When it was first announced in 2019 as a beta, Google Analytics 4 (GA4) signified a sea change in how web analytics were reported, collected, calculated, and leveraged. By June of 2023, Google’s suggested adoption date, most websites had fully made the switch to GA4, and today it’s the leading web analytics platform.
What Distinguishes Google Analytics 4 Properties from Universal Analytics Properties?
Unlike its predecessor, Universal Analytics (UA), GA4 provides a far more nuanced view of user activity. It equips businesses with the tools to track customer and prospect journeys accurately, offering insights that are actionable and relevant in real-time.
But there is some expertise required to take full advantage of its many capabilities. Here are ten ways to maximize the potential of GA4, ensuring that your site is not just collecting data, but using it fully to drive business growth.
1. Embrace Event-Based Measurement
One of the most transformative aspects of GA4 is its transition from traditional pageview-based analytics to an event-based model which allows businesses to track specific actions taken by users on their websites or apps, whether it’s clicking a button, playing a video, or completing a purchase. This granular view of user interaction provides a richer, more detailed understanding of customer behavior, far beyond the simple metric of pageviews.
In GA4, events are no longer just predefined categories. They can be customized to fit the unique needs of a business, offering a more flexible and nuanced way of tracking user behavior. This model is built on four types of events:
- Automatically Collected Events: Events that GA4 tracks by default, like first visits or page views.
- Enhanced Measurement Events: Turned on with a toggle in the GA4 interface, these track interactions like scrolls, outbound clicks, or video engagement without additional coding.
- Recommended Events: Custom events that follow Google’s recommended naming conventions, tailored for specific business sectors.
- Custom Events: Events created to track specific actions that are vital to a business’s unique needs.
The shift from pageviews to user interactions offers several key benefits. For example, consider an ecommerce website: in the traditional pageview model, only the raw number of people that visited a product page is viewable, but with GA4’s event-based tracking, businesses can see how many people viewed a product, added it to their cart, started the checkout process, and actually completed a purchase. This level of detail can uncover insights like where customers are dropping off in the buying process or which products are most popular.
2. Utilize Cross-Platform Tracking
There is no shortage of platforms for users to choose from today, including smartphones, tablets, desktops, and wearables — and users frequently shift from one to another. That’s why understanding the interconnectedness of these interactions is critical. GA4 addresses this need by enabling the tracking of user interactions across various platforms seamlessly.
Cross-platform tracking is facilitated through User IDs and Google signals. When a user is logged into a Google account, GA4 can track their activities across different devices and consolidate this data. This approach provides a unified view of user behavior, regardless of the platform or device they are using.
- Enable User ID Tracking
- Configure Google Signals: Add information from users who have consented to share their Google account data and have turned on Ads Personalization.
- Analyze Cross-Platform Data: Access the User Explorer report.
- Leverage Audience Building: Segment users based on cross-platform behaviors.
- Monitor and Optimize
Understanding the cross-platform journey allows businesses to tailor their marketing strategies and content to meet users’ needs more effectively. It also supports stronger attribution modeling to understand which channels and touchpoints are driving conversions.
3. Leverage Machine Learning and AI
Predictive Analytics in GA4
- Churn Probability: This feature predicts the likelihood that a user who has been active in the past will stop using your site or app within the next seven days. Such insights are invaluable for businesses looking to implement retention strategies.
- Purchase Probability: For ecommerce businesses, GA4 can predict the likelihood of a user making a purchase within the next 28 days. This allows for targeted marketing efforts and personalized user experiences to encourage conversions.
- Revenue Prediction: By analyzing user behavior patterns, GA4 can also predict future revenue from specific segments, enabling businesses to focus their efforts on the most profitable audiences.
To get the most out of predictive analytics, combine these insights with other data sources, such as customer feedback and market trends, for the most comprehensive possible overview.
Mapping the cross-platform journey supports stronger attribution modeling to understand which channels and touchpoints are driving conversions.
4. Personalize Dashboards and Reports
A one-size-fits-all approach to data analysis often leads to clutter and confusion, obscuring critical insights. Tailoring GA4 dashboards and reports ensures that the data presented is relevant, accessible, and aligned with specific business goals.
Creating Custom Reports
- Identify KPIs: Choose the metrics and data points that are most relevant to the business’s goals (e.g. user engagement metrics, conversion rates, revenue tracking, customer acquisition costs).
- Set Up Data Filters: Separate product lines, geographical markets, or distinct user groups.
- Schedule Regular Reports: Automate delivery, ensuring team members stay informed and aligned.
- Generate Visualizations: Make data easier to digest by using charts, graphs, and other visual aids.
Tracking Engaged Sessions
The traditional session metrics from UA was replaced in GA4 by Engaged Sessions, which is now a key measure of user engagement. In UA, a session was defined as a group of user interactions that take place within a given time frame — UA tracked any and all types of interactions in that time frame (e.g. pageviews, events, transactions) but did not measure engagement.
Engaged sessions in GA4 solved that. They are defined by three specific engagement criteria:
- Session duration of at least 10 seconds
- Event trigger (clicks and interactive actions or two or more page views)
- Conversion event
Hence, it’s a metric that tracks the quality and depth of user interactions, in contrast to UA, where any interaction, regardless of its usefulness, was counted.
Tailoring GA4 dashboards and reports ensures that the data presented is relevant, accessible, and aligned with specific business goals.
5. Adapt to Enhanced Privacy Features
Tools for Protecting Data Privacy
- Data Anonymization: GA4 includes features that mask user identities. This is particularly relevant for adhering to privacy laws that require the protection of Personally Identifiable Information (PII).
- Consent Mode: This feature allows businesses to adjust how they collect and use data based on the consent status of their users.
- Data Deletion Requests: GA4 provides improved tools for handling data deletion requests, making it easier for businesses to comply with right to be forgotten regulations.
- Data Retention Controls: Businesses can control how long user-level and event-level data stored by GA4 is retained before being automatically deleted.
The best way to avoid privacy pitfalls and loss of user trust is to conduct regular audits of data collection and handling practices to ensure ongoing compliance. This includes reviewing GA4 settings and the data being collected.
6. Create Custom Events
Unlike its predecessor, GA4 doesn’t restrict users to a predefined set of user interactions. Instead, it empowers businesses to define and track any event that is critical to their unique needs. Among many others, custom events can include ecommerce product interactions (e.g. using a product configurator tool), form submissions, video interactions (e.g. play, pause, and complete watch), social media shares and likes, and PDF or ebook downloads.
Tracking Custom Events
- Define Custom Events: Begin by identifying the specific interactions or behaviors that are important for the business to track. These could be anything from form submissions and product views to social media shares.
- Implement Event Tagging: Use the GA4 interface or Google Tag Manager to set up the tracking for these events. This involves defining the parameters of the event, such as the event name and any associated attributes (e.g., product ID, video title).
- Configure in GA4: Once the tagging is implemented, configure the custom event in GA4. This might include setting the event as a conversion.
- Verify and Test Events: Use the real-time report in GA4 to test and ensure the events are firing as expected.
- Analyze Event Data: Once custom events are set up and data is being collected, use the various reporting tools in GA4 to analyze this data and look for trends, patterns, and insights that can inform business strategies.
7. Design Custom Segments and Funnels
Custom audience segments allow businesses to isolate and analyze specific groups of users based on their behavior, demographics, device usage, and other criteria.
Funnels in GA4 enable businesses to track user journeys through various stages of interaction. By analyzing how different segments interact with a website or app and where they drop off in the conversion funnel, businesses can tailor their marketing strategies, refine targeting strategies, and create more personalized content that connects with the right audience at the right stage in the right way.
Protip: Always sanitize your input data! In this case, that means removing internal data. Catalog all IP addresses associated with the organization and manage them with Data Filters.
- Access the Segment Editor: In GA4, navigate to the Explore section to find the Segment Editor where you can create and manage segments.
- Define Segment Criteria: Choose whether to create a User segment (focusing on the entire user journey) or an Event segment (focusing on specific events). Select the criteria for your segment based on dimensions (e.g. age, geography, device type) and metrics (e.g. session duration, page views).
- Apply Conditions: Use conditions to refine the segment. For example, include users who have completed a purchase or exclude users from a certain geographic location.
- Name and Save the Segment: Give your segment a descriptive name and save it. This segment can then be applied to various reports to analyze the specific group of users.
- Go to the Funnel Builder: In the Explore section, select the Funnel Analysis option.
- Choose Steps for the Funnel: Define the steps of the funnel, which are the actions users take on a website. For example, a simple ecommerce funnel might include View Product, Add to Cart, and Complete Purchase.
- Customize the Funnel: Add or remove steps, change the sequence, or set up optional steps.
- Analyze and Interpret: Once the funnel is created, analyze how users move through these steps. Look for drop-off points where users leave the funnel.
One helpful tool for following user journeys in GA4 is the First User dimension setting which supports tracking of unique user IDs to identify their initial entry sources, first interactions, and subsequent actions. First user data can reveal bottlenecks in initial user flows, acquisition channel defects, landing page optimizations, and assist in both developing and optimizing funnels.
The best way to avoid privacy pitfalls and loss of user trust is to conduct regular audits of data collection and handling practices.
8. Master the User Interface
Unlike UA, GA4’s user interface (UI) offers a more streamlined and intuitive platform. Reports are now modular and customizable, event tracking is available by default, and the real-time reporting feature in GA4 is more advanced, providing a detailed, minute-by-minute view of user activity. GA4 also introduced the Analysis Hub, which offers advanced tools for creating custom reports with a range of dimensions and metrics.
All the primary information most users will want to see right away is located on the main dashboard, including engagement, conversions, and real-time data. The reports section catalogs life cycle and user reports. New users looking for help getting started can access the GA4 Setup Assistant which includes a Setup Assistant wizard for migrating from UA as well as tools for finalizing a GA4 setup.
9. Integrate with Google Ads
Integrating GA4 with Google Ads presents a powerful combination for marketers, offering a more comprehensive view of the marketing funnel. It allows businesses to track and analyze the full customer journey, from initial ad exposure through to website engagement and conversion.
Leveraging Integrated Data
- Link GA4 and Google Ads: Start by linking your GA4 property to your Google Ads account in the GA4 interface under the Admin section.
- Configure Conversion Tracking: In GA4, set up conversion events that are relevant to your Google Ads campaigns. This might include actions like purchases, sign-ups, or downloads.
- Create Audiences in GA4 for Google Ads: Use the data in GA4 to create audiences based on user behavior, such as users who have completed a purchase or shown interest in a specific product category.
- Import GA4 Audiences into Google Ads: Import these audiences into Google Ads for targeting in your campaigns. This allows for more personalized ad experiences.
- Analyze Integrated Data: Use GA4 reports to analyze the performance of your Google Ads campaigns. Look at metrics like conversion rate, click-through rate, and cost per acquisition.
- Adjust Campaigns Based on Insights: Use the insights gained from GA4 to make data-driven adjustments to your Google Ads campaigns, such as refining targeting, adjusting bid strategies, or reallocating budget.
Full integration of GA4 with Google Ads aids in a number of marketing executions, including retargeting campaigns based on user behavior (e.g. cart abandonment) tracked in GA4. It’s also a smart tool for analyzing marketing spend to allocate more budget to campaigns or channels that show higher effectiveness in driving conversions.
10. Promote Continuous Learning and Experimentation
The digital landscape is in a constant state of flux, and the tools we use to navigate it, like GA4, evolve rapidly to keep pace. To fully harness the capabilities of GA4, businesses must stay updated with GA4’s features, understanding its evolving analytics capabilities, and experimenting with its various functionalities can significantly enhance data-driven decision-making processes.
Businesses should regularly experiment with new features and strategies on a small scale first, and then analyze the results and scale up if the experiment proves successful. GA4 includes a sandbox feature called a Demo Account just for this purpose to test changes without affecting live data. This is a safe space to experiment with configurations and understand their impacts.
Leverage a New Era in Data-Driven Decision Making
The transition to GA4 is a strategic move towards more refined, data-driven decision-making. By utilizing GA4’s advanced features, businesses can gain a deeper understanding of their customers’ journeys, predict future trends, and make informed decisions that drive success.
As we look towards the future, it’s clear that analytics will continue to grow in importance and usefulness. The potential for more sophisticated data analysis and interpretation is vast, and those who leverage these capabilities will undoubtedly have a competitive edge.
Hanlon works at the cutting edge of design, technology, and modern marketing. Contact us today to learn more about how we can help your brand efficiently leverage today’s most powerful marketing tools.