In this post, we’re going to get better acquainted with GA4. We’ll review the new analytics dashboards, the process for creating custom reports, as well as the steps to integrate GA4 with BigQuery and Google Ads.
At first glance, Google Analytics 4 looks a lot like Universal Analytics. But once you start digging around in the new and improved Google Analytics, you’ll notice that things aren’t quite what they used to be.
If you want to learn more about why Google is changing its approach to analytics and why it’s a must for modern marketers and designers, you can read all about it in this post.
Jump to content in this section:
Get to Know the GA4 Dashboard
The general look of Google Analytics is going to remain the same as will the layout of the platform. However, the content within it is now structured and organized differently.
So after you set things up, familiarize yourself with the new dashboard and features:
The Home screen offers a quick overview of what’s going on with your digital property.
You’ll see various items in this section:
- A snapshot of the general activity on your site for the last seven days.
- Real-time user data (if any).
- Quick-access links to recently viewed areas of GA4.
- Google Analytics data recommendations you look at.
- Suggested insights about trends, anomalies, general activity, and more.
The last element on the page can be customized. Click the See Suggested Insights button to add and customize the insights shown. (We’ll go over this a bit more down below.)
You can also have notifications sent to your email when unexpected changes take place on your website.
If you’re looking to track user behavior and interactions on your website or app, the Reports section is the one you want.
This is what the old UA dashboard primarily consisted of — data depicting on-site activity over a given timeframe. With GA4, you can view data based on:
- Real-time activity
- Acquisition channel
- User demographic
- User tech
It has been structured this way in order to help you better track your users over the course of their journey with your brand — from acquisition to retention.
In order to get the most out of the Engagement and Monetization sections, you’ll need to do some setup for your property’s events and conversions in the Admin area of GA4.
Under Events, you’ll find presets like clicks, page views, and scrolls.
Use the Modify and Create buttons to add touchpoints that matter most on your website.
Under Conversions, you won’t find much to start.
You can add custom conversion events here. If your site isn’t set up for ecommerce, for instance, this would be a good thing to do. Perhaps making reservations is a conversion event for your site.
At the very least, review the default events and conversions that Google has set up to ensure that they work for you. If there are any missing, you have the ability to configure new ones and customize existing ones so that your reports reflect data that’s relevant to your user journeys.
You can also customize the reports that appear in each of the data panels. We’ll go over how to create them in the following section.
The Explore section is a good one to utilize if you prefer to visualize your data as flow charts, Venn diagrams, and bar graphs.
This isn’t meant to be a tool to convert the data found under Reports into a more visualized format though. Instead take advantage of explorations to learn more about who your users are and the unique journeys they take on your website or app.
You can use one of GA4’s templates or start with a blank canvas. Either way, you have total control over your data visualizations once you’re inside the exploration feature.
Analyze user pathways, behaviors, abandonment triggers, and more with this GA4 feature.
Before you can use the Advertising section, you have to link your GA4 property to your Google Ads account. The final section in this post will help you do that.
If you’re running Google Ads and you’ve integrated the two accounts, Google Analytics will start to pull data into this dashboard.
You’ll see insights related to:
- Ad-generated conversions
- Cost of those conversions
- Return on ad spend (ROI)
- Comparison of channel conversion rates
- Most common touchpoints that lead to conversion
If you’re not running Google Ads, don’t worry. There’s tons of data in the rest of GA4 to help you better understand your users’ journeys and conversion funnels.
Creating Custom Reports
While the Home and Reports views in GA4 contain a lot of useful data, what is most useful for someone like myself might be completely different for someone running a large ecommerce platform. That’s why it’s important to take advantage of the customization capabilities in GA4.
Let’s tackle the insights and reports customization separately.
Add Custom Dashboard Insights
You can add custom insights to both your Home screen. You can also view them from your Reports screen once Google Analytics starts generating recommendations for you.
To add a new insight, go to the bottom of your Home screen. Click See Suggested Insights. A panel will open from the right side of the screen.
Google Analytics will have a handful of suggested custom insights for you to start with. You can click Review and create next to the ones that are of interest to you. Or you can click Create new at the bottom to build your own.
When creating an insight, you’ll have to add information related to:
- User segment
- Tracking metric
- Condition (whether it’s anomalous or you’re seeing an increase or decrease)
Google Analytics will set up an email alert based on the frequency you selected. If major changes are detected, you’ll know about them in real time.
This data will also appear at the bottom of your Home screen once Google starts to detect the specified activity. And, when relevant, on other screens in the Reports dashboard.
Create Custom Reports
To create custom dashboards in the Reports area of GA4, go to any section and look for a set of four icons in the top-right corner. The last one will open the Customize report panel.
This panel strips away the Google Analytics sidebar on the left and replaces it with a Customize report panel on the right.
The panel will show you which data cards are currently on the screen.
To reorder the cards, click on the drag-and-drop icon on the left side of the card and move it to its new spot in the list.
To remove cards that are irrelevant or unhelpful, click the “X” icon on the right side of the card.
You won’t be able to modify the settings of the existing cards. For instance, if you want to change the New users by card to show the First user campaign instead of First user default channel group, you’d have to delete the card that’s there and create a new one.
To create a new card, use the Add Cards button at the bottom of the cards list. Here you will find premade cards relevant to the reports section you’re looking at.
Some of them are customizable. Look for a dropdown arrow within the card name and choose from the options offered.
What’s more, you’ll find different data visualization types to choose from. There are bar charts, data tables, Venn diagrams, score cards, geo charts, and more.
Select the data points that are the most important to you and then click the Add Card button in the top-right corner. This will add them to your list. Move them around in the list if you want them to appear higher on the page.
Save your changes when you’re done. You can either override the existing report or create a new report altogether.
Integrating GA4 with Other Google Platforms
Google Analytics 4 has added some features to help you streamline your work across Google platforms as well as to maximize your results. If you’re currently a BigQuery or Google Ads user, keep reading.
Connecting BigQuery to Google Analytics
BigQuery is a cloud data warehouse that enables users to analyze massive amounts of data. With GA4 now set up to collect more meaningful data from websites, being able to get your events data into BigQuery is critical.
GA4 offers a fast way to connect the two Google platforms.
Go to Admin > Property > BigQuery Links. You’re going to see an empty page with a blue Link button in the top-right corner. Click this button to set up your connection.
From this panel, click Choose a BigQuery project. If you don’t have any projects set up in your cloud account, go ahead and do that now. Once you have a project saved, it will appear here in Google Analytics.
Select the project you want to export events data to. Then hit Confirm.
Google is going to ask you how frequently you want to export data from GA4 to BigQuery. There are two options to choose from:
- Streaming will export data a few minutes after it’s been collected by Google Analytics.
- Daily will export data once a day.
Submit your changes. It can take up to a few hours for the data export to BigQuery to begin.
Connecting Google Ads to Google Analytics
Google Ads is an ads management platform for Google search, YouTube, Google Play store, and display ad placements.
If you’re running ads through Google Ads, your goal is to drive traffic back to your website. As such, your ad campaigns are a critical part of the user journey. That’s why ad data is now integrated into GA4.
To set up this integration, go to Admin > Property > Google Ads Links. Click the blue Link button in the top-right corner.
In the next screen, click Choose Google Ads accounts to see a list of the accounts associated with your gmail.
Choose the account you want to use and then click Next. You’ll be asked to enable personalized advertising as well as auto-tagging. Auto-tagging is one of the benefits of Google’s new machine learning method of tracking and identifying users. When enabled, Google Analytics will be able to associate on-site activity with ad sources.
Review your settings and then submit them to complete the setup. It’ll take about 24 hours for data to start propagating in the Advertising section of your GA4 dashboard.
Even if you’re a long-time Universal Analytics user, it would be beneficial to spend time getting to know Google Analytics 4. The new areas of the dashboard, custom reporting feature, and BigQuery and Google Ads integration may take some time setting up, but these tools and their benefits are ones worth unlocking.
If you’ve been looking for a way to take your website analysis to the next level, this is it.