GA4: Channel Groups & UTM parameters

February 07, 2023 - Written by

The closest element between Google Analytics 4 and Universal Analytics is certainly represented by the Default Channel Groups.

The Default Channel Groups are nothing more than groupings of source-media based on rules preset directly by GA4. Through the Acquisition collection, User or Traffic Acquisition section, it is possible to analyze the data origin of users to the site organized according to macro groupings such as Organic Search, Paid Search, Newsletter, etc.

Compared to Universal Analytics, however, the GA4 Channel Groups are not editable .. at least for now. This means that, as mentioned before, in this dimension we will find the information set by default directly from Google.

The need for surgical precision in the generation of the utm parameter values ​​is therefore evident, otherwise there is a risk of finding a good chunk of traffic within the “Unassigned” channel, as shown in the screenshot below.

Where are the Default Channel Groups in GA4

The Channel Groups in GA4 are present in three sections: two in the standard reports and as dimensions in the explorations.

In standard reports just click on Acquisition and choose User Acquisition or Traffic Acquisition. Depending on the choice, the “First User Default Channel Grouping” or the “Session Default Channel Group” can be displayed. In the first case the groupings relate to new users while in the second case they relate to the overall sessions.

In the Exploration section, in addition to the two dimensions mentioned, you can also find the Default Channel Grouping dimension under the label “Attribution”.

In addition to the Unassigned issue, which is generated if no rule is satisfied, the value (other) could also be present, i.e. the value that GA4 uses for an aggregated row due to cardinality limits.

In the case of Unassigned traffic it is possible to isolate it and select as a secondary dimension source/medium to evaluate the origin of the users.

The Default Channel Grouping rules in GA4

As mentioned before, at the moment it is not possible to modify the DCGs according to the needs of the individual user, however Google provides a very clear table on how these groupings are generated.

We report below the slightly elaborated table in order to make the creation of utm as simple as possible, when necessary, which satisfy Google’s rules. In fact, it often happens to find paid activities on social media, for example, campaigns with disparate sources/means: Facebook/ads or facebook/social-adv or even facebook/post-paid etc. All these values ​​will then be piped into the Unassigned entry instead of the correct one.

Default Channel GroupDefault RuleManual RuleUse Case
DirectSource equals “direct” AND medium contains (not set) OR (none)Click on a link in a PDF or email not tracked with utm
Paid Search– Autolinking with Google Ads AND ad network is Google Search OR Google Partners

– Autolinking with Search Ads 360 and the account is one of bing, yahoo gemini,, baidu, admarketplace, naver, 360cn, yandex
The source is included in the list of sites attributable to adv AND utm_medium match regex ^(.*cp.*|ppc|paid.*)$
Click on a campaign made on bing with utm_medium = cpc
Paid Video– Autolinking with GAds AND ad network contains Youtube Search OR Youtube Video

– Autolinking with DV360 AND ad creative is one of “Native video”, “Video”, “Templated app install video”, “Flipbook”
The source is included in the list of sites attributable to adv AND utm_medium match regex ^(.*cp.*|ppc|paid.*)$Click on an adv video on Youtube
Display– Autolinking with GAds AND ad network contains Google Display Network

– Autolinking with DV360 AND ad creative is one of “Standard”, “Expandable”, “Native site square”, “Backdrop”, “Templated app install interstitial”, “Deprecated”, “Native app install”, “Native app install square”, “Native site”, “Templated app install”, “Lightbox”
utm_medium is equal to one of “display”, “banner”, “expandable”, “interstitial”, “cpm”Click on the banner on the Wired home page
Cross-networkAutolinking with GAds AND ad network contains cross-network: contains Max Performance and Smart Shoppingutm_campaign contains cross-networkClick on paid ad generated by Pmax
Paid Social– Autolinking with GAds AND ad network contains social

– Autolinking with SA360 and the account is one between facebook and twitter
The source is included in the list of sites recognized as social AND utm_medium match regex ^(.*cp.*|ppc|paid.*)$Click on a sponsored post with utm_medium=cpc
AudioAutolinkining with DV360 AND ad creative is Audioutm_medium exactly matches audioClick on a podcast banner
Paid OtherAutolinking with DV360 AND ad creative is one of “Publisher hosted”, “Tracking”, “Unknown”
Paid ShoppingThe source is included in the list of sites provided by Google OR utm_campaign matches regex ^(.*(([^a-df-z]|^)shop|shopping).*)$) AND utm_medium matches regex ^(.*cp .*|ppc|paid.*)$Click on a shopping result
Organic ShoppingThe source is included in the list of sites labeled shopping OR utm_campaign matches regex ^(.*(([^a-df-z]|^)shop|shopping).*)$Click on an unpaid shopping result
Organic SocialThe source is included in the list of social sites OR utm_medium is one of “social”, “social-network”, “social-media”, “sm”, “social network”, “social media”Click on an organic post on Facebook
Organic VideoSource is included in video sites list OR utm_medium matches regex ^(.*video.*)$Click on a link in an organic video
Organic SearchThe source is included in the list provided by Google OR utm_medium is equal to organicClick on an organic result
Emailutm_source equals one of email|email|e_mail|e mail OR utm_medium equals email|email|e_mail|e mailClick on a link in the newsletter
Affiliatesutm_medium equals AffiliatesClick on a link on a comparison site
Referralutm_medium equals referralClick on a partner site
SMSutm_medium is the same as smsClick on a password reset link received via text message
Mobile Push Notificationutm_medium ends with push OR utm_medium contains mobile or notificationClick on a news about a discount on the supermarket app

Considerations on GA4 Channel Groups

As shown in the table, GA4 offers a much higher number of Default Channel Groups than its predecessor, generating greater data analysis flexibility. Unfortunately at the moment there is no possibility to create groupings in custom mode and this does not allow to “fix” any mismatches between the data in the run… fingers crossed hoping that they implement this feature as soon as possible.


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