Your Burning Questions About Google Analytics 4 (GA4)

Google Analytics 4 (GA4) officially launches July 1, 2023. If you’re here, it’s probably because you’re not quite ready for it. Fear not, friend! We’ll get you up to speed.

We recently hosted a SparkToro Office Hours crash course with our friend Steve Lamar, GA4 expert and founder of ReallyGoodData. (Eagle-eyed readers will recall we partnered with Steve on our study, “New Research: Dark Social Falsely Attributes Significant Percentages of Web Traffic as ‘Direct.’“) This blog post pulls out the key timestamps to watch, and answers the questions we received, sorted by most upvoted. We had over 2,300 registrants — a very engaged, savvy crowd that asked lots of great questions.

With that, enjoy the show and the Q&A below!

Amanda Natividad (VP Marketing, SparkToro), Rand Fishkin (Co-founder and CEO, SparkToro), and Steve Lamar (GA4 expert and Founder, ReallyGoodData) at SparkToro Office Hours

First, how to watch the webinar and what to be mindful of:

Recording with live chat and Q&A: To watch the recording with live chat (tons of insightful questions and comments that you won’t want to miss!) and see all the questions attendees asked, access the GA4 crash course through Goldcast. Here are the timestamps:

  • 11:05: Overall thoughts on GA4 and how to think through the big changes.
  • 13:08: New terms to know (not comprehensive, just what we thought was most important to know now)
  • 27:30: Things you used to do in Universal Analytics (UA) or old GA that you can no longer do in GA4
  • 33:12: Demo of common marketing use cases
  • 44:40: Audience Q&A (the best part!)
  • 01:02:31: Rand Fishkin asks: Do you have a theory on why Google Analytics is free?

Recording only: Or you can watch the webinar on YouTube. You’ll see chapter markers, too. But you won’t see any of the chatter, Rand’s comments, or audience questions.

Audience Q&A: What attendees asked and how we answered — ordered by most upvoted with timestamps included:

Is there a resource to learn how to build these reports? 

Yes! Check out Steve’s past webinar, “WTF Google? Learn GA4 before Google forces it upon us all.” It’s a full demo and he’ll walk you through how to build reports.

On Looker Studio and channel groups: How do you understand the association between your channels and your source medium?

(Answered at 45:42). One of the biggest things that people run into when they first come into GA4 is, like we were talking about, your UTM parameters have to match up to your channel groups. And if they don’t, a ton of stuff’s gonna fall into unassigned. And instead of working in the GA4 interface to kind of figure it out, Steve built this free Looker Studio report.

You just add your property to it, it’ll connect to your property, and you’ll be able to see your channels, sources, source mediums very clearly so that you can see what’s unassigned. You can filter on just what’s unassigned. Now you’ll know how to adjust your UTM parameters accordingly, and you can use Steve’s UTM builder for that.

How much should we invest in learning BigQuery?

(Answered at 49:40). You can push all your data into BigQuery if you have a reason to do it. If you want to create reports in some other business intelligence (BI) tool and you want to connect it to other data sources, you can use BigQuery. It’s more the raw data; it’s not going to be aggregated. You can push it into BigQuery and then do whatever you want with it. If you want to do this, it’s relatively cheap to store data. It’s $5 per terabyte and the first 1 TB per month is free. Where the costs come in is where you start running queries against them. It’s more technical, you have to use SQL for the most part. But if you want to use BigQuery, do it now because you can’t do historical. It only starts gathering data the moment you put it in, not retroactively.

When we migrate GA3 to GA4, what should we pay attention to?

(Answered at 50:56). Pay attention to the Source/Medium and your channel groupings in particular. Make sure those are coming through cleanly. You could also do some comparisons (UA vs. GA4) with your sessions and pageviews. They’re not going to match exactly and we don’t expect them to but as long as they’re within 5% or so you’re probably good. Anything more than that probably means you’re mistracking either in old GA or GA4.

How to see individual page performance? (e.g. PVs, About, etc)

(Answered at 51:45). Go to Engagement > Pages and screens.

Then you can start to break down based on what type of page it is. You get your views, you get your users, kind of the similar things you’d get in old GA.

You could also assign pages to a content group — though you’d need to use Google Tag Manager to set this up and push it over. Maybe you’d group your articles and blog posts, or just your marketing pages, or you have a separate group for ecommerce. Basically, you could set up these categories and then bring things down by content group.

Alternatively, you can use filters. The filters are not very useful when you’re doing a page breakdown because you can’t have it contain all of this stuff. You have to actually tick off every page you want to see in this report. So that becomes a little cumbersome. 

How can we drill down into traffic from organic social? 

(Answered at 53:25). There are two ways to do this.

1) Go to Traffic Acquisition. Click the little plus button. This allows you to do a secondary dimension, or a side-by-side dimension. Type in ‘source’ and then select ‘session source / medium.’ And now this lines up all my channels with my source medium. 

And if I only want to see organic social, I can type out organic social here.

2) Or you could add a filter, just using Organic Social as your channel.

Can you track data history from the old GA now since the old GA is gone? 

(Answered at 54:36). No. You’ll have historical data. You’ll still be able to get into old GA for another year — till July of 2024. So while the old interface will be available, no more data will get pushed to it. However, you can use a Looker studio or some other tool, you can do that. If you want historical data, you will have to export the old GA data, store it someplace, and then connect it to Looker Studio, and then kind of connect it again to GA4.

Can we track traffic to particular pages? Let’s say, to a blog section?

(Answered at 56:12). Yes. Go to Engagement > Pages and screens.

You would have to set up through something like a Google Tag Manager or some way to tell Google Analytics what category it should fall into under Content Groups. If you set that up, it will be an easier way to break your groupings of pages down.

Otherwise, you can see particular pages if your setup delineates what type of page it is. So in this case, we have Product as a page. So I can just filter on Product and I’ll see all my product pages here, or like I showed before, we can just go see Blog. There are ways to get at that if you’re not using content groups.

How do you create a conversion event?

(Answered at 57:22). There are two ways to do this: 1) Through Google Tag Manager; and 2) through setting up events in the Admin console.

1) The better way to do it is to use a tool like Google Tag Manager. If you have that set up, it’ll push your data into GA4 and you can control the events that are coming in.

2) Go to Admin > Events > Create events. From here, you can create events. However, Steve has seen instances where someone has created an event directly in GA4 which then duplicates an event that’s pushing from Google Tag Manager, or it’s named a little differently, so it’s like offset.

Once the Event shows up in the console, creating a conversion is as simple as clicking the toggle. After that, it’ll show up in your reports as a conversion. Just be sure you have the Event first.

How do I quickly check campaign performance, traffic, conversions, etc?

(Answered at 58:54). Inside the Traffic Acquisition report, there is a campaign dropdown. So you can do Session Campaign.

Acquisition > Traffic Acquisition > Click on the “Session default channel group” dropdown > Select “Session campaign”

If you have UTM campaigns set up, or it’s getting pushed over from like Google Ads or whatever — as long as you have campaign data getting fed into your site that GA4 is picking up on, you’d be able to then use your Session Campaign and create this as a report. You could then save this as a specific report if you wanted to customize it. You can customize it and remove any Dimensions you don’t want (like Medium or Source, etc) and have it show the Campaign only. Then you can go back to that report each time instead of having to toggle back and forth on it.

🌶️ Rand asks: Do you have a theory on why Google Analytics is free?

(Answered at 01:02:31). 

Steve: Well… they gather a lot of data, don’t they? Right. Look at the entire web. Millions and millions of websites use Google Analytics. And so Google has unlimited amounts of understanding about how the web functions. You name it, Google can learn about it in Google Analytics.

So yeah that’s absolutely a big benefit to them. And obviously this enriches their ads data and helps fuel how decisions are made inside of Google Ads too. So there’s a dual benefit for sure. 

Rand: I could be wrong about this but GA4 feels to me more advertising-centric than past versions. It’s not that a lot of the organic tracking or features that have previously helped content marketers and SEOs are gone — it’s that it feels like if you’re in the ads business, this is in some ways a step up. And if you’re not in the ads business, maybe not so much.

Steve: Yeah, I think there is that focus. Even the data-driven piece — people have said that that slants towards paid Google channels. I don’t know that I can speak to that but there are those kinds of theories out there.

Rand: Is your personal sense that it is easier to track digital advertising inside GA4, that it’s more front and center, or is that more of a conspiracy theory? That no, it’s just as easy or just as difficult to track as it was previously?

Steve: I haven’t gotten that sense really. There’s a whole section in old GA with all the different ads reporting and you can see clicks, costs, impressions and all that stuff. So I don’t totally get the sense that it’s heavily pushed that way or slanted that way.

Special thank you to Steve Lamar, Founder of ReallyGoodData for showing us the way in this episode of SparkToro Office Hours. And an extra thank you to the folks who attended live, and asked and upvoted questions.

Resources mentioned in the show:

Connect with Steve Lamar: Find him on LinkedIn.

UTM builder for GA4: UTMs have to be super clean in GA4. Use Steve’s free UTM builder!

GA4 Channel Group Analysis Tool: Use Steve’s Looker studio to identify how traffic sources are organized into channels in GA4.

GA4 101: Watch Steve’s webinar (hosted by Crowdcast) for a terrific foundational overview. While our SparkToro Office Hours dives into key terms to know and a few foundational concepts, we mainly jumped into key differences between UA and GA4 as well as demos of specific use cases. Both webinars are unique and complementary to each other.