A simple guide to accurate event tracking in GA4

As we move deeper into the digital age, data has become the cornerstone of informed decision-making. With Google Analytics 4 (GA4), businesses have access to a powerful tool designed to unlock deeper insights into user behaviour and drive strategic growth. In this post, we’ll delve into the intricacies of GA4’s event-based data model, the importance of following Google’s recommended practices, and the pitfalls to avoid when setting up event tracking.

Understanding GA4’s event-based data model

GA4 represents a shift from traditional hit-based tracking – as it was in Universal Analytics (UA) – to an event-centric approach.  UA used to rely on hits; encompassing a broader range of interactions, including pageviews, events, and ecommerce transactions. In contrast, in GA4 everything is essentially an ‘event’ —every click, scroll, and interaction is captured as a distinct event. This granularity offers the possibility of a deeper dive into user behaviour, allowing businesses to uncover valuable insights that drive meaningful action. This fundamental difference impacts how data is collected, processed, and analysed in each platform and means we have to change our understanding of what we’re looking at when reporting in GA4. Although tempting, it’s important not to compare results from UA and GA4. The difference in tracking methodologies, sampling, data processing and aggregation, amongst other factors, make those comparisons not very fruitful.

The importance of following Google’s recommendations

While the freedom to customise tracking in GA4 is liberating, it’s essential to adhere to Google’s recommended event names and parameters. Sending too many events to a property without proper categorisation can result in data overload and difficulty in sorting through your own data. This can lead to a considerable amount of wasted time trying to make sense of it, or at worst, incorrect reporting.

By breaking events down using parameters and aligning with Google’s standards, you streamline data collection and ensure consistency across your analytics setup. Following best practice minimises the risk of data discrepancies and enables more accurate reporting and analysis. This will also allow you to take immediate advantage of GA4’s built in reports. The E-commerce purchases report for instance, along with the Purchase journey and Checkout journey, will only populate automatically if you’re using Google’s recommended ecommerce events and will offer great granularity if you use its recommended parameters.

Navigating the pitfalls of event tracking

While GA4 offers a lot of flexibility in event tracking, there are common pitfalls to avoid. One such issue is creating all your tracking using Custom Events directly in GA4. While Custom Events are powerful, relying solely on them can lead to a fragmented tracking setup, making it challenging to maintain consistency and scalability. If you’re sending events to your property from Google Tag Manager, but also create many GA4 events, it might be hard to understand which platform is the source of the event on your reports.

Similarly, neglecting to use Google’s recommended event names for ecommerce can hinder your ability to leverage GA4’s advanced features. By aligning with Google’s taxonomy for ecommerce events, you ensure compatibility with pre-built reports and analysis tools, facilitating more comprehensive insights into your sales funnel and customer journey.

One last point I’d like to touch is that even though there are multiple ways of tracking the same event – e.g. a user landing on a specific page can be tracked either by GA4 custom events or from GTM using a GA4 tag – the event count from those two implementations might be slightly different due to times of event processing, filter settings, sampling, or other unforeseen consequences. Because of that, it’s important to have a consistent plan with your tracking and always follow it through.

Optimising your event tracking strategy

GA4 offers a number of automatically collected events out of the box, so if you’re new to analytics or tracking, you can start gathering data from your website with minimal configuration or platform know-how. If you do want the most accurate and tailor-made tracking though, most of those events will not be useful for your business. Our analysts understand how each and every single one of them are collected, issues they might have, and how flexible they can be. In addition to that, working on a tracking plan that is designed to give you the data you need, without superfluous tracking, will yield more streamlined results and focus on crucial insights for your website and business.

If you’re seeking to start measuring your website and digital performance, or you have an implementation that you know doesn’t follow best practice, but you don’t know how to go about updating it, we have solutions to support you. There are different levels of audits for GA4 depending on your requirements or current level of set up, with best practice recommendations and training that will ensure you and your team understand the platform and what it can deliver. Get in touch with [email protected] to discover how we can help you take your web analytics to the next level.