David Schulhof
David Schulhof 24 August 2023

Google Analytics 4: One Month In - Key Learnings Every Marketer Should Be Across

Google Analytics 4 is the future of analytics. At the start of July, Google retired its classic Universal Analytics, bringing to an end the reporting tool digital marketeers relied on for over 10 years. In its place came Google Analytics 4, and even though the same metrics have remained, the new GA4 interface can be a little intimidating to the uninitiated.

With the first month of GA4 in the books, now is a good opportunity to take a look at the hints and tips that all marketeers need to know to get back into the swing of regular reporting.  

Graph Trend Line Changes

A significant update is the GA4 prebuilt graphs. However, if you do want to graph something else outside of the prebuilt options, click on the ‘order by’ arrow in the table below to change the graph. 

Tabbed Explore Report

Many of the UA built-in reports are not yet available for GA4, and a lot of the new features aren’t highlighted in the standard reporting, so you’ll be creating custom reports in the “Explore” area.

As this is the new go-to for analysis - to prevent cluttering up the list of reports - you can create multi-tabbed reports for all the things you do most often. 

From troubleshooting attribution issues to getting a regular overview of the metrics that matter to you most for the day-to-day running of the business, GA4’s explore report aims to speed reporting up.

At the top of your custom report is a little tab. Click the + to select the report type you’d like to add in. It’ll use the same variables as the root report, so you may find yourself with a long variable list, but at least everything you want to see will be available in one place! 

User Acquisition Reporting

The biggest shift in switching from UA (apart from the move away from last-click attribution) is a bigger focus on users than sessions.

Coming at your reporting from a user point of view is the cornerstone to spreading credit between multiple touchpoints, giving more insight into your customers than the snapshot moments in time that session-led reporting gave us in UA. 

This data was partially available in UA, to a degree, but hard to get to and very limited as to which metrics and dimensions it would play with.

There is an investment of time needed to refamiliarise yourself with what the metrics you care about are now named - and which version of them you need to use - but taking this time to learn will be worth it when you improve your understanding of customer behaviour. 

Customising the Default Reports

GA4 has a pretty sparse pantheon of default reporting. I used to have a default set of reports to run through when troubleshooting issues - can I link a drop in revenue to a browser version or device type?

It usually got me a long way toward identifying where the problem lay before I’d need to create that one custom report to highlight it in an unequivocal manner. 

Now the default reports are fewer, it can seem like they don’t meet your needs. However, with a little time investment you can spruce them up and make them more fit for purpose. 

Go to one of the reports and click on the pencil icon on the top right. This will bring up a report editor that is vaguely reminiscent of looker studio.

From here, you can add metrics and dimensions, filter the data in the report, change chart types or hide them completely, as well as creating summary cards. You can either save over that existing report or create a new one.

Once you have new reports - and want easy access to them - head to the report library and you can create a new “collection” to add in whichever reports you want.

The Report Library

If you’ve just linked up search console with GA4 and are wondering why you can’t see any search console-specific reports, it’s because they’re neatly hidden away in the report library.

The most effective way I’ve found to get access to this hidden gem is to use the search bar at the top of the page — type in “library” and click on “Reports > Library”.

From here, you’ll be able to see “Collections” (grouped reports around a theme) that you can publish to make them visible in the reporting navigation, as well as other default and custom reports.

Email Alerts

GA4 creates insights for you when there’s enough data, but you can also create custom insights and link these up to generate email alerts to keep you informed if a KPI suddenly changes significantly.

Use the search functionality to find “Insights” then click create. 

If you’re going to use this as a method of alerting you to significant changes, bear in mind that it does exclude app traffic, limiting you to web only. 

From here, pick a KPI. If there’s enough data in your GA4 you can use the “Has Anomaly” condition, but don’t blame me if you get an urgent email at 3am. You can select some basic more than/less than filters, % increase/decrease of a given percent vs the same hour yesterday or last week, or a general % change vs the same. 

Name the insight, add your email address (if it’s not already pre-populated) and hit “Create” and you’ve got an email alert hooked up to your most important metric! 

New Audiences Report

This is a pretty new addition. If you look through the report library you may see a new audience report. The default setup here is to show created audiences, but you can edit it to add “Interests” (the new equivalent of affinity audiences). 

I’ve yet to find an equivalent of in-market, but will update this blog once I do. 

Now that Google has officially retired Universal Analytics (to a degree, UA is still processing data in order to provide a phased-out approach) it’s time to get used to using GA4. As with any analytics tool, practice makes perfect, and you’ll no doubt develop your own unique way of tracking and reading the data in GA4. 

It’s simply a matter of getting used to the new interface and knowing where to find your KPIs. And the best way to do this is to start using it. 

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