Conversion tracking isn’t just nice to have, it’s an essential part of digital marketing and mastering it can make all the difference. Tracking Google Analytics conversions will help you measure the ROI of marketing channels and campaigns, understand landing page and app performance, and identify your best customer segments. It’s all really important stuff that’s vital for delivering successful marketing campaigns and optimization.
In this guide to GA4 conversion tracking, learn how tracking has evolved over the years, especially in 2023 when Google pulled the plug on Universal Analytics. Follow a step by step guide to setting up Google Analytics conversions and discover ways to boost your analytics data with the use of first party data and Feed Analytics.
- Conversion tracking in GA4 is a way of measuring key actions that take place on a website or app, which are known as events.
- Any action or engagement made by a user can be marked as a conversion, which is more advanced when compared to goal-based tracking in Universal Analytics.
- Follow the steps involved in setting up a conversion event in GA4, whether it’s an automatically collected event, an event that Google recommends setting up, or custom events based on what you need to track.
- Leveraging first-party data in GA4 to get greater understanding of user behavior, enhance the optimization of marketing campaigns and better personalize user experiences.
- Understand the limitations to GA4 conversion tracking, from anonymized data to the 90 day attribution window in GA4, to then discover ways to overcome these limitations.
What is Google Analytics 4 conversion tracking?
What are conversions in Google Analytics and what is GA4 conversion tracking? Google Analytics conversion tracking is a way of measuring key actions that take place on a website or app, which usually involve users converting into customers or leads.
For example, a conversion for ecommerce analytics is typically when a transaction takes place on the website or app, however, other actions such as adding to cart, subscribing to a mailing list or downloading a brochure could also be counted as conversions.
For lead generation, the conversion will most likely be when a user fills out a form and submits their contact details in some capacity, along with interest in a service or product. This could be to request a callback or consultation, or to book a demo.
Conversions can vary from business to business and there isn’t a set rule for everyone in terms of what should be marked as a conversion. The important thing is to track the desired action that you want users to take.
How does Google Analytics conversion tracking work?
Any action or engagement made by a user on a website or app can be tracked as a conversion. This works by first setting up events for these actions and engagements, which will be recorded in GA4.
For example, actions and engagements could include page views, scrolls, video views, viewing products, searching on the site, adding to cart, initiating checkout, filling out forms, transactions. Any action that a user can take on your website can technically be set up as an event.
Once an event has been set up, the next step is to label the most valuable events as conversions, which will separate them from regular events. Some refer to the most valuable events as macro-conversions, which are primary business goals. In contrast to this micro-conversions are less valuable actions that could lead to macro-conversions later on, such as subscribing to the newsletter or ordering a sample.
How is GA4 conversion tracking different from Universal Analytics?
GA4 fully replaced Universal Analytics in July 2023 and with that webmasters, analytics pros and marketers were faced with change. The basic principle of Google Analytics remained the same, with both platforms providing insights into user behavior.
The main thing that has changed is the way in which conversions are now tracked in GA4, as these are now much more customer-centric and centered around user interactions with a website or app.
Conversions are now tracked as Events in Google Analytics 4
In GA4, each interaction between a user and your website can be tracked as an event. Following this, these events can be marked as conversions. This provides us with a really powerful and flexible way of tracking user interactions, especially in comparison to Universal Analytics.
In the following screenshot, out of all of the events that are being tracked only one has been marked as a conversion, which is booking_confirmation, because this is the most valuable action a user can take on the website and the business wants to focus solely on this conversion event:
Depending on your business, it may be better to mark multiple events as conversions. For example, it’s best practice to track every way a user can contact the business, whether that’s a form submission, creating an account, registering or purchasing. Or perhaps you offer a number of different products or services and it’s beneficial and insightful to distinguish between these events:
In Universal Analytics, rather than being centered around events, conversions were triggered when a user on your website completed a goal. This was traditionally a destination-based goal, for example, when a user reaches a /thank-you or /order-complete page.
While destination goals are still an effective way to track conversions and it’s possible to set up events that track certain destinations in GA4, event tracking opens up even more possibilities.
It’s now possible - and often beneficial - to track more than one conversion event using GA4, which provides a greater level of insight into user behavior and website / app performance. Using this method you can even create a sequence of events that take place to really map out and understand a user journey.
GA4 conversion events are unlimited
A benefit of event tracking in GA4 and another way it differs from Universal Analytics, is how there’s no limit to the number of events that can be tracked. This is especially handy for large enterprises that have complex sales funnels or varying customer journeys who want to track and measure everything.
Universal Analytics only allowed up to 20 conversion goals per Analytics view, meaning there was a limit to how much could be tracked. This used to be a challenge for larger organizations.
Universal Analytics only allowed conversions with 1 condition
A final way in which UA differs from GA4 is how with Universal Analytics, it was only possible to set up a conversion goal using one condition. UA goals were based off of one of the following:
- Session duration
- Pageviews / screens per session
For example if a user reaches a certain thank-you page or if they spend a certain amount of time on your site, these conditions could then trigger a conversion.
Whereas GA4 allows you to use multiple conditions to set up GA4 conversion events, meaning they can be customized to your specific needs and more accurately reflect a desired action.
In the screenshot below, the type of customer for an online marketplace has been separated out with two conversion events, one for buyers (people interested in buying products) and one for sellers (people interested in selling products). Both types of conversion events are important, however the value of each type of conversion differs, so separating them out provides more accuracy when reporting:
Another example is if a user lands on your website via a generic Google Shopping campaign and makes a purchase, a conversion event can be set up based on both of these conditions. If they landed via a branded Google Ads campaign, a separate conversion event can be set up. Or if a user reaches a certain page and they spend a certain amount of time on your website, a conversion event can be created using both of these conditions.
How to set up conversions in Google Analytics 4
Let’s walk through the steps that are involved in setting up Google Analytics conversions in GA4. The way to do this varies slightly depending on what you need to track.
First things first, there are three different types of events in GA4 and it’s good to understand the difference between them all, which will help you determine how best to set up your conversions.
- Automatically collected events are already set up in GA4 and there’s nothing else you need to do, other than mark them as a conversion event. These events include things like page_view, form_submit, user_engagement and video_complete.
- Recommended events are events that Google suggests setting up manually and they are typically important for ecommerce businesses. These might include actions such as purchase, sign_up, and generate_lead. Recommended events are generally a good fit for a lot of businesses, however there’s more...
- Custom events are the third and final type of event in GA4 that can be set up and \ marked as a conversion. Custom events are essentially anything else you wish to track as an event and this is where you can really tailor your event and conversion tracking so that it’s right for your business.
If the events you would like to track as Google Analytics conversions are already set up as automatically collected events, then skip to Step 2. Otherwise, follow Step 1 to discover how to set up an event in GA4.
Step 1: Create a new event in GA4
To set up a recommended or custom event in GA4, here are the steps. Firstly, head over to Admin and under the ‘Data display’ section, click on ‘Events’.
Click on ‘New event’ and give the new event a descriptive name.
It’s best practice to keep the naming of events and conversions consistent and ensure they are easily distinguishable and recognisable to all stakeholders.
Event names can only include letters, numbers, and underscores, for example ‘form_submit_contact_page’.
Next, specify the ‘Matching conditions’, which determines when the event will be triggered.
There are a number of parameters to choose from when choosing the matching conditions and it’s possible to use more than one, such as content_id, item_id, page_title, transaction_id, etc.
The above screenshot is using a page_title parameter and the value is any page that contains ‘Thanks for signing up’. Once you are happy with your event parameter, click create.
It’s also possible to create custom event parameters as well, if what you would like to use to trigger your event isn’t included as a default parameter. Read our full guide to GA4 event parameters to learn how to set up a custom event parameter.
To ensure your new GA4 event has been set up correctly and it’s triggered at the right time, use the debug view in the Admin section of GA4.
Step 2: Mark your event as a conversion
The second step involved in setting up Google Analytics conversions in GA4 is to mark the events that are intended as conversion actions as conversions. To do this, navigate back to the ‘Events’ section in ‘Admin’.
It can take up to 24 hours for a new event to show up and start recording data, so if you can’t see the event yet and it’s just been created, check back in 24 hours.
Find the event you would like to mark as a conversion and toggle the ‘Mark as conversion’ button on the right.
The event will now show up as a conversion event under Conversions in GA4 admin, as well as in GA4 conversions reports.
Track conversions with first-party attribution
Google Analytics 4 is a powerful analytics platform and it can be made to be even more useful because it uses first-party data.
First-party data is data that is collected in relation to your customers, whether it’s through the website, marketing campaigns or social channels. It comes with numerous advantages since it’s collected directly from a website or app, giving it the ability to be highly accurate and reliable, typically including email subscriptions as well as historic lead and customer data.
Leveraging this data in GA4 provides greater understanding of audience behavior, paves the way for better optimization of marketing campaigns, and helps businesses to personalize user experiences. Using data-driven attribution and customer modeling, GA4 is able to give credit to marketing channels and campaigns more accurately.
Google Analytics 4 first-party data is collected automatically, as long as each individual user has opted-in and given consent for Google to track this information.
3 limitations to GA4 conversion tracking
Even though GA4 is a really effective tool that’s used by more than 90% of businesses as their analytics platform, there are a number of limitations.
1. Google Analytics data is anonymized
Although Google Analytics 4 collects and uses first-party data as users browse and interact with websites and apps, this data is anonymized. This is understandably done for privacy reasons and it’s to protect users from being exploited.
However, not being able to track personally identifiable information means it’s hard to get a clear picture of leads and customers. The main challenge is not being able to establish where the higher quality leads and customers come from, and the impact each marketing channel is having on the overall pipeline generation and customer journey.
For example, a retailer may be able to track how many high-value purchases were made last month and the revenue generated from this customer segment. However, it’s not possible to identify who they are, what marketing campaigns they had been exposed to and the interactions they had with the business prior to converting.
It could be that they all had contact with a sales professional who was able to upsell. Or perhaps they are past purchasers from the previous year. This level of insight isn’t available in GA4 due to data being anonymized.
2. The attribution window in GA4
Another limitation to GA4 is the maximum attribution window, which is 90 days for events. This means that if a user interacts with the website, then the events that are triggered during a 90 day period can be attributed to the same user.
However, if a user first interacts with the business in January and they end up returning to the website or app in May and converting, then this journey will not be joined together in GA4. Practically speaking, this is a limitation because the marketing channel that first introduced the user to the website in January will not get any credit.
Although this shouldn’t be an issue for businesses that have a short conversion path meaning the customer journey from first interaction to last interaction is less than 90 days, it does mean that those with longer paths to purchase or long sales funnels can miss out on important and insightful data.
In an ideal world, all touchpoints associated with the most valuable customers, regardless of when they happened, would be tracked.
3. Limited offline conversion tracking
GA4 thrives when it comes to tracking digital activity on websites and apps, however a third limitation of Google Analytics is its inability to track offline conversions. This could include phone call tracking, which isn’t possible without the use of another third-party tool, and in-store conversions.
This is only an issue if your business relies on inbound or outbound calls as part of the sales funnel. For businesses that are purely ecommerce, or if the primary goal is to generate form submissions, then this shouldn’t have much of an impact.
Enhance conversion tracking with Feed Analytics
Feed Analytics is another way to enhance the accuracy of your analytics and reporting and it can be a way of mitigating some of the limitations mentioned in the previous section. In particular, Feed Analytics is designed for ecommerce businesses that want to get more insight out of their data analytics, which can then lead to better optimization and performance.
Here are five ways in which Feed Analytics can enhance your data:
Compare ad platform data with GA4
By comparing your ad platform performance to Google Analytic conversions, Feed Analytics can more accurately report on ROAS and give each channel the right amount of credit. This is especially helpful for businesses that see discrepancies between various online platforms, a common issue in digital advertising.
Optimized spending on each channel
Understanding how each channel performs can then lead to more robust optimization of your spending between each channel. This can be based on the actual revenue that each channel brings to the table, instead of relying on one source of truth.
Accurately allocate all revenue
In cases where revenue is categorized as ‘other’ in GA4, and previously in UA, Feed Analytics is able to identify and allocate this revenue to the correct channel. Ecommerce businesses that have long sales funnels are most likely to encounter this issue, so it’s a good way of overcoming it.
Anticipate the point of diminishing returns
Another way Feed Analytics can improve performance is by anticipating the point of diminishing returns. Getting clarity on diminishing returns can then help you to find an optimal point of spending, which means budgets are spent more efficiently.
Blend historical data with your new GA4 account
Finally, Feed Analytics can help you to blend historical data with your new GA4 account. This is great for businesses that are faced with gaps in their data due to transitioning over to GA4.
The transition to GA4 has been a game-changer for Google Analytics conversions, presenting businesses with even more possibilities in the way of what can be tracked as a conversion. Learning how to track conversions in Google Analytics by setting up events is a valuable skill and being able to do it effectively will only enrich your analytics data.
Not only does this help you measure the ROI of each marketing channel and campaign, it also provides greater understanding of landing page and app performance, as well as discovering who your best customer segments are.
To dive deeper into the world of Google Analytics, read our Google Analytics 101 Guide on how it should be set up for ecommerce success. Or learn how to take your conversion reporting one step further by measuring gross profit instead of just revenue by adding the metric Cost of Goods Sold.