Google Analytics 4 Setup Best Practices

Want to make sure your Google Analytics 4 setup is done properly?

So you’ve just migrated from Universal Analytics or you’re a new Google Analytics user that has just created a new GA4 property. You’re seeing data flowing into your account and can see the events you want to measure in your reports, so you think that you’re all set.

However, upon further inspection, you may notice that something seems off. You may wonder if there is something you haven’t checked during your GA4 setup that could be messing with your data, or maybe you simply don’t know where to look for it.

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Don’t worry we’ve gone through the hassle and completely get your frustration. To help with this issue, we’ll show you how to properly configure your GA4 property, which should always be step one when creating a new property.

Like with any musical instrument, you need to tune it properly first to ensure that it will play the notes beautifully. The same goes when you create a Google Analytics 4 property if you want to get the best possible results and get accurate data.

In this guide, we’ll cover the Google Analytics 4 setup best practices and important settings you need to check so that your GA4 account and property are set up for success.

These are the settings you should pay attention to when setting up Google Analytics 4:

GA4 Account Settings

Let’s have a look at our GA4 property. In the Admin section of your Google Analytics account, you’ll see the account architecture.

On the left side, we have the settings related to your account. On the right side, we have everything related to the property.

Google Analytics account structure

Let’s first look at the Account Settings.

Accessing the account settings

This is where you can see basic settings like the account name and country of business, along with some Data sharing settings.

Basic and Data sharing settings in the account settings

When you need to provide access to Google technicians or sales representatives, you can simply check Technical support and Account specialists, respectively.

Technical support and account specialists setting

Next, we have the Account Access Management settings.

Account access management settings

This section is fundamental because this is where you can understand who is managing your account and who has access to your properties.

You’ll see the list of users, their email, and the roles and data restrictions those users have over this account. If you wanted to give access to more users, you can either add them individually or all at once by adding user groups.

Let’s demonstrate how to give access to a user to the account.

Click the + button, then select Add users.

Giving access to a new user

Here, you’ll add their email address, then assign a role to that user.

Adding the user’s email address and assigning a role

A cool thing about GA4 is that you can now restrict the data that this specific user can view. You have the option to hide either or both cost and revenue metrics.

Data restrictions for the new user

Where is this useful? Maybe you have a new intern and you don’t want to show this data to them. You can simply hide these from them by marking these options.

The next section can be accessed by clicking All Filters.

Account settings filters

We can ignore this one because it is related to Universal Analytics only. Filters cannot be applied to GA4 properties.

Next, we also have the Account Change History which you can check the list of changes that were made to your account.

Accessing the account change history

Lastly, we have the rubbish bin.

Accessing the rubbish bin

This is where you can delete your account if you don’t need it anymore. It contains the accounts and properties that have been marked for deletion.

🚨 Note: You have 35 days to restore items from the rubbish bin before they are permanently deleted.

GA4 Property Settings

Let’s move on to the more exciting part of checking our Google Analytics 4 setup, which is the property settings.

Accessing the property settings

Here, the property name, industry category, reporting time zone, and currency are displayed. Most settings here are important to check as they have a direct impact on the data shown on your reports.

Let’s start with illustrating the impact of the industry category on your reports by changing it to Games. Then, click Save.

Changing the property industry category

When we go to the Reports tab, you’ll notice that the reporting interface will be adjusted to the industry you select. Here, we have a new Games reporting collection.

New games reporting collection

Let’s go back and discuss the other crucial settings we must always double-check, which are the reporting time zone and currency.

Reporting time zone and currency settings

Usually, you select the time zone and currency of the place where your business is headquartered, but you might have a different case and are targeting another location.

You should always double-check this section because this has a direct impact on the data shown in your reports.

Let’s move to Property Access Management.

Accessing the property access management

This will open another panel similar to the account access management where the list of users who has access to this property is listed, along with their email address, roles, and data restrictions.

Property access management

Checking both the account and property access management sections is very important because you could make a mistake by adding a user at the account level when they should only have property access.

This is why you should always be careful and double-check that everything is managed correctly and all users have their correct roles assigned.

Next, under Data Settings, we have Data Collection.

Data collection settings

This is where you can activate Google signals. They are session data from sites and apps that Google associates with users who have signed into their Google accounts.

Google signals data collection

This association of data is used to enable cross-device reporting, remarketing, and conversion export to Google Ads. You will then be able to develop a holistic view of how users interact with your online property, from multiple browsers across multiple devices.

Before enabling this feature, you should read the privacy policy and understand the data restrictions and data regulations for your location.

Another thing you should keep in mind when you activate Google signals is that you may face some thresholding. If your report or exploration is missing data, it may be because Google Analytics has applied a data threshold.

These are applied to prevent anyone viewing a report or exploration from inferring the identity of individual users based on some demographical user features. This happens when there is only a small number of users in the selection.

Because data thresholds are system defined, you cannot adjust them. If you’ve created a custom event in a property that has Google signals enabled and data thresholding is applied, you can confirm that they are working by switching to device-only reporting.

When a threshold is applied to a report or exploration, you will see the data indicator beside the tile change to an orange color. You can hover over the indicator to see more information. 

The next important thing we should check for our Google Analytics 4 setup is the data retention settings.

Accessing the data retention settings

The Google Analytics data retention controls give you the ability to set the amount of time before the user-level and event-level data stored by Google Analytics is automatically deleted from Analytics servers.

When you create a Google Analytics 4 property, the data retention by default is set to 2 months. This period can be extended up to 14 months.

Event data retention options

We recommend changing this to 14 months if there are no restrictions, after checking with your legal department.

These controls will not affect most standard reports since they are based on aggregated data. They will influence your explorations and everything associated with cookies, user identifiers, or advertising identifiers will expire after the period selected.

Another important setting is the Data Filters. Let’s open our Internal Traffic filter to check how this works.

Internal traffic data filter

You should usually apply internal traffic filters because you don’t want to have polluted reports. You should exclude the traffic you and your colleagues generate.

All you do is select Internal Traffic as the filter type.

Choosing the internal traffic filter type

Aside from choosing the filter type, there is not much we can do from here. Compared to Universal Analytics, data filters in Google Analytics 4 is more limited.

Scrolling below, you can see the filter state, where we can change it to be either testing, active, or inactive. The active and inactive options are pretty straightforward and are the options to select when you want this filter enabled or disabled, respectively.

Why do we have the testing option? GA4 gives us the possibility to test the filter we created, as they cannot be retroactive.

The testing filter state option

If you want to exclude your internal traffic, you must first define all of it. So, this step needs to be done by going to your data streams.

Go to Data Streams, then select the stream that you want to define the internal traffic.

Opening the data stream settings

Click on Configure tag settings.

Configuring the data stream’s tag settings

Expand the settings, then select Define internal traffic.

Defining internal traffic for the data stream

Here, you can specify the IP addresses of the devices or computer networks you and your colleagues use. This is how Google Analytics will understand that traffic from those devices or networks should be considered internal traffic.

Adding the IP address to specify the internal traffic source

The last crucial thing to check in this section is to ensure that you linked your GA4 property to other tools. The most common tools to link are Google Ads, the Search Console, BigQuery, and Merchant Center.

Of course, the list of tools you use depends on your case and you might be using different tools. Just make sure that you connect everything.

Linking is pretty straightforward. For example, click on Google Ads linksLink.

Linking Google Ads to your GA4 property

Then, you’ll simply choose your Google account to complete the link setup.

Next, we’ll cover the settings that can be customized in a way that you can choose for your specific case.

Unwanted Referrals

The first of these is unwanted referrals.

Referrals are the segments of traffic that arrive on your website through another source. GA automatically recognizes where traffic was immediately before arriving on your site and displays the domain name as the referral traffic course in your reports.

Why would you not want to identify traffic from certain domains as referrals?

One example is when you have an eCommerce store that uses a third-party payment processor. After checking out your products on the third-party domain, users will be returned to your site, but considering these payment channels as referrals is inaccurate.

Let’s switch to the Google demo account because there is some data here.

Go to ReportsAcquisitionTraffic acquisition.

Accessing the traffic acquisition report

Change the table dimensions to session source/medium. You’ll see the referrals in the bottom rows of the table.

Viewing the referral traffic sources in your reports

💡 Top Tip: Check out our guide on the GA4 default channel grouping to better understand which channels are performing better in bringing in traffic.

If you see a referral traffic source from PayPal or Klarna, then this is not a good sign. You should specify that traffic from PayPal and Klarna are unwanted referrals.

Go back to your data stream and repeat the steps mentioned earlier until the configure tag settings step. After expanding the settings, click on List unwanted referrals.

Listing unwanted referrals from the data stream

All you need to do is to provide the conditions for the referrals to ignore. In our case, the configuration we can use is the matching type of referral domain containing either paypal.com or klarna.com.

Unwanted referral configuration

Reporting Identity

The next Google Analytics 4 setup check is the reporting identity.

Under the property settings, select Reporting Identity. Here, you can see the different ways there are to identify your users. We have blended, observed, and device-based.

Reporting identity settings

First, let’s discuss why you need to pay attention to this setting.

An individual customer often interacts with your business using different devices and/or platforms. For example, someone might browse your products on a tablet, leave, do more research on their laptop, leave, then make a purchase later on their phone.

Each of these will count as separate sessions, but in reality, they should be unified into a single cross-device user journey. To do this, Analytics needs some way to identify the same user across these sessions and devices.

In Universal Analytics, this was called the client ID, which is now called the device ID in GA4. Another possible identifier is the user ID paired with the use of Google signals. The user ID involves some logging functionality to your website to identify users.

Once all the data associated with the same identity is combined into a single user journey, you can now de-duplicate users and describe a more unified and holistic story about their relationship with your business.

In the first method, called Blended, we have the user ID as the primary identifier. If it is not available, it will fall back on Google signals, then the device ID. 

What happens if all three are not available? If you have the Blended mode activated, you are then allowing modeled data to show on your reports for sessions without an identifier.

Modeling method of unifying events

With Google’s heavy investment in machine learning, Analytics can now fill the gap of behavioral data for users who opted out of Analytics identifiers, by using data of similar users who did accept cookies to model their behavior.

When users visit your site and have granted consent for cookies, Analytics associates user behavior with various identifiers to provide continuity in measurement. This kind of data is referred to as observable data.

As such, selecting the Observed method only allows the use of user ID, Google signals, and device ID in evaluating user identity. The Device-based method only uses the device ID.

With this distinction between these methods, you will be able to consider the advantages and disadvantages of each to help you select the method that works best for you.

Attribution Settings

The last thing to check during your Google Analytics 4 setup is the attribution settings.

GA4 attribution settings

Let’s say you’re running multiple ads. If a user does multiple searches and has clicked on several of your ads before converting (e.g. makes a purchase), all merit for the conversion is typically given to the last ad the customer clicked.

Realistically though, was it solely to the credit of the latest ad that the user decided to convert? Didn’t the other ads they previously clicked on also contribute to this decision? Maybe it’s more appropriate to credit this to an organic search?

Attribution is the act of assigning conversions to different ads, clicks, and factors along a user’s path to completing a conversion. Selecting an attribution model will apply to both historical and future data.

In GA4 properties, there are 3 types of attribution models available: cross-channel rules-based models, an Ads-preferred rules-based model, and data-driven attribution. 

🚨 Note: For more details on how attribution models work and differ, check out Google’s official documentation about attribution and attribution modeling.

To select the attribution model you want to use, click on the dropdown menu for the reporting attribution model.

Selecting the reporting attribution model

Finally, the last thing you need to be careful with is the lookback window settings.

The lookback window determines how far back in time a touchpoint is eligible for attribution credit. A 30-day lookback window will result in January 30th conversions being attributed only to touchpoints occurring from January 1-30.

The lookback window applies to all attribution models and all conversion types. Changes to the lookback window are not retroactive and will only apply going forward.

Why is this important? Let’s say a user clicks on your ad and take some time before converting, which is more likely if your products are on the more expensive side. This can still be counted as a conversion later if they convert within the period you select.

It is recommended to set 30 days for acquisition conversion events, and 90 days for all other conversion events.

Recommended lookback window

These are the main settings you should check when creating a new property. Feel free to follow our recommendations or play with the settings to see which works best for you.

Summary

Now you know the different settings you need to pay attention to during your Google Analytics 4 setup. These include account settings, property settings, unwanted referrals, reporting identity, and attribution settings.

Want more tips to make sure your GA4 setup is efficient? Check out our guide on the GA4 audit: 16 questions to ensure correct account setup.

Also, check out our Google Analytics 4 tutorial for a detailed guide to GA4’s features.

Did you check these settings when you were creating your GA4 property? Which setting was the most helpful to you? Let us know in the comments below!

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