Our guide to GA4 event tracking
Part of our series of blogs designed to explore and explain Google Analytics 4 for nonprofits. This time taking a look at event tracking.
Our post on how to get started with Google Analytics 4 covered the basics of migrating to Google Analytics 4 and how to get the ball rolling.
But a barebones GA4 setup, while powerful, may not meet all of your organisation’s needs when it comes to web analytics. That’s where event tracking comes in – to ensure your implementation keeps track of user behaviour and data that is useful for you.
Let's take a look at how to plan your event tracking setup in Google Analytics 4.
Events in Universal Analytics
In the previous version of Google Analytics (“Universal Analytics”), there were a few different hit types: pageview, event, social, e-commerce, and user timing. These followed different formats when captured, processed, and stored by Universal Analytics servers. Event hits, specifically, also had their own category, action, and label, and were different from other hit types.
Google Analytics 4, on the other hand, is very different. There’s only one hit type, and that is the event. An e-commerce purchase can be captured as an event. A pageview can be captured as an event. Social interactions can be tracked as an event. In Google Analytics 4, pretty much everything is an event.
The entire data structure for Google Analytics 4 revolves around events. This may sound new and daunting at first, but it’s actually a very good thing. It means that you can now run even more complex analysis with the events you want to look at, while in the past you couldn’t really put e-commerce purchases next to social interactions – you’d be comparing apples to oranges, and that doesn’t tend to go well.
Events in Google Analytics 4
Google Analytics 4 is so event-focused that it tracks a ton of events right out of the box, with what Google calls Enhanced Measurement. This means that when you create a new GA4 property and data stream, basic user interactions such as outbound link clicks, scrolls, file downloads, video engagement, and site search are automatically tracked. Now, the built-in event tracking in Enhanced Measurement is unlikely to cover everything you need to track on your website, and the automatically collected events aren’t as detailed as we’d like. Scroll tracking, for example, only fires when a user reaches 90% vertical scroll on a page, and it doesn’t give us any other data point. Outbound link click tracking doesn’t tell us what was the text for the link clicked, just the link URL. And there’s no built-in form tracking, which is something most nonprofits need on their website.
This means that we’re often building custom event tracking for more detailed data – both to supplement the data in Enhanced Measurement and to sometimes replace it altogether with custom event tracking.
Custom event tracking in GA4
Custom event tracking relies heavily on a new feature in Google Analytics 4: event parameters.
Event parameters are the more powerful cousin of what was once the event category, action, and label structure. They are how you tell events apart, and how you add more data to an event beyond just the event name. The best way to understand event parameters is to see them in action.
Imagine that a user reaches a page on your website and downloads a file for a report or dataset that your organisation has made public. The default event name for that action is file_download, but that only tells half the story. That same event can be sent to Google Analytics with parameters that contain the name of the download file, the extension of the file, the page on which that download happened, and more.
Additionally, you don’t have to stick to whatever event parameters are available by default. You can create your own parameters, depending on what type of interaction you want to track, and then later create filters and comparisons, allowing deeper analysis of your data based on your custom-tailored events.
What good GA4 event tracking looks like
With all that in mind, you might be itching to start setting up events you think can be useful. But, before that, a word of caution.
A good web analytics setup is, first and foremost, intentional. That means that you have a good reason for every piece of data you collect, and you minimise the collection of useless data. The more information you capture, the more distracted you can be while working with it. So, ideally, you’d have a clear motive for the events you create, and you’d know how that data will be used later.
A good setup is also bespoke. This means that the tracking you put in place is planned specifically for the site where it will run. It’s no use setting up events some internet guru told you to, only to find out that data isn’t relevant to you, or worse – it doesn’t even work with your site’s configuration.
Lastly, a good setup is readable and succinct. This means that it was created with well-planned, reusable event names and parameters, providing the data to answer questions that are relevant to your organisation. In order to achieve this, any implementation must start with a well-thought-out measurement framework covering all actions a user may take on the site that might be useful to track.
Once you’re ready, the next step towards good event tracking in your organisation is to look at your current tracking setup, and take the opportunity to review and decide on what to keep and what to trash. This should be guided and informed by a thorough measurement framework. And of course, if you need help doing any of this, get in touch – we can help you plan your next steps with Google Analytics 4 and set you up for web analytics success.
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