Setting up goals: Getting started with Google Analytics 4

Universal Analytics' goals are called conversions in GA4. Here's how to organize them.

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The arrival of Google Analytics 4 has people understandably nervous. Using its increased capabilities means learning new processes and thinking about things in new ways. We’re here to help. Working with Colleen Harris, head of business intelligence and reporting strategy at Sincro, we’ve put together a multi-part guide to getting started with GA4. This is part 2. Go here for the first installment.

In Universal Analytics goals measure a completed activity. These are user defined and can be things like making a purchase, completing a game level or submitting contact information. In Google Analytics 4 goals are now called conversions.

Google says there’s a difference, but Colleen Harris says there isn’t, “Because of course Google needs to rename freaking everything because we’re not having enough struggles as it is.” We’re going with Harris.

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In GA4 you can have up to 30 differently defined conversions, 10 more than you had in UA. How do you know what conversions you need? Harris says answering that requires first setting up four different buckets/categories to put them in. To start, each of those buckets should have five or fewer conversions in them.

  • Conversions. When somebody gives you information via:
    • An email lead
    • A phone call
    • Making a purchase 
    • Scrolling to the bottom of a blog
    • Finding a location through their map tool

“I like to leave this bucket at five or fewer [defined conversions],” says Harris, “because you don’t want to give people too many options of how you’re collecting information, because then they just get confused and they go away.”

  • Major engagements. The key actions you want to be tracking:
    • Photo clicks, 
    • Inventory searches
    • Adding something to a cart
    • Removing something from a cart
    • Time spent on a blog page

Dig deeper: GA4: What marketers need to know for a successful transition

  • Nice to know or “vanity” metrics. These are engagement metrics that aren’t important or critical but are still useful to know, such as:
    • Visiting secondary type pages
    • Clicked in website navigation
    • Clicked in the footer

“I also like to keep one or two spots in my nice to know section for those metrics that either a client, or your boss or the C-Suite is going to want to know,” says Harris. “You know that it’s entirely a vanity metric, but you also know that they’re going to listen to you more once you’ve provided them with it.”

Those vanity metrics can sometimes be quite odd. One time Harris had a client who was a car dealer in Texas. 

“When he’s on the call, he wants to know how many people visited their newspaper ad page because he still literally gets a newspaper ad printed that runs in the paper,” she says. “And then we upload the JPG of that to the newspaper ad page. Like fully aware, it’s 2022 and he wants to know about this newspaper ad, but I know he is much more receptive to listening to our strategy conversations if one of the first metrics I include is how many people visited that page.” 

  • Testing. These are for testing a certain strategy, campaign or conversion. This category will be left empty for now.

In our next installment we’ll be looking at setting up your website in GA4

Also, a helpful thing to keep in mind from Colleen Harris: “Even those of us who are thought leaders, industry experts on GA4, we’re all figuring this out, too. It is a plane being put together at 30,000 feet. So, don’t feel like you’re alone in this lack of understanding or frustration.”

Getting started with Google Analytics 4

Catch up on the entire series:

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About the author

Constantine von Hoffman
Constantine von Hoffman is managing editor of MarTech. A veteran journalist, Con has covered business, finance, marketing and tech for, Brandweek, CMO, and Inc. He has been city editor of the Boston Herald, news producer at NPR, and has written for Harvard Business Review, Boston Magazine, Sierra, and many other publications. He has also been a professional stand-up comedian, given talks at anime and gaming conventions on everything from My Neighbor Totoro to the history of dice and boardgames, and is author of the magical realist novel John Henry the Revelator. He lives in Boston with his wife, Jennifer, and either too many or too few dogs.

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