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SEO 20 min read

GA4 Best Practices: An Expert’s Guide to GA4 Migration

Sarah Edwards photo

Written by Sarah Edwards

Content Writer @ Galactic Fed

Dallin Porter photo

Expert reviewed by Dallin Porter

Marketing Director @ Galactic Fed

Published 20 Dec 2023

Launched in late 2020, Google Analytics 4 (GA4) represents the next generation of Google Analytics search engine optimization (SEO) technology, which gathers event-based data from apps and websites to provide analytics for SEO efforts. Despite being Google’s latest and greatest analytics tool, many brands are still accustomed to Universal Analytics (UA), GA4’s direct predecessor. Be that as it may, UA approached its end of life, which forced companies to migrate to GA4. We have compiled a variety of GA4 best practices that are sure to help you make the most out of this next-gen analytics tool.

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What Is Google Analytics 4?

Before we dive deep into some actionable GA4 best practices, it’s important to recap what a Google Analytics event is.

Google Analytics, in SEO settings, is incredibly valuable for tracking your site’s performance, monitoring consumer trends, and getting noticed in the crowded digital ecosystem. Providing insights into SEO, Google Analytics can identify top sources of traffic, measure the impact of paid marketing campaigns, track progress toward your goals, and so much more. If you need to run an SEO report, Google Analytics has you covered, and it will also provide you with every tool you seek for analyzing your paid marketing campaigns.

GA4, in particular, is jam-packed with features and the usual SEO tracking Google Analytics tools designed to help you better understand your site and audience that truly make it the best analytics solution for monitoring site traffic via Google; most importantly, it’s all totally free.

GA4 vs. Universal Analytics 

There are several key differences between GA4 and Universal Analytics. For starters, UA only offered two user metrics — Total Users and New Users — while in GA4, you’ll have access to those two plus a third user metric: Active Users.

The Conversions function of GA4 is much different from that of its predecessor as well. In UA, you would simply need to define a goal for the platform to count a user action as a conversion. For instance, if your stated goal was “Form Submit,” UA would register each submitted form as a conversion. For GA4, you’ll need to specify a conversion event, which allows you to be more specific regarding what is tracked as a conversion, but if a user submits a form twice during one session, it could be logged as two separate conversions.

In terms of similarities, Pageviews and Purchases should be nearly identical across both analytics platforms, but otherwise, GA4 provides more robust and granular data along with every other key metric.

Understanding the Deadlines Surrounding the Sunset of UA

While GA4 has been around for three years now, many businesses around the world still choose to cling to its predecessor, Universal Analytics. According to 2023 usage statistics, out of 38 million websites that use Google Analytics (both UA and GA4), only 13.5 million use GA4 exclusively.

However, with UA’s end of life rapidly approaching, businesses can no longer put off their migrations. UA properties already stopped processing data on July 1st, 2023, and by that date in 2024, Google will begin deleting all remaining UA data and disconnecting any remaining APIs.

Unless you opt out, Google will automatically create a new GA4 property for you, but you’ll still have to manually transition from UA to GA4-based tracking. If you do choose to opt out, you’ll have to create the GA4 property before migrating.

3 Ways to Get Started With Google Analytics 4

Using Google Analytics for SEO is vital, especially in today’s digital-first consumer ecosystem. Thankfully, even if you’re new to the platform and website performance monitoring, there’s no need to worry. For tracking SEO, Google Analytics is easier to get up and running than you might expect.

Here are the three steps to follow to set up GA4 to gain analytics for SEO:

  1. Set Up a New Account

To get started, first create an Analytics account by providing an account name and configuring the data-sharing settings to control what you share with Google. Click “Next,” and then start adding properties (websites or apps you want to track) to your account. You’ll need a separate property for each asset you want to track with GA4. 

Continue to follow the on-screen prompts to provide basic information, like your industry category, business size, and intended use for GA4 data. Click “Create” and add a data stream to start collecting data.

  1. Add GA4 to a Site With UA

Adding GA4 to a site that already features UA integration is quick and easy, as the platform’s Setup Assistant will automatically add a GA4 property that mirrors your existing UA property. Just make sure to give the GA4 property a once-over to guarantee that all the specifics are accurate. If you don’t need to make any changes, you are ready to start viewing reports based on your historical data.

You can toggle back and forth between both properties using the “Property Selector” tab in the Admin menu should you ever need to view old UA data, but that data will be gone as of July 1st, 2024. Thankfully, the GA4 Setup Assistant we mentioned can help you bring your old data over. When you are ready to do so, click “Setup Assistant,” then “Set up Conversions.” Finally, click “Actions” and then “Import from Universal Analytics.”

  1. Add GA4 to Your CMS or Website Builder

If you’re using a content management system (CMS) or hosted web platform like Drupal, Squarespace, WordPress, or Shopify, you can use GA4 to track your traffic and peer into the minds of your target audience members. All you need to do is add a Google tag ID to your CMS account, and you’ll be ready to start gathering SEO data from Google searches.

Keep in mind, though, that the specific steps for adding your Google tag ID will vary depending on which hosted web platform you use, so if you aren’t sure where to begin, connect with your CMS provider’s support team.

The Importance of Using Google Analytics for SEO

The last thing to discuss before getting into our GA4 best practices is the “why” behind using the platform. In other words, you need to understand the benefits of putting GA4 front and center in your SEO strategy.

In addition to helping you optimize your web presence and climb the rankings, GA4 is useful for all of the following tasks:

  1. Understanding User Behavior

According to McKinsey & Company, 76% of consumers state that receiving personalized communications plays a major role in deciding whether to make a purchase.

The bottom line is that today’s consumers crave personalization; they want you to curate your organic and paid content to make it feel like it was made just for them, and in order to deliver on that front, you must first understand them and their preferences.

GA4 provides granular insights that help you examine customer behavior, including when they are viewing your site and its content, how they are reaching it, and the types of devices they are using to do so.

  1. Obtaining Keyword Insights 

Although Google has limited the visibility of organic keywords in GA4, you can still use them in conjunction with the Google Search Console (GSC) to get a clear picture of the phrases that are driving traffic to your site. Understanding which keywords are most effective can help you tailor your content and meta tags to rank higher for those terms.

Keyword data isn’t just useful for SEO, though; paid ads benefit from it, too. By combining information from the GSC, Google Ads, and GA4, you can get a better understanding of what phrases are trending among your target audience and then craft complementary campaigns that target keywords using both paid and organic strategies.

  1. Assessing Traffic Sources

Getting substantial site traffic is nice, of course, but knowing where it is coming from is vital to the long-term growth of your business. To that end, GA4 breaks down your traffic sources, allowing you to see whether your visitors are coming from organic searches, direct links, social media, or referral sites. That information will help you understand which channels are most effective for your SEO tactics and where you should allocate your efforts and resources.

Taking a good look at your traffic is also essential for keeping you and your marketing team focused. Attempting to use every channel available can overstretch your team, leaving you with a cobbled-together and ineffective SEO strategy, but GA4 data helps you continuously optimize your campaigns based on up-to-the-minute insights.

  1. Comparing Mobile and Web Performance

With mobile traffic now surpassing that of desktop computers, it’s crucial that your business optimizes its site for mobile users, and once you’ve done so, you’ll need to continuously fine-tune it to provide mobile users with the best experience possible. GA4 provides detailed reports on mobile usage, helping you understand how mobile users interact with your site and highlighting which adjustments are moving the needle in terms of its performance.

  1. Content Optimization

Although the digital marketing ecosystem is more complex than ever before, content is still king. With GA4, you can pinpoint which pages keep users engaged and which ones are seeing the most users click away, and by using that data, you can optimize your content strategy, focusing on topics that interest your audience and ensuring your site remains relevant and engaging.

For instance, let’s say that your last few guides have brought in the lion’s share of organic site traffic, but your listicles have been underperforming in comparison. You can use that insight to restructure your content strategy, prioritizing your guides and tweaking your listicles (or taking a break from them altogether).

  1. Bounce Rate Analysis

One of the biggest upgrades provided by GA4 is the way in which it tracks bounce rates. With UA, a bounce rate was defined as the percentage of single-page sessions where users didn’t interact with your page. For example, if a user visited one of your landing pages, read over the content, but didn’t click on anything afterward, the session would count as a bounce. UA didn’t account for engagement that took the form of reading the website content or lingering on your page for several minutes.

Applying the same example to GA4’s bounce rate rules, the platform would count the visit as an “engaged session,” not a bounce, if the user stayed on your landing page for at least ten seconds. Additionally, when users view two or more pages or complete one conversion event, those sessions are also defined as “engaged.”

By helping you more effectively analyze bounce rates, GA4 empowers you to investigate and rectify issues that might be causing visitors to leave, such as poor content quality, slow loading times, or a lack of clear calls-to-action.

  1. Site Speed Insights

Site speed falls under the umbrella of technical SEO, which covers all of the behind-the-scenes elements that Google’s algorithm uses to rank your website. If your site is laggy, slow, or unresponsive, your ranking will suffer.

The good news is that GA4 provides reports on overall site speed, as well as individual page speeds, thereby allowing you to zero in on any specific pages that might be hurting your SEO performance. Faster loading times not only improve the user experience but also contribute to better search engine rankings.

  1. Monitoring Geographical Performance 

Understanding where your traffic comes from in a geographical sense can be incredibly beneficial for your local SEO strategy. If you are a local services provider, you won’t want to generate large volumes of traffic from communities you don’t service. Instead, you’ll need to ensure your traffic originates from the city or region in which you operate.

Google Analytics provides location-based data, allowing you to tailor your content and SEO strategies to specific regions or adapt to cultural nuances. You can also identify under-forming regions and tap into those underserved markets to fuel the growth of your brand.

SEO and Google Analytics — 7 Ways to Get Noticed With GA4

With all of the details taken care of, let’s get into your GA4 best practices. Below are seven ways you can use GA4 to stand out and get your site noticed!

Letters S E O in colorful 3D

  1. Event Tracking

If we had to pick a single feature about GA4 that we love most, it would most likely be its event-tracking capabilities. When compared to those of UA, GA4’s event tracking capabilities are far more flexible, customizable, and intuitive. You can track every interaction on your website as an “event,” providing richer insights into user behavior.

In addition, GA4 offers automatic event tracking for certain occurrences, including page views and clicks. It is a feature that will save you an abundance of time, as you’ll no longer have to implement custom rules to track basic SEO events.

Speaking of custom rules, GA4 also empowers you to define your own custom events so you can track specific interactions that are relevant to your SEO strategy. If you ever want to know how often users engage with your FAQ section, you can simply implement a custom event rule and start tracking.

After gathering event data, you can use various search parameters to understand your audience. For example, if you’re tracking file downloads, use parameters to identify which types of files your customers are downloading most often.

  1. Google Analytics SEO Reports 

Understanding user behavior is essential for SEO, and GA4 offers advanced tools to help you keep your finger on the pulse of your target audience, including the following:

  • User Engagement Metrics: Track metrics like engagement time and bounce rate to determine how efficiently your content retains users
  • Audience Segmentation: Split up audiences based on behavior, demographics, and more
  • Path Analysis: Track the paths that users take to arrive at your site

These are just a handful of the tools available on GA4, so we encourage you to experiment with all of the various reporting tools to make the most of your analytics data.

  1. Conversion Attribution in GA4

Conversion attribution helps you determine which touchpoints are driving sales, sign-ups, and other conversion events, and GA4’s approach to the practice is a game-changer for SEO.

For one, it offers an unlimited number of conversion events, whereas UA limited the number of conversion events you could track. Alongside that, the platform also includes built-in attribution models to help you understand how various channels contribute to conversions. You can use the model (or a combination of models) that best aligns with your customer’s journey and sales strategy.

GA4 even offers cross-platform tracking, a feature that effectively provides a holistic view of how SEO integrates with your other digital marketing efforts.

  1. SEO-Specific Data Interpretation

Gathering data is only the beginning; if you want to win at SEO, you need the means of interpreting the information you collect. In the past, businesses often had to supplement UA with third-party data reporting tools, and though you still have the option to do so in GA4, it is far less necessary.

GA4 includes a robust suite of tools for interpreting data through an SEO lens. Search Terms reports, for instance, help you understand which queries bring users to your site. You can reveal the intent and search habits of your audience, allowing you to refine your keyword strategy.

The platform also offers more in-depth page and screen metrics to highlight which content performs best. Using that data to guide your content strategy will ensure you are creating material that resonates with your ideal customer.

Additionally, if your site has its own search function, GA4 can track how often users engage with it, providing information that can reveal gaps in your content and provide direction for revamping your site.

  1. Integrating GA4 With Google Search Console

For a holistic SEO strategy, integrate GA4 with the Google Search Console. Once integrated, you can run Search Console reports within GA4, and those reports will connect the dots, demonstrating how organic search traffic contributes to your site’s performance metrics.

By combining data from GA4 and the GSC, you gain a better view of the user journey from search query to website interaction, and you can use that information to identify and remove points of friction that may lead to bounces and interfere with conversions.

  1. Leveraging Machine Learning in GA4 for SEO

Google is known for its commitment to innovation and willingness to push the limits of technology, and GA4 is no exception. The analytics platform is fully equipped with machine learning technology, which can offer predictive insights that are valuable for your SEO.

Make use of predictive metrics, like purchase probability or churn probability, to turn your site into an SEO powerhouse, and leverage the platform’s anomaly detection feature to identify unexpected fluctuations in traffic or user behavior, which can be indicative of shifts in consumer preferences.

  1. Making the Most of Real-Time Reporting

GA4 is constantly gathering website performance data, and its intuitive dashboard provides up-to-the-minute insights about your site, traffic, and customers. Perhaps more importantly, though, is that its real-time reporting functionalities can offer immediate information about the impact of your SEO changes. Whether you tweak your metadata or adjust technical aspects of your page to improve its load speed, GA4 will help you track the effects of those decisions.

SEO is, by all accounts, a long game, not a set-it-and-forget-it endeavor. Your site’s ranking is the culmination of a series of micro adjustments, each of which moves the needle slightly in your favor, and GA4 will help you see the big picture while simultaneously monitoring the ebbs and flows of your pages’ performance.

Get Noticed With GA4

Migrating to GA4 from UA is now not an option but a necessity. UA is no longer gathering data, leaving GA4 as the only native Google tool for tracking SEO performance, site traffic, and other relevant metrics about your website.

Fortunately, moving to GA4 is a breeze, as is putting these GA4 best practices to work for your brand. Start gathering data and use those real-time insights to guide your SEO and paid marketing strategies. Before you know it, you’ll be climbing the rankings and connecting with new customers at a meteoric pace!

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Sarah Edwards photo

Sarah Edwards

Content Writer @ Galactic Fed