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4 Basic Tips on How to Set Up GA4, Including Key Events

March 5th, 2024 | 5 min. read

By Kim Kovelle

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If you’re like many small- to mid-sized companies just starting your marketing, odds are good you have Google Analytics, or GA4, linked to your website. But ... are you using it?

If not, don’t worry — you’re not alone! It’s common for businesses at Zoe Marketing & Communications. “About 95% of our clients have GA4 set up, but just the basics,” says marketing analyst Carlos Figuera. “Usually, their web developer set it up; from there, they may only glance at it.” That means there could be some key pieces or steps missing.

Luckily, this is fixable. In this blog, we’ll explain why GA4 matters — and cover four key tips:

  1. Keep your account access clean
  2. Make sure your data is flowing
  3. Expand your data retention — immediately
  4. Focus on key “events” to best track your data

While these tips are geared toward Zoe clients, they’ll help any company that wants to ensure its GA4 is humming and operating smoothly.

What does GA4 do, anyway?

Google Analytics offers insights into who visits your site, how they found you, and what they did once they arrived. “Without having GA4 set up, you are blind,” Figuera says. “You don’t know what people are doing on your site and the things they’re engaging the most with.”

GA4 measures traffic and engagement on your website, including how your marketing efforts are working. It helps ensure you’re spending your marketing dollars strategically.

4 basic tips for setting up your GA4

This blog assumes you already have your GA4 account activated and connected to your website — which is true for most of Zoe’s clients. We’ll cover key points about account access, data connection, data retention and “events” to set up.

1. Keep your account access clean

Be selective about who has access to your GA4 — or, if you’re not sure who does, check and tidy up. This is important for security and continuity as team members come and go.

In your GA4 home dashboard, click “Admin” gear (⚙️) icon in the bottom left corner; then, in the first white “Account” box, click “Account access management.” You'll get these options:

GA4 Role Selection Screen

You can assign any person as:

  • Administrator: Has complete control and can add/remove users and restrict data
  • Editor: Similar to Administrator, but can’t manage user access
  • Marketer: Limited to managing audiences, conversions and events
  • Analyst: Limited to creating and editing shared assets like dashboards
  • Viewer: Can only see data and configuration settings

“Use Administrator sparingly for trusted team members and your web developer — and have at least two of them, just in case,” Figuera says. “If you’re working with an agency, Analyst or Viewer access is typically suitable — unless they manage your account.”

2. Make sure your data is flowing

Again, most businesses that contact Zoe have already synced their GA4 to their website. Web developers often handle this step, or the companies have done it themselves.

Still, it’s worth looking closer to ensure it’s operating smoothly. First, a refresher: To sync your GA and website, click the “Admin” gear (⚙️) icon in the bottom left corner; then: 

  • In the white box titled “Data collection and modification,” click “Data streams.”
  • Click the stream for your website (again, we’re assuming this is already set up).
  • In the white box called “Google Tag,” click on “View tag instructions.”
    GA4 Google Tag
  • Select your CMS (Wordpress, Squarespace, Wix, etc.) and follow the prompts.
    GA4 View Tag Instructions

To ensure the data is flowing correctly, try these two methods:

  1. Check activity: On your home dashboard, from the left-hand column, click “Reports,” then “Realtime.” You should see activity popping up, such as page views or events.
  2. Create activity: If you do not see any activity, try viewing a page yourself. Then, check back in the “Realtime” section (see step 1) and look for that activity to appear.
    GA4 Realtime Report

“Realtime data appears shortly after you’ve synced your site with GA,” Figuera says. “There can be a delay of a few minutes. If it’s longer than 10 minutes, double-check your connection.”

3. Expand your data retention — immediately

Did you know that GA4 keeps only two months of data by default? “That makes tracking trends over time really difficult,” Figuera says. Luckily, there’s an easy fix to increase your data retention to 14 months, which is the other (and better!) option.

“It’s not super obvious, and sometimes businesses miss it,” Figuera adds, “but it’s super easy.”

  • On your GA4 home dashboard, click the “Admin” icon gear (⚙️) at the bottom left.
  • In the white box titled “Data collection and modification,” click “Data retention” (it has a magnet logo in front of it).
  • For both “Event data” and “User data,” change the timespan from 2 months to 14 months. Apply your changes.
    GA4 User Data Retention

4. Focus on key ‘events’ to best track your data

Very simply put, “An event is any action that a user takes on your website,” Figuera says. They range from clicking a link to watching a video to submitting a form. Events explain: 

  • How users engage with your site
  • Which pages capture users’ attention
  • The actions users perform

To view your active events data, on your GA4 home dashboard, in the left column, you’ll click “Reports,” then “Engagement,” and then “Events: Event name.”

GA4 Event Location

This data helps optimize your website and tailor content to meet your audience’s needs. So — which events matter? Let’s look at “default,” “enhanced” and “recommended” events.

Default events

For starters, here’s what GA tracks automatically. You can’t turn these off. They’re essential.

  • First visit: The first time a user visits your site (crucial for calculating new user metrics)
  • Page views: Every page visit (provides insight into your most-viewed content)
  • Session start: The start of a user’s session (it resets after 30 minutes of inactivity)
  • User engagement: A user is actively engaged with your site for at least 10 seconds

“Often, I find out that people only have basic events set up,” Figuera notes. “Most of the time, they don’t really know what events are active.” That leads to the next type.

Enhanced events

Enhanced events are the next level. Most are optional — so you’ll need to turn them on manually. To find them:

  1. On your GA4 home dashboard, click the “Admin” icon gear (⚙️) at the bottom left
  2. In the white box titled “Data collection and modification,” click “Data Streams”
  3. Click on your website data stream
  4. Scroll to “Events”; under “Enhanced measurement,” click the “configure” gear (⚙️) icon
    GA4 Enhanced Measurement
  5. Toggle on the extra events you want to track

Which enhanced events should you turn on? Consider:

  • Scrolls: Use only if you don’t have “infinite scroll” on your blogs/pages. It tracks when a user scrolls through at least 90% of a webpage (i.e., high engagement).
  • Outbound clicks: If you’re linking to other sites in your blogs, this helps track them.
  • Site search: This captures the keywords entered into your site’s search function. It helps you understand what people want at a more granular level.
  • Form interactions: A great option for most businesses. It monitors when users start and finish filling out a form. This is a key conversion metric.
  • Video engagement: If you have embedded videos on your site and want to track play and pause options, for instance, this is useful.
  • File downloads: If you offer downloadable resources (e.g. PDFs, ebooks), tracking these downloads can show how valuable users find them.

Recommended events

You can track hundreds of events in GA4. However, “Most businesses only need a few additional events set up to get going,” Figuera says.

Google has a list of recommended events, including 14 for all businesses. Of these, “Generate lead” can be handy; it tracks when someone submits a form or request for information.

For more details, see GA4’s guide to creating and modifying events.

Next steps for tracking your business’ website data

GA4 is a data powerhouse, but for the average business owner, it can also be overwhelming. In this blog, we covered four key areas to improve your GA4.

This included account access, data connection, data retention and a few event basics.

Looking for a marketing partner to help you? Talk to us. Zoe Marketing & Communications works with our clients to track results in GA4 with custom events and detailed reporting.

Still getting your bearings on all this data? Here are some great next steps:

Kim Kovelle

As Zoe Marketing & Communications’ content manager, Kim Kovelle brings nearly 20 years of writing and editing experience in metro Detroit. She has strong roots in community journalism and a knack for making complicated topics make more sense.