Channel Groupings in GA4

In this guide, you will learn what Channel grouping is and how to find it in GA4.

What are the Default Channel Groupings?

In Google Analytics 4 (GA4), channel groupings are a way to organize your traffic data into meaningful categories. By default, GA4 includes several predefined channel groupings, such as Direct, Organic Search, and Referral, but you can also create custom channel groupings to fit your specific needs.

Channel groupings are used to help you understand how your users are arriving at your website and which channels are driving the most traffic. They can also help you identify which channels are most effective at converting users into customers, allowing you to focus your marketing efforts on the channels that are most valuable to your business.

To view your channel groupings in GA4, follow these simple steps:

STEP 1: Go to ‘Acquisition’ under Life cycle.

acquisition report in ga4

STEP 2: Go to ‘Traffic acquisition’.

traffic acquisition report

STEP 3: Click on this.

click on session source/medium

STEP 4: Change it to ‘Session default channel group’.

select session default channel group

You can now explore the report by default channel group.

default channel group reports

Google Analytics 4 vs Universal Analytics

There are several differences between Google Analytics 4 and Universal Analytics:

  1. In GA4, there is no longer an option for custom channel groups.
  2. Additional non-aggregated default channel categories are not possible in GA4.
  3. The default channel grouping configuration in GA4 cannot be modified.There have been several changes to the channels and their definitions.

Let’s analyze the evolution of the common channels and a few of the new channels Google included in GA4.


Universal Analytics

Google Analytics 4


Source exactly matches direct


Medium is either (not set) or (none)

Same definition

Organic Search

Medium exactly matches organic

Source matches a list of search sites


Medium exactly matches organic

Social / Organic Social

Social Source Referral exactly matches Yes


Medium matches regex ^(social|social-network|social-media|sm|social network|social media)$

Source matches a regex list of social sites


Medium is one of (“social”, “social-network”, “social-media”, “sm”, “social network”, “social media”)


Medium exactly matches email

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


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


Medium exactly matches affiliate

Same definition


Medium exactly matches referral

Same definition

Paid Search

Medium matches regex ^(cpc|ppc|paidsearch)$


Ad Distribution Network does not exactly match Content

Source matches a list of search sites


Medium matches regex ^(.*cp.*|ppc|paid.*)$


Medium matches regex ^(display|cpm|banner)$


Ad Distribution Network exactly matches Content

Medium is one of (“display”, “banner”, “expandable”, “interstitial”, “cpm”)

(unavailable) or (other) 

Sessions don’t match any channel description

(other) is used for an aggregated row due to cardinality limits


Not Available

Unassigned is used when there are no other channel rules that match the event data.

Along with the adjustments, there are a number of new traffic groupings, including Manual, Google Ads, Display & Video 360, and Search Ads 360 traffic.

For manual traffic in GA4, new channel groupings:

  • Cross-network
  • Paid Shopping
  • Paid Social
  • Paid Video
  • Organic Shopping
  • Organic Social
  • Organic Video
  • Audio
  • SMS
  • Mobile Push Notifications

For Google Ads traffic in GA4, new channel groupings:

  • Paid Search
  • Paid Video
  • Display
  • Cross-network
  • Paid Social

For Display & Video 360 in GA4, new channel groupings:

  • Display
  • Paid Video
  • Audio
  • Paid Other

For Search Ads 360 in GA4, new channel groupings:

  • Paid Search
  • Paid Social

Now let’s talk about how we can use GA4 default channels throughout explorations to determine outcomes.

How to use Channel Groupings in exploration?

Follow these simple steps:

STEP 1: Go to Explore section in the GA4 dashboard.

explore in ga4 dashboard

STEP 2: Create a new exploration report and you’ll see this page on your screen. Select technique as ‘free form’.

free form exploration report

STEP 3: Click the ‘+’ icon next to the dimensions.

add dimension in free form report

STEP 4: Import the ‘default channel group’ dimension.

import dimensions in free form report

STEP 5: Similarly, import the metrics according to your needs.

dimensions and metrics added in exploration report

STEP 6: Drag the dimension to ‘ROWS’ and all the metrics to ‘VALUES’.  You’ll see your report forming as you follow these steps.

default channel group exploration report

This is just one of the numerous ways you may modify and use GA4’s built-in channel groupings to examine performance.

What are limitations of Channel Groupings?

Channel Grouping in Google Analytics 4 is not as adaptable as it was in Universal Analytics. Major limitations include: 

  1. In GA4, it is not possible to build a Custom Channel Grouping.
  2. The Default Channel Grouping in GA4 does not accept the addition of new channels.
  3. In GA4, you are unable to change the Default Channel Grouping’s rules.

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