Last Updated on March 6, 2023
One of the most powerful features of the new Google Analytics 4 (GA4) property is event tracking. If you’re used to working with Google Universal Analytics you’d know that Google Tag Manager (GTM) was required in order to accomplish this. However, in GA4 this is the default data collection approach. In this article, we will explore GA4 event tracking, GA4 event parameters, and more.
If you haven’t migrated from Google Universal Analytics to Google Analytics 4, we’ve created a FREE GA4 Migration Checklist.
What Are GA4 Events?
An event in Google Analytics 4 allows you to measure a distinct user interaction on your website or app. For example, an event could be page loads, downloads, link clicks, form submissions, and time spent on pages are all able to be measured to better understand your users’ behavior in GA4.
To get a better understanding of Google Universal Analytics vs Google Analytics 4 for how data is measured, review the table below:
Google Universal Analytics model for data collection as you see relies on collecting interactions in other ways. These other ways of interactions are identified as “hit types.”
What is a “Hit” in Google Analytics?
When a Hit is mentioned with Google Analytics it is meaning an interaction that a user has on your website that is recorded and sent to Google Analytics.
In GA4, event hit types are used for hits, while Universal Analytics has multiple hit types for visitor interactions. UA collects pageview data every time a new page loads, but tracking file downloads, button clicks, and scroll depth requires using Google Tag Manager for event tracking. All user interactions during a single visit, including page views, clicks, and downloads, are grouped together and sent as a single session for complete tracking of the visit.
How it Works: GA4 Event Tracking
GA4 has a more “flexible” naming convention than Universal Analytics, which can lead to better outcomes with proper planning but can also add complexity. Event names must be specified and up to 4 additional parameters can be identified. For example:
Event Name (the event name is required). Additional Parameters 1-4 (you have the freedom to choose whatever parameters you’d like as well as name the parameter any way you’d like)
Categories of GA4 Event Tracking
In Google Analytics 4 there are 4 categories of events to choose from:
- Custom Events
- Enhanced Measurement Events
- Automatically Collected Events
- Recommended Events
Let’s take a look at each of the 4 Google Analytics 4 events below.
Automatically Collected Events in GA4
Automatically Collected Events are a feature in GA4 where events are collected without any additional setup.
Simply implement the GA4 tracking code on your website and the events will be recorded in your GA4 property. This is a great convenience! The three automatically collected events are first_visit, session_start, and the new user_engagement event.
See below to better understand:
- session_start: The event fires when a user first launches a session with a website (or app).
- first_visit: The first time this specific user has been on the site or the app.
- user_engagement: A user_engagement event will fire when a visitor has been on a page for 10 seconds OR has viewed two pages OR has completed a conversion event.
Recommended and Custom Events in GA4
Both Recommended Events and Custom Events require Google Tag Manager (GTM) to help create. The real difference of the two is basically Google suggests recommended event names to use for Recommended Events. You can better understand that by this documentation from Google.
However, Google does not offer a recommended event name for Custom Events, allowing for you to name an event any way you’d like. However, it is recommended to maintain consistency and use snake_case (all lowercase with underscores instead of spaces) when naming events.
Enhanced Measurement Events in GA4
Enhanced measurement events are customizable within GA4 and are enabled by default, but can be turned off if desired. These events, including page_view, site_search, scroll, and click, can be turned off in your GA4 data stream as needed. Event parameters for automatically collected events and enhanced measurement events have already been determined by Google Analytics and will be collected in your GA4 property, no action is required.
In some cases, you may choose to turn off an enhanced measurement event and create a custom event instead, such as if limitations exist in the enhanced measurement event. For example, the scroll-enhanced measurement event automatically collects data every time a visitor scrolls 90% down the page, but if you want to track scrolling at 25%, 50%, 75%, and 90%, you would need to turn off the scroll enhanced measurement event and create your own custom event using Google Tag Manager.
With recommended events and custom events, naming conventions for GA4 event parameters are more flexible. There are developer guides from Google that offer recommended naming conventions for these recommended events as mentioned previously.
Diving Deeper into Enhanced Measurement Events in GA4
GA4 truly shines with Enhanced Measurement Events, despite some limitations such as the scrolling example mentioned earlier. These events, which would require assistance from Google Tag Manager or a developer in a Universal Analytics property, can be accessed through the Admin (gear icon), Data Streams, and selecting your web data stream.
The events that can be tracked with Enhanced Measurement include page_view, site_search, scroll, click, and more, each of which can be easily enabled or disabled by simply selecting the event.
- page_view: Page view.
- scroll: Scroll depth tracking requires GTM work with Universal Analytics, but it’s a simple Enhanced Measurement Event in GA4.
- click: this will only track outbound link clicks. To track internal links you will have to set them up differently in GA4.
- view_search_results: Site Search activity.
- video_start: YouTube video engagement.
- video_progress: YouTube video engagement.
- video_complete: YouTube video engagement.
- file_download: A file was downloaded.
Data Difference: Google Analytics 4 vs Google Universal Analytics
There are similarities and differences between the metrics in GA4 and UA. This is due to two reasons. Firstly, the data collection methods differ, causing some variations in the data. Secondly, the default event data reporting in GA4 is different from what was configured in the Universal Analytics property, leading to further differences.
See the list below to better understand:
- Pageviews*: Basically the same. The small difference is due to the different data collection models between GA4 and Universal Analytics.
- Unique Users*: The data is quite similar, just like above.
- First Visits (New Users)*: Same as above.
- Examples of High User Engagement: User engagement is a new event that Google developed for GA4. There is no comparable metric in Google Universal Analytics.
- Scroll: There are more than 10 times as many scroll events tracked in Universal Analytics as in GA4. This is because the two properties track very different scroll depths. You’ll notice a difference in unique user count, which may be a case of GA4 doing a better job of identifying returning users.
- Click: Similar to above, the two properties track very different things. In the past, Universal Analytics click tracking fires an event on every click. With GA4 Enhanced Measurement event tracking, however, the event only fires on outbound link clicks that leave the site. This is not necessarily super easy to understand.
- Video plays (progress): The data is quite similar, but it seems as though GA4 is doing a better job of not counting the users multiple times.
Conclusion: Understanding GA4 Event Tracking
Hopefully, the above has helped you better understand Google Analytics 4 Events and how they differ from the previous Google Universal Analytics properties. There are many new features to provide better insight into users that land on your website or app. If you need help setting up events in GA4, schedule a FREE consultation with our team at no obligation.
If you haven’t migrated and set up Google Analytics 4 yet, we’ve created a FREE GA4 Migration checklist. If help is needed with any part of the migration we are happy to help with that as well.
Interested in more information about GA4? Visit our insights page to learn more.