10 Must-Have GA4 Setups to Enhance Data Accuracy

  • Magda Baciu

    Magda Baciu

    Founder

The word is out! 

Come July 2023, Universal Analytics (GA3)  will stop processing hits, and Google Analytics 4 (GA4) will be the only Analytics option available.  

That means data analyst and marketers alike ought to get familiar with this new and improved measurement solution.

Yes, GA4 is a totally different platform when it comes to data collection compared to Universal Analytics. Not that it’s a bad thing. However, change is always scary. But a change like this also means progress. And progress needs to be embraced. 

If you’re looking for a checklist of essential data accuracy GA4 setups…

Or you want to find out more about the differences between Universal Analytics and GA4….

Keep reading as we’ll take you through the bits and pieces of most important data accuracy setups you need to do to make sure you’ve set up a robust GA4 property.

Here’s what we’ll walk you through in what’s to come: 

  1. Set Data Retention to 14 Months 
  2. Enable Google Signals and improve user based metrics
  3. Exclude internal traffic to avoid skewed data
  4. Track users across domains
  5. Exclude unwanted (self)  referrals 
  6. Adjust Session Timeout and/or Engaged Sessions Timer
  7. Adjust Time-Zone & Currency
  8. Best Practices for Events
  9. From events to Conversions
  10. Enable Site Search tracking to know what users are writing in the internal search box

1. Set Data Retention to 14 Months

GA4’s Data Retention Policy is a bit confusing. 

As opposed to Universal Analytics, where you had the option of choosing Do not automatically expire for your data, GA4’s maximum data retention period is only 14 months. 

However, the default setting is set to two months – so make sure you change it immediately. Unless you do that, GA4 will automatically delete user-level and event-level data associated with cookies, user identifiers, or advertising identifiers after only two months. 

Failing to adjust this setting means you won’t have any data beyond the two months mark in your Explorations reporting feature from GA4. 

To modify the Event data retention timeline

  • head to Property
  • then to Data Settings 
  • and pick Data Retention. 
[Growth Savvy Data retention GA4]

2. Enable Google Signals and improve user-based metrics

This setup alone is one of the biggest improvements GA4 brings over its predecessor. 

You see, Google Signals (together with the device ID and custom user ID) allows you to better track users across devices.

Now, if you are an e-commerce company this might not be a big deal. This is because the session-based conversion rate works fine in most cases.

However, if you are a SaaS, we know you are frustrated with not being able to track the user-based conversion rate. 

To activate Google Signals in your GA4 account:

  • Head out to the Property column;
  • Go to Data Settings;
  • Click Data Collection and turn on the switch for Enable Google Signals data collection
Growth Savvy Enable Google Signals

3. Exclude internal traffic to avoid skewed data

GA4 can automatically create a filter that excludes all internal traffic. 

However, it’s up to you to give clear instructions about where that internal traffic is coming from. 

And you really want to exclude the data sent by your internal team because that will distort the behavioural insights about your real prospects

The first step towards this is to identify your internal traffic. Here’s what you need to do here. 

  • In your GA4 Property, head to Data Streams and click the data stream for which you want to define internal traffic.
  • Follow Additional Settings -> scroll down to More Tagging Settings -> Define internal traffic.

10 Must-Have GA4 Setups to Enhance Data Accuracy
  • Click Create
  • Name your new rule. You’ll see that you can only define a value for the traffic_type parameter.  The default value is internal, but you can add a new one to represent a location from where the internal traffic comes from (e.g., Bucharest_office). 
  • Select one of the operators under IP address > Match type,  (e.g., IP address equals).
  • Under IP address, type in an address or range of addresses that identify traffic from the location you identified in Step 5. You can enter IPv4 or IPv6 addresses.
  • Click Save.
Growth Savvy define your internal traffic IP ga4

You’re not quite done yet. The next step you need to complete is to go to Data Settings -> Data Filters and select the Internal traffic filter GA4 created. 

Important mention: 

GA4 brings 3 new options in Filter StateTesting, Active, and Inactive

The Testing filter doesn’t change your data permanently but can be identified with the dimension name ‘test data filter’. 

The Active filter will change your data for good, so you may want to test this filter out first before activating it.

The Inactive filter is not accounted for at all when processing the data. 

4. Track Users Across Domains

As the name suggests, cross-domain tracking lets you identify your website users across different domains. 

This option allows you to avoid an inflated number of sessions or incorrectly reported conversions when users navigate between different domains – such as your website and your payment processor.

With GA4, implementing cross-domain tracking is easier than used to be in Google Analytics Universal.

Now, all you have to do is configure the settings in the Admin section. 

Here’s how to do that. 

  • Head out to Admin -> Data Streams and select the stream for which you want to set this up. 
  • Scroll down to Tagging Options below Additional Settings.  
  • Click Configure Your Domains. 
  • Then click on Add Condition. Next, pick the Match type for the domain conditions, depending on your business needs, type in the name of the domain, then repeat this step for all the domains you want to include. 
  • Click Save
Growth Savvy configure cross-domain ga4

Important

To successfully set up cross-domain tracking, you must repeat the same process for all the data streams you have. 

Make sure to select the correct Match type for your domain and type in the same domain as you did for Universal Analytics.

What’s more, it’s also important to double check that all the domains listed here use the same tag for this data stream. In other words, only the domains on which you can install the GA4 tag should be listed here.

There’s no need to type in your subdomains – if they exist. For example we would not submit the ‘blog.growthsavvy.io’ subdomain in this list, as GA4 will automatically include it in the cross-domain reporting.

5. Exclude unwanted (self) referrals

GA4 alike Google Analytics Universal lets you cast aside unwanted referrals so you can prevent them from being reported as referral traffic. 

This is a good practice if you don’t want to see this type of traffic from your own domain or from a payment processor in your GA4 reports. 

To exclude them:

  • head out to Additional Settings;
  • More Tagging Settings;
  • and click List unwanted referrals
10 Must-Have GA4 Setups to Enhance Data Accuracy
  • Once you’re there, click the Pencil on the top right corner of the box and type in the name of the domain for which you wish to exclude referrals. 
  • Hit Save and you’re done.
[Growth Savvy exclude your domain or unwanted referrals GA4.png]

Important mention:

If you’ve already included a domain to the cross-domain list (see point #4 in this article), you don’t have to list it again in the Unwanted referrals list. GA4 already excludes it from referrals. 

Don’t fall for this common mistake:

Let’s say you’re using a payment processor, but are not able to integrate any tracking code on the page of the payment processor. If that’s the case, adding that domain to Your Domains list, won’t help. In fact, it will do nothing. However, it is crucial, to ad that payment processor domain to your Unwanted Referrals list. 

6. Adjust Session Timeout and/or Engaged Sessions Timer

The concept of sessions is one of the main differences between Universal Analytics and GA4. 

Why should this concern you? Well, because you may want to look at metrics such as Engangement Rate or Bounce Rate. Such metrics are directly affected by the setups of Session Timeout and Engaged Sessions Timer. 

Engagement rate (GA4) vs Bounce rate (GA3)

As a side note, Google defines Engagement rate as “the number of engaged sessions divided by the total number of sessions over a specified time period”. An engaged session is “a session that lasted longer than 10 seconds, had a conversion event or had at least two pageviews or screen views”. Bounce rate, on the other hand, is the inverse of Engagement rate, meaning it’s “the percentage of sessions that were not engaged sessions”.

Sessions accuracy: GA4 vs Universal Analytics

Before making any adjustments you may need a more in-depth understanding about how GA3 and GA4 register sessions.

For instance, in GA3, if a session expired at midnight and the user was still active, a 2nd session is triggered. For GA4 however, that same session would not have expired at midnight. So, if user A started his visit on the website at 23:55 PM and left the website at 00:05 AM the next day, his visit is considered a single session (while in GA3 it would have been considered 2 sessions). However, from a timing point of view, GA4 counts a session for each day.

Here’s another important example of how GA3 consideres a session expired while GA4 does not. Let’s assume: a user is engaged on your website. He is browsing on a different tab, and then returns to your website through a different campaign source. In this situation, Universal Analytics would register a new session, considering the old one expired. However, GA4 will register that visit within the same session.

Back to our setups now.

By default, both Universal Analytics and GA4 consider a session has ended when there are more than 30 minutes of user inactivity.  The good news is that GA4 allows a window of up to 7 hours and 55 minutes before a session expires, while GA3 allowed you a maximum of only 4 hours. 

If you are going to modify the default setups, be sure you keep a document where you annotate when you made setup changes, so that you can be sure that you’ll be comparing apples with apples when looking at the engagemnt rate in the near future.

For more differences between UA and GA4 sessions, we recommend checking out Google’s dedicated support page. 

Now, let’s see how you can modify the duration before GA4 declares a session expired. 

  1. Head out to Admin -> Data Streams and select the stream you want to configure. 
  2. Click Tagging Options below Additional Settings. 
  3. Click on More Tagging Settings and Adjust Session Timeout.
  4. Adjust your timer according to your business needs. 
  5. Adjust the timer for Engaged Sessions by selecting the number of seconds it would take for GA4 to consider a session ‘engaged’. 
  6. Hit the Save button and you’re done. 
Growth Savvy adjust session timeout engaged session ga4

 7. Adjust Time-Zone & Currency 

As you very well know, Google does not take into account your users’ time zones, but instead, the time zone you configured your property around. This particular setup is often forgotten during the GA4 initial setup. 

It’s important to note that although, as opposed to Universal Analytics, GA4 does not consider a session expired at midnight, it still counts it separately for each day. Hence, the right time zone setup is crucial for your data accuracy – especially if you run an international business.

And while we’re on this chapter, go ahead and verify the currency setup as well. You don’t want to have the wrong currency in your reports, do you? 

To verify and modify the Time Zone for your GA4 property:

  • start by going to Admin
  • Property Settings
  •  Under Property Details choose the time zone you want. 

Finally, you can use the same tab to change your GA4’s currency settings (set to US Dollar by default). 

Growth Savvy adjust time zone and currency ga4

8.  Best Practices for Naming Events

As per Google’s definition, events measure user interaction. And while there are 

four types of them in GA4, Custom events are what interest us here. These are the events that you define when no other existing events fit. 

As you begin to set up parallel tracking between your UA property and GA4, mapping out the old event structure so you can reproduce it in the new one will be a challenge. 

Let’s say your GA3 tracking included an event with the following setup:

  • Event Category: Webinar Registration
  • Event Action: Form Submit
  • Eventl Label: Hero Button

Well, in GA4, the Event Category, Event Action, and Event Label dimensions are gone. Instead you’ll have just one event name, which is also a dimension. So, you’ll now have one dimension instead of three accompanied by up to 25 parameters. Parameters are additional information that describes the event. 

Back to mapping the old GA3 event to the new GA4 structure… 


A good starting point is to name your GA4 events either by your old Event Category or Event Action. 

Your parameters will then be your Event Label

So, as per the example above, we’d have:

  • Event name examples:
    • webinar_form_submit [we combined the names from the former Event Category and Action]. 
  • Event parameters examples: 
    • button_type  – this parameter gets values from various button types on your website, and it’s the equivalent of your former “Event Label”. Some value examples: “Hero Button”/ “Popup Button” / “Footer Button” etc.

Important:

  • The best practice when it comes to actually naming events is to always use lowercase letters and to separate events that have two or more words in them using an underscore ( _ ). 
  • You can configure up to 500 event names for each of your GA4 properties. Be careful how you pick them because once you reach your limit, deleting old events to make room for new ones is not an option. 
  • You won’t see these events in most standard reports. You’ll need to set up custom reports or explorations to analyze them. 
  • You won’t see any parameters in your events (although you will be able to create segments based on them). To use the parameters, you will need to create Custom Dimensions based on them.

9. Mark Events as Conversions

Here’s the key takeaway for GA4 – it’s an event-based analytics tool. 

Everything is an event now – from page views and all the way to purchases. 

In Universal Analytics we had something called Google Analytics Goal. In GA4, that’s all gone – and conversions are your new “goals”. 

And it’s not just the name that’s changed. In Universal Analytics, a goal was counted once per session. So, if a visitor completed the same goal multiple times during a session, it would have still been counted only once. 

GA4 is smarter and can track conversions every time they occur. 

Now let’s see how to configure your goals conversions in GA4. 

Since any event can be marked as a conversion, we’ll start this off by showing you how to set up conversion tracking for events that you’re already tracking. 

  • Start by clicking Configure in your GA4 property. 
  • Next, click on the Events tab. 
  • Once you’ll do that, you’ll see a list of all the events your track with a toggle switch available alongside each of them. All you have to do to mark an event as a conversion is to flip the switch on. 

That’s as easy as it gets. 

10. Enable Site Search tracking to know what users are writing in the internal search box

If your website features a search bar, then knowing what your visitors type there can be one of the most valuable pieces of information for helping you build a better website. 

Now, GA4 is more than capable of automatically tracking certain interactions (e.g. file downloads, outbound link clicks, and even site search). However, if you want to see the data from your site search in your GA4 reports, just enabling Site Search may not be enough. 

Here are the steps you need to follow if you wish to feast your eyes on that information. 

Before anything else, you need to make sure that Site Search is enabled. To do that, go to the Admin section of your GA4 account, click Data Streams and select the stream for which you want to set up Site Search tracking.

From the following screen, click on the settings wheel from the bottom right corner of your screen. 

[Growth Savvy GA4 internal search]

Look for the Site Search feature on the next overlay that will appear. If the feature is turned off, click the toggle to enable it. 

You’re not off the hook yet. 

Site search only works on default query parameters defined by Google. By default, the search event is triggered in the presence of one of the following five URL parameters: q, s, search, query, keyword. 

But what if your website uses other parameters than the default ones in its URL? Worry not, we’ll show you how to configure a custom parameter to fire that event in the steps below. 

We’ll pick this up from where we left it last – that’s on the Enhanced Measurements overlay screen (see below). 

10 Must-Have GA4 Setups to Enhance Data Accuracy

Click on Show advanced settings. As the advanced settings panel will open up, add in the custom query parameter that appears in the URL when someone searches on your website, in the Additional Query Parameter box. Click Save and you’re done.  

[Growth Savvy ga4 site search]

Final Thoughts 

By now, you should have a pretty good idea of all the ways GA4 outperforms the previous generation model. Yes, the transition is going to take some time and effort – but in the end, it will all be worth it. 

By not postponing it to the last moment, you can make sure you won’t be affected by a blackout period during your transition. Not only that, but you’ll also reap the benefits of having months of historical data on your new GA4 platform. 

Plus, if your competitors are yet to have made the switch, you could gain a competitive advantage over them by leveraging the advanced functionalities and insights made available through GA4. 

If you want to take the burden of migrating from Universal Analytics (UA) to Google Analytics 4 (GA4) off your chest and enjoy a stress-free process, book a free consultation call and let’s see how we can help make this happen. 

Author

  • Magda Baciu

    Forbes 30 under 30. Data Science at Oxford. Head of a fast-growing agency and the person who’ll make your data make sense. Magda combines psychology, behavioral marketing and deep data expertise to create the right growth strategy for your business. (And she likes pandas. A lot.)

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