What Does Cross-Network Mean in GA4?

Are you looking at your Google Analytics 4 reports and wondering what this new default channel is?

“Cross-Network” is a new default channel grouping that was introduced with the launch of GA4 and the (painful!) transition away from the now retired Universal Analytics or GA3.

The “cross-network” default channel in Google Analytics 4 (GA4) refers to a grouping of traffic that comes from several advertising networks. It encompasses different Google Ads campaign types that run across multiple networks at once, like:

  • Discovery campaigns: These appear on YouTube, Discover feed, Gmail, and other Google properties.
  • Performance Max campaigns: These automatically show your ads across Search, Display, Discover, Gmail, YouTube, and Maps based on your goals and budget.
  • Smart Shopping campaigns: These dynamically show your product ads across Search, Shopping, Display, YouTube, Gmail, and Discover.

In a nutshell, it stands for Google Ads traffic from Discovery, Performance Max, and Smart Shopping campaigns. All lumped together in one vague, unhelpful and somewhat unaccountable metric that some cynics might say helps Google to become even more of  a “black box”, where ROI is harder and harder to measure.

But anyway…

Some other important things you should know about Cross Network in GA4:

  • Also includes “Demand Gen” ads – so if you’re running those against your business audiences, pay special attention here.
  • You can segment using the “source platform” dimension if you want to drill down and get more detailed insights.
  • June 15th 2022 – that’s the date that this channel grouping launched. So beware any data prior to that date. It’s likely to be incomplete or inaccurate.

 

Doesn’t this grouping of multiple channels together give us data attribution challenges?

You’re right, the “cross-network” default channel in GA4 offers a simplified view but can pose challenges when it comes to attribution. Here’s a deeper dive into the specific issues:

1. Lack of network-level visibility: Since the channel groups traffic from various networks, you can’t pinpoint which specific network led to a user session or conversion. This makes it difficult to evaluate the individual performance of each network and compare their effectiveness.

2. Data-driven attribution model: GA4 primarily relies on a data-driven attribution model, which assigns credit across touchpoints based on an algorithm. Although this aims for a more holistic view, it can be complex to understand precisely how much credit each network deserves, especially within the “cross-network” bucket.

3. Limited insights for network optimization: Without knowing which network drives the best results, it’s challenging to optimize your campaigns effectively. You can’t directly adjust budgets or strategies based on individual network performance within this channel.

4. Difficulty isolating campaign impact: If you run multiple multi-network campaigns simultaneously, their combined impact gets aggregated in the “cross-network” channel. This makes it hard to isolate the effect of each campaign and understand their unique contribution.

Solutions to consider:

  • Utilize custom channel groupings: Create customized channel segments based on specific network parameters (like campaign ID or network name) to get a more granular view.
  • Leverage the “source platform” dimension: This dimension provides details about the platform where the ad was clicked (e.g., YouTube, Search, etc.), offering some network-level insights within the “cross-network” channel.
  • Employ additional analytics tools: Consider using platform-specific reporting tools alongside GA4 to gain deeper insights into individual network performance.
  • Experiment with different attribution models: While data-driven is the default, explore testing other models like “last click” or “position-based” to see if they offer clearer attribution for your specific needs.

Remember, the ideal approach depends on your marketing goals and campaign structure. Experimenting with different methods and utilizing available data points can help you overcome the attribution challenges associated with the “cross-network” default channel in GA4.

Are there any benefits to cross-network grouping in ga4?

Beyond the simplified analysis and unified view, the “cross-network” channel in GA4 offers several valuable benefits for marketers:

1. Efficiency and Convenience:

  • Automates data grouping: It saves you the time and effort of manually segmenting data from various networks involved in multi-network campaigns. This streamlines your workflow and allows you to focus on analyzing the bigger picture.
  • Reduced complexity: By aggregating data into a single channel, you avoid getting bogged down in analyzing details across numerous individual networks. This can be especially helpful when managing multiple complex campaigns.

2. Campaign-centric Insights:

  • Focus on objectives: The “cross-network” channel helps you assess the overall effectiveness of your multi-network campaigns in achieving your defined goals, like conversions or revenue generation. This provides a clear understanding of whether these campaigns are delivering on their intended purpose.
  • Optimized budgets and strategies: While individual network attribution might be limited, you can still use overall performance data from the “cross-network” channel to make informed decisions about allocating budgets and refining strategies for these campaigns.

3. Future-proof Approach:

  • Adapting to evolving landscapes: As multi-network advertising continues to grow, the “cross-network” channel positions you well to analyze the performance of these increasingly common campaign types. It provides a framework for understanding their impact even as platforms and campaign structures evolve.
  • Leveraging automation and machine learning: The data-driven attribution model used within the “cross-network” channel leverages machine learning to assign credit across touchpoints. This future-proof approach can provide valuable insights as marketing becomes increasingly automated and data-driven.

4. Complements Other Tools:

  • Synergy with custom channels: You can use the “cross-network” channel alongside custom channel groupings for a comprehensive understanding of your marketing efforts. This allows you to gain the benefits of both centralized and granular analysis.
  • Integration with platform-specific tools: While the “cross-network” channel offers a consolidated view, you can still utilize platform-specific analytics tools to delve deeper into the performance of individual networks within your campaigns.

Remember:

  • The “cross-network” channel isn’t a replacement for detailed analysis but rather a starting point for understanding the impact of multi-network campaigns.
  • Experiment with different techniques and tools to find the best approach for your specific needs and campaign structures.

Christian Thomson
LinkedIn

Christian is a British-born entrepreneur and founder of Marwick. For over 19 years, Christian has successfully helped businesses excel in digital marketing. Founded in 2012, Marwick has grown from a start-up to the 11th Fastest Growing Company in Canada in 2020 and expanded into the UK in 2019.

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