This article is co-contributed by Analytics Consultant,  Andaru Suhud

GA4 learnings from our experts & customers

Retracing history, Google Analytics 4 (GA4) was introduced to the world in Oct 2020. From then on, our Analytics experts spent hours understanding and testing the platform – both with our customers and within our test environments.

Candidly, getting used to GA4 is going to be a journey. In this article, we’ll share what we’ve learned from using GA4’s touted features, such as its predictive technology, reporting capabilities, and integrations. There’ll be tips, but it’s also worth acknowledging that there won’t be a workaround for every perceived barrier.

1.0    It’s about conversions and not goals in GA4

An important acceptance is that what was considered a “hit” in UA is now an event count in GA4. While Universal Analytics’ (UA) reporting was more towards a session-based model, GA4’s reporting revolves around an events-based model.

Which brings us to goals versus conversions. To put it simply:

  • Goals was a measurement you could create in UA, and was based on user activities in a session
  • Goals can also be complicated. It is set up under a different metric, which means limitations.
  • In GA4, conversions are defined as any measurable user action in your app/web; you can select your preferred event-type in GA4 and set it as a conversion
  • Additionally, how your event in GA4 is triggered can be customised beyond the general goal set up in UA.

Depending on how technical you want to get, you’ll either appreciate the events-based direction that GA4 is heading as it’ll allow for richer reporting (consider event parameters, custom dimensions) or you’ll have a harder time navigating the change as you aren’t used to the different report types.

Nonetheless, according to our Analytics specialists, GA4’s events-based direction is undoubtedly forward-thinking, though it will take some effort (both on your part and Google’s!) to arrive at your reporting requirements.

2.0    Consider how long GA4 should retain your data 

When you first set up your GA4 property, the default data retention period is 2 months. For event-level data, you can set the data retention period to either 2 months or 14 months. Unlike UA, there is no option to set your data to not automatically expire.

GA4 data retention setting screenshot 1
Screenshot of data retention setting in GA4

To enable your data to be viewed in GA4’s Explorations for a longer length of time, modify your data retention setting to 14 months instead. A crucial note, if you do not change the default setting which is 2 months to 14 months, you will lose historical data when the 2 month period has passed.

Subjective to your company’s needs, you could be required to keep historical data that goes beyond 14 months. Unfortunately, there doesn’t seem to be any update on whether Google would allow for a longer data retention period. Your next consideration would then be to export your data to BigQuery.

3.0    Bidding to your GA4 conversions

It’s worth noting that integrating your Google Marketing Platform (GMP) accounts, specifically Display & Video 360 (DV360) & Search Ads 360 (SA360) with GA4, allows you to bid on GA4 conversions within these 2 platforms. Previously, you could only do this if you had the Google Analytics 360 edition, which is a premium version of Analytics. GA4, on the other hand, is a free platform.

As an example, suppose you have a GA4 conversion based on a “click to view product” event. In DV360, you would be able to view this conversion as a goal/conversion to bid on, albeit you would currently need to set this up through custom bidding.

Custom-bidding-example-gif 2
Custom bidding example, from DV360 help center :

Based on our own experiments though, you’re more likely to see results if you have a healthy number of conversions in your GA4. As this integration between GA4 & GMP is relatively new, consider testing your DV360/SA360 campaigns with this feature first.


4.0    Taking the targeting guesswork out with predictive audiences

Marketers can take advantage of GA4’s more advanced intelligence capabilities, such as predictive audiences. Using predictive metrics (a machine-learning algorithm), you’re able to create and target predictive audiences, i.e  audiences who are likely to take a certain action in future.

GA4 predictive metrics 3
Screenshot from GA4 help center on predictive metrics

In reality, everyday GA4 users will have a challenging time unlocking predictive audiences to be actionable. The predictive audience features rely on machine learning, meaning the GA4 property will need to accumulate large amounts of data to train the predictive models.

 A key example based on GA4’s help centre, where one of the prerequisites is that “in the last 28 days, over a 7 day period, at least 1,000 returning users must have triggered the relevant predictive condition (purchase or churn) and at least 1,000 returning users must not”. This means that within 28 days, you’ll need your collective purchase/churn event to record a count of 2,000.

GA4 Predictive audience 4
GA4 Predictive audience

If you’re a company that’s not from e-commerce, but you still want to try GA4’s machine learning capabilities, use the more accessible Analytics Intelligence instead. This feature allows you build custom insights, meaning GA4 will do the work of analyzing the data which matters more to you.

If you’re from a company with e-commerce capabilities, you’re more likely able to use predictive audiences – so experiment with targeting these audiences in your Google media buying account. As inspiration, here’s a case study from Claro Shop, a Mexican digital marketplace which used GA4’s predictive audiences for their holiday campaigns.

5.0    Get a breakdown of your GMC’s free/paid product listing conversions in GA4

If you’d like to track the performance of your Google Shopping free product listing in GA4, you’ll need to:

  • Link your GA4 and Google Merchant Centre (GMC) account
  • Ensure that the auto-tag setting is turned on in your GMC account

Enabling the linkage and auto-tagging would allow you to get clearer reporting of your free product shopping listings in GA4. This wasn’t possible in UA, in which performance reporting would group both your free and paid shopping listings together. GA4 however allows you to separate your performance metrics & have them reported in dimensions such as:

  • Source platform: Shopping Free Listings
  • Campaign: Shopping Free Listings
  • Default Channel Group: Organic Shopping
GA4 demo account 5
Screenshot from Google Merch Shop GA4 demo account

6.0    Missing data in reports, due to GA4’s data thresholding

You may have observed that there are fewer rows in your reports, despite your GA4 already having a decent amount of data. What gives?

Begin by first scrutinizing the top of the said report; you may notice an orange exclamation mark which on clicking, will show you the following message:

GA4’s data thresholding 6
GA4’s data thresholding screenshot

Thresholding has been applied to your report, due to Google Signals being turned on in your GA4 property and because you have a low user count in the specified date range. Currently, we don’t know what Google deems as a “low” user count.

There’s probably more technical reasoning, but what you should know is that you can’t adjust the threshold – as long as Google Signals is turned on the platform will apply it to your data as per their own system definition.

Possible workarounds:

  • Consider disabling Google Signals, if you’re not reliant on demographic reports and you don’t intend to create GA4 audiences for targeting in Google Ads/ GMP (you need Google signals for this).
  • Change your GA4’s reporting identity to “device-based”.
    • As per GA4’s help centre, when device-only reporting is used, Analytics uses the client ID which is “not subject to data threshold in reports with user counts.”

If you’re hesitant to swap reporting identities in your property, keep in mind that GA4 will still gather your data no matter what you select. It’s actually fine to switch between reporting identities because it’s retroactive.

7.0    Data quality issues due to GA4’s enhanced measurement

The enhanced measurement feature in GA4 is efficient to enable, in the sense that you don’t need developer skills to implement it – simply turn it on in your property’s Admin settings and “enhanced” events can automatically start collecting data.

GA4 Enhanced Measurement 7
Screenshot of initial enhanced measurement settings in GA4

Example of automatically collected events under the enhanced measurement feature:

  • page_view
  • scroll
  • click
  • form_start / form_submit

If you’re the owner of a simple website and you’re limited in the developer department, enhanced measurement is going to be great for you.

However, in working with customers with a larger website structure, we’ve found that depending on your use case, enhanced measurement could actually be affecting your data quality.

To illustrate, we had a customer who used the form interaction events (i.e. form_start / form_submit) under the enhanced measurement feature. Some issues that we identified were:

  • The form interaction events were not tracking AJAX type forms
  • form_submit event was recording unsuccessful form submissions
  • An input field that was not contained by <form> tag was not considered as a form submission in most cases.

What this meant was that the customer couldn’t accurately review how many successful forms they received in a given period, as the form interaction events weren’t actually firing on actions it was meant to be recording.

Our consultants also identified issues for other automatically collected events, such as those meant to track page view, video engagement, file downloads. As it’s a pretty lengthy topic, we’ll dedicate an entire article towards identifying and where possible resolving such enhanced measurement issues.


Depending on whether you’re from marketing or from a technical analyst background, it’s best to remember that Google Analytics 4 (GA4) won’t be like the former Universal Analytics. Treat GA4 as a new Analytics platform, and you’ll need to invest time to correctly implement it according to your company’s needs. 

Lastly, consider using Google with other platforms to fulfil your Analytics reporting. You can always reach out to FiveStones and we’ll help diagnose your ad tech needs based on your company’s objectives.