vs. Universal Analytics (UA) content, coming at you! 

If you rely on default channel groupings in Universal Analytics when reporting on your marketing efforts, you’re going to have to get used to some channel grouping changes in GA4.

Here’s the TLDR:

  1. The default channel groupings are changing between Universal Analytics and GA4. In short: some UA channel groupings are being phased out. GA4 is adding some new channel groupings. And some of the ones that are being carried over will have slightly different definitions.
  2. GA4 does not yet have the UA feature to allow you to edit Default Channel Grouping definitions. We don’t have any indication whether this feature will be added to GA4.

Overview of Changes to GA4 Traffic + New Default Channel Groupings

Google Ads Traffic

The biggest changes to be aware of are around how GA4 buckets your Google Ads traffic. 

In UA, virtually all of your Google Ads traffic is lumped under Paid Search. Additionally, most traffic with cpc or ppc in the medium was bucketed into Paid Search. In GA4, though, the channel groupings get a little more granular for cpc traffic:

  • If the campaign includes shop or shopping, it will get grouped as Paid Shopping.
  • If the campaign contains cross-network or is a performance max/smart shopping campaign, it will be grouped as Cross-Network.
  • If the source is from a list of video sites (e.g. YouTube), it will be grouped as Paid Video.

Social Traffic

Social traffic will be bucketed differently, too. Social traffic from UA will be broken out into Paid Social and Organic Social in GA4—the main differentiator between the two being whether the medium includes a string indicating that it was a paid placement.

New Default Channel Groupings

We’re getting some useful additions to the Default Channel Grouping list:

  • Organic Shopping: This is similar to the Paid Shopping definition, but does not include the requirement to have cpc/paid identifiers in the medium.
  • SMS: any traffic with medium = sms
  • Audio: any traffic with medium = audio
  • Mobile Push Notifications: Any traffic where medium ends with push or contains mobile or notification

Detailed Default Channel Grouping Comparison

Channel Groupings that Exist in Both UA & GA4

A handful of channels are being carried over from UA → GA4, but the definitions of some are changing slightly. This table breaks down the changes:

table showing details of channel changes between GA4 and UA

Channel Groupings Being Phased Out in GA4

The following channels exist in UA but will not exist in GA4:

New Channel Groupings in GA4

The following channels exist in GA4, but not in UA:

How Daasity Helps with Default Channel Grouping Changes

Merchants using Daasity will have a couple of tools to help them manage the transition and keep some continuity when moving from UA → GA4.

Daasity Channel Mapping

Daasity’s channel mapping functionality will help immensely with the transition. Channel Mapping allows you to create custom Channel and Vendor buckets that sit on top of your raw GA data. 

These buckets use the logic you set up in your Brand Supplied Data to group traffic and orders based on the GA Default Channel Grouping, Source, Medium, and Campaign values. This helps make you less reliant on the raw GA4 Default Channel Grouping values.

UA vs. GA4 Dashboard

Our new UA vs GA4 dashboard will compare session volumes broken down by channel between the two platforms. You can easily see where traffic is shifting between channels, and drill in to see which Source / Medium values are being bucketed differently.

Changes to the Default Channel Grouping definitions are wreaking havoc on this merchant’s data:

Image from UA vs GA4 Visualization in the Daasity app.

If you’d like to learn more about how Daasity can help with the GA4 transition (and the rest of your omnichannel data & analytics) don’t hesitate to reach out!

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