Best Practices for GA4 – Advice from 13 Experts

We asked 13 Google Analytics 4 experts to share their best practices advice. We received some golden tips about starting with GA4 and smoothly migrating from Universal analytics. If you want to take a shortcut, these insights will for sure come in handy…

Golden tip before even starting with GA4

Before you do anything with Google Analytics 4 – besides reading this article – follow this advice:

Make sure you're using the version of Google Analytics that's compatible with your platform.

Carlos Rosado, Director of SEO www.idigitalstrategies.com

Proprietary website software, such as Wix or Squarespace may not be ready for the latest Google Analytics version.

The sooner you find out if your platform of choice is compatible with GA4, the better.

You can then

  • postpone the Google Analytics 4 implementation
  • investigate if changing your website platform would be worth the hassle
  • or use an alternative analytics tool

In all cases, don’t wait too long…

When is the best time to start with GA4?

Timing is crucial in any strategy. To get the most out of your marketing strategy, you need data.

One GA4 expert shared advice about the right time to start with the new version of the analytics platform:

Universal GA will stop receiving data on July 1, 2023. Unfortunately, many marketers may get caught without much historical data in their accounts. And when it comes to data analysis, historical data is huge. Without it, it's much more difficult to distill meaningful trends and insights.

Freddy Hunt, Director of SEO & Content Marketing Search Nurture

From here, you can go in different directions…

What is the best strategy to learn GA4?

We received different opinions about the best strategy to learn the ins and outs of GA4 without extra difficulty. This makes sense because…

  • the new Google Analytics version is a completely different beast than its predecessor. You will need to domesticate it.
  • the experts operate in different circumstances. Some of them work in big organizations and clearly need another strategy than SMBs. Some of them provide GA4 services or training to customers. Others lead a team or are founders with a healthy interest in data.

In general, you have two options: plan or plunge.

Some experts strongly suggest that you first make a plan.

Before you start, make a plan. GA4's new data model allows great flexibility, but there is the risk of setting up events and data points incorrectly. That’s why it’s vital to have a plan in place before you start the implementation.

Sofiia Bychkovska, Analytics Trainer Measureschool.com

You can also just start with GA4 and figure it out later on.

Experiment with GA4 and see what works best for you. There's no one-size-fits-all solution, so finding what works best for your business is important.

Paula Glynn, Director of Search Marketing & Digital Strategy Pixelstorm

There is no wrong or right approach. As long as you move forward, you are on the right track.

However, if you rely on Universal Analytics data, the following advice will soften the pain of a migration to GA4:

I recommend keeping UA active on your website, as GA4 and UA can run in parallel. This way, you can still use UA data while getting comfortable with the new GA4 interface and tracking model.

Austin Perron Digital Marketing Team Lead seoplus+

Do what makes the most sense for your organizations, fits into your planning, budget and helps you reach your goals.

Even if you have already implemented the latest GA version, you can downgrade GA4. It is not recommended to do so, but it is good to know that you have this option.

Advice on installing the GA4 tag

Although the way you can install GA4 on your site depends on your technical expertise and your website software, the majority of GA4 experts recommend using Google Tag Manager.

GTM makes it easy to deploy GA4 tags on your website or mobile app, giving you more control over when and how data is collected.

Paula Glynn Director of Search Marketing & Digital Strategy Pixelstorm

GTM has another advantage:

GTM is a great host for all scripts and pixels that need to be added to your website.

Austin Perron, Digital Marketing Team Lead seoplus+

The GA4 tag installation is a one time only, but vital step.

Expert advice about GA4 data collection

Even before data rolls into your GA4 account, you can adjust some configurations and improve the default data collection process.

Unless you have a good reason: Increase the data retention to 14 months

By default, GA4 will retain your raw data in the system for 2 months. This should be changed to 14 months in the Property Settings unless you have a good reason (your privacy policy) to not do this.

Sofiia Bychkovska, Analytics Trainer Measureschool.com

Keeping your data longer is a smart move.

So is filtering out unwanted traffic:

Another GA4 best practice is keeping the data accurate. It’s best to filter out internal or website traffic from you or your employees.

Léa Soller, Founder and CEO of Digiberries

There is one more piece of advice that several experts shared with us. It’s not for the faint of heart, though. If your organization is devoted to data, this is absolutely something you need to explore:

Link GA4 to BigQuery, Google’s database system. This allows you to keep user event data until you manually delete it.

Léa Soller, Founder and CEO Digiberries

If you want to know the details, follow our step-by-step guide to link GA4 and Bigquery.

Best practices for GA4 events

Google Analytics 4 is all about events. A conversion is an event. You can turn a button click into a custom event with GTM. There are automatically collected events…

It didn’t come as a surprise that the experts shared a lot of valuable advice about this particular aspect of GA4.

For beginners, this is one of the most overwhelming and confusing parts of GA4. To give you a quick idea about the value and importance of events:

Events can be used to track things like button clicks, video plays, form submissions, and more. By tracking these events, businesses can get a better understanding of how users interact with their website or app. Additionally, event data can be used to create custom audiences for remarketing campaigns.

Adam Berry, Managing Director adamberryseo.co.uk

And as a bonus tip:

Set up at least two parameters for your custom events for your business-specific conversions. This will make it easier for you to read the reports later.

Steven McConnell, Director of Sales & Marketing Arielle Executive

Always test GA4 before you go live

The importance of testing and debugging GA4 cannot be stressed enough, so let me quote another expert:

Debug before you publish. No best practice roundup of GA4 should be complete without mentioning the importance of using the debug tool. It Is necessary to test and ensure that the data are coming in and displaying correctly through the debug functionality before publishing the changes to reflect on your real-time GA4 reports.

Steven McConnell

Now you are sure that the data is collected correctly, it’s time to use it.

Expert tips for GA4 and Google Ads

Ads are the fastest way to drive traffic to your site. To prevent blind spots in GA4, the best you can do is this:

Linking your Google Ads account to the GA4 property lets you see the full customer cycle. It includes how users interact with your marketing campaigns, like ad impressions and clicking. It also tells how a potential user completes the goals you've set for them on your site, e.g., making purchases and consuming content.

Simon Bacher, CEO and Co-Founder Ling App

We also received brilliant advice from a loyal follower who has participated in several of our Data Driven programs.

When implementing GA4, your process for deciding whether to enable Google Signals should involve your client, since there are responsibilities regarding user privacy. GA4 implementers should not treat Google Signals and other data collection settings as ‘just another configuration setting’.

Carolyn James, Consultant websiteinsights.net

Privacy, Google Ads and GA4.

The combination remains sensitive, despite all the improvements Google has made.

Don’t take this advice lightly:

Google Analytics 4 includes a new feature that allows you to flag events you shouldn't use for personalized remarketing. When this feature is enabled on an event, audiences created using the event can't be exported to products such as Google Ads or Search Ads360.

Ana Maria Oliveira, Demand Generation Spacelift

Paid traffic is only one of the channels you can analyze in GA4.

Let’s have a look at organic traffic which we'll briefly cover here but we've also reviewed in much more detail here.

SEO data in GA4

Search Engine Optimization is for small businesses often treated with the lowest priority. You can generate website traffic with social media and ads.

However, if you are serious about SEO, GA4 luckily offers the same option as UA:

Linking Search Console with GA4 makes it simpler to understand rankings and keywords. It tells how rankings of specific keywords impact user behavior on your site. It also allows you to analyze organic searches.

Simon Bacher, CEO and Co-Founder Ling App

If you are new to SEO and GA, we have an article that explains the differences between GA and GSC.

Expert Advice on GA4 reports

The core purpose of GA4 is to give you insights based on the data that is collected. We have finally arrived at what data-driven marketers are most interested in: the reports.

This is what the experts shared with us:

There are a number of set reports available in UA that can be customized, whereas GA4 only includes reports on top-level results. So if you're looking for more detailed or specific in-depth information, you should use the analysis tab. This allows you more creative control over how your reports appear and enables you to drill down to the data that matters to you the most.

Michelle Burson, President MarComm

If you are interested, you can find more details and general information about the funnel report here.

The new reports are extended with data cards and automated insights that make analysis a lot easier and faster:

AI-powered insights have been improved with GA4 to make it even simpler for business owners to comprehend data trends and take immediate action. With the use of this technology, GA4 can forecast results based on the data that is coming in, enabling businesses to anticipate the behaviors of their customers and use that knowledge to inform future strategies.

Michelle Burson, President MarComm

When analyzing your GA4 reports, make sure you understand the new terminology and metrics. For example:

Start socializing the engagement rate metric in your reporting. This behavior metric is the star of GA4. Your engagement rate is the number of engaged sessions divided by total sessions. What is an engaged session? Any session that stayed on a page for 10 seconds or longer, viewed more than 1 page or triggered a conversion event. I like to think that engagement rate is the ultimate behavior metric. It helps us measure whether we're reaching the right audience with the right content. I think engagement rate accomplishes what many marketers tried to do with a combination of bounce rate and average session duration.

Freddy Hunt, Director of SEO & Content Marketing Search Nurture

We have published several in-depth articles about GA4 reports. These are for beginners a good starting point:

Pages report, event report and explorations.

Advice for GA4 service providers

Not all businesses have the resources to understand and apply all the above mentioned tips. That’s good news for businesses who want to offer Google Analytics 4 services.

The demand for GA4 experts is rising and will even increase more before UA sunsets.

There is, however, one important aspect that you need to take into account when working with GA accounts and properties of customers:

Data collection and use of that data is a complex area associated with risks and responsibilities. The website owner needs to be fully involved in the discussion and, ultimately, make the decisions about data collection.

Carolyn James, Consultant websiteinsights.net

Final thoughts

On behalf of the Data Driven U team, I sincerely hope that the list of best practices advice of GA4 experts will help you speed up your transition to the new Google Analytics version. You can best start with the best practices that caught your attention.

Keep in mind that your business will have specific needs. In that respect, we had to make a selection of GA4 advice that is useful to a broad range of sites and businesses.

Another important remark is that you can customize Google Analytics 4 to your organization. That was not the case with UA.

It takes more time, but the reward of your efforts will be high.

Finally, we warm heartedly thank all experts for sharing their valuable advice with us, so we could share it with you.

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