What are events in Google Analytics 4?
GA4 is all based on events. In Universal Analytics, events existed, but only as a type of hit, which was a subset of sessions, which was a subset of users. Basically, UA recorded a user coming to your site and starting a session, it then recorded the actions that user took during that session which is recorded as hits. Then if you had decided to track anything else that user did that wasn’t already included as a hit in GA, you could create an event to track it.
Now in GA4, all actions are simply events.
If you watched our video about the benefits of Google Analytics 4 vs Universal Analytics, you will have noticed that benefit number 2 discussed how everything in GA4 is now an event. With that in mind, it's super important to understand what they actually are so you can successful transition to GA4 before Universal Analytics is sunset next year.
In the episode of Funnel Tips, Alex breaks down the following:
- Hits in UA vs Events in GA4
- Different types of events in GA4
- Event parameters
- Event best practices
Hits in UA vs Events in GA4
If you never worked with Universal Analytics, you can skip this part, no need to confuse yourself with the old way of doing things. But if you're used to working in Universal Analytics, I'll explain the difference.
Events existed, but only as a type of hit, which was a subset of sessions, which was a subset of users. Basically, UA recorded a user coming to your site and starting a session, it then recorded the actions the user took during that session which were recorded as hits. Then if you had decided to track anything else the user did that wasn’t already included as a hit in GA, you could create an event to track it.
Now imagine all of that is now events and that there are some events built into GA4 and some events you need to create as custom. This is much much easier to wrap your head around. Now, whatever you want to track on your website, whether it is how many times someone clicks on your pricing page, or how much of your blog they actually scroll through, it is an event.
What are the types of events in GA4?
Automatically collected events
Basic pre-defined events that most businesses will want to track on their website including:
First_visit, Session_start and user engagement
As the name suggests, these events are automatically collected and don’t require any setup in Google Tag Manager.
Enhanced Measurement events
They enable marketers to capture even more web behaviour data without the need for technical help which again means there is no requirement to set these events up in Google Tag Manager.
They include: Page view, Scroll, Outbound link click, Site search, Video Engagement and File Download
They do require code on your site to pick up the events which can most easily be implemented in Google Tag Manager. But they are slightly different from custom events because Google has already done some of the thinking for you. As you can imagine the list of recommended events includes quite a few but they mainly include: purchase, a user completes a purchase, refund and search. Here is a link to the full list.
This is where the real potential of GA4 comes alive. Custom events are very similar to recommended events, but essentially you can create any data point that you want.
Let’s say you already have scroll being collected as an enhanced measurement, scroll by default is when someone scrolls to 90% of the page. But let’s say you want to have data available on when website visitors scroll 25, 50 and 75% of your page. You would need to set up the event in Google Tag Manager and then receive it in GA4. I will note here that there are some best practices you should follow, but I’ll touch on them in the next section.
Ok, so this is actually the point in the video where I need to explain parameters. Don’t skip it, because it actually is important for understanding the potential of events in GA4 and how to think about them.
Simply, parameters are other pieces of information that are collected with an event.
Parameters collect extra information that can be used when we get to analysis. It is important to know that all automatic events already collect a set of standard parameters. Google has a nice easy table for you here.
With that said, you can also add custom parameters to automatic and enhanced measurement events. Then you have recommended and custom events, which also have standard parameters but you can obviously add your own custom parameters too.
Lastly on parameters, in order to actually use the information collected in events and parameters you will need to create them as custom dimensions or custom metrics. Otherwise you can see parameters in the Events: Event Name section within the engagement section of reports, but you won’t even see them in the explore section. And the explores is where you will be able to make the most of your custom parameters.
Event best practices
1. Use snake casing
If you’re not familiar is just replacing each space with an underscore, and the first letter of each word is written in lowercase. The reason you should do this is because auto & enhanced events are already using it, so it’s cleanest to continue.
2. Plan ahead
I’ve already talked about parameters, but ask yourself the following questions to figure out what to include
Which scope do they have: User, Event (and later: Session & Item)
Is it a numeric value where calculations would make sense? Make it a metric!
Involve your colleagues! Other departments might have some input - especially given that this data is likely leaving GA at some point and being piped into your data hub.
3. Think privacy first
What I mean here is to think about whether a particular data point could possibly be considered personal data, a good example here would be collecting the string of a free text field in a form like first and last name.
4. Don’t clutter your GA4
I get it, new possibilities bring tons of excitement, but just because you can track something, doesn’t mean you should. Try and ascertain if it is actually useful for you and your business. Start small and clean, then build from there.
5. Don’t just set it and forget it
Remember, even though GA4 is taking over, it is technically still in BETA and changes are constantly being made, so conduct regular health checks to ensure events are still firing as they should and sending the correct data.
That’s it for events, you should be clued up enough on events to understand them and start exploring or implementing them by yourself.