Google Analytics Agencies Digital Marketing

From ‘conversion’ to ‘key events’: What in the world is going on with GA4?

By Beatrice Alabaster, Creative copywriter



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April 3, 2024 | 7 min read

If you’re feeling a bit bamboozled by the latest changes to Google Analytics, you’re not alone. Here, Beatrice Alabaster makes sense of the madness with the help of Earnest’s in-house GA4 expert, Ben Savva.

An arrow made of arrows pointing in the other direction

Google Analytics 4 - a new direction, or just confusing? / Cdd20 via Unsplash

Confession: I might be a modern-day marketer, but I find the ins and outs of Google Analytics more than a little confusing. I know. Sue me, put me in the stocks and hang me out to dry.

But based on the conversations I have with clients, I know I’m not the only one suffering from this secret GA4 anxiety.

So when recent changes to GA4 got tongues wagging here at Earnest, I turned to our digital campaigns expert, Ben Savva, to help me make sense of it all.

GA4 in a nutshell

“In a nutshell, Google is continuing to streamline conversion tracking between GA4 and Google Ads, meaning that marketers will have a much better time with reporting”, Savva told me.

“The big thing in GA4 is the terminology change from ‘conversion’ to ‘key events’. The main ‘conversion’ or ‘key event’ is what you want someone to do when they reach your website – whether it’s a purchase, form-fill, or demo request.”

“To deliver the best results and ROI, your Google Ads campaign is optimized around bidding for users who are most likely to perform that ‘conversion’. But this may not be the only ‘key event’ you look at in GA4.”

In the simplest terms, then, “the change means that ‘conversion’ is Google Ads terminology and ‘key event’ is GA4 terminology. In GA4, you can build audiences, track performance, and create ‘key events’ until the cows come home.” Both tools previously used the term ‘conversion,’ but it potentially meant different things and was measured differently.

Why is it so hard to get platforms speaking the same language?

Savva explains that there are discrepancies between GA4 and Google Ads for lots of reasons: “How the conversion period is set up, how the user action gets attributed, the browser, consent and cookie preferences – all of these can skew the data.”

He goes on, “Differentiating between ‘conversion’ and ‘key event’ now provides a greater specificity about what’s actually being described between platforms.”

How will the changes affect marketers on a day-to-day basis?

The good news is that, on a technical level, the changes aren’t especially wild, but they will make life easier for marketers at the coalface of campaign reporting:

“Let’s say you’re viewing a user journey across a website,” Savva says. “If they’re on a page for a certain amount of time, you can make that a ‘key event’ to build a retargetable audience around. Then, on Google Ads, you can deliver your campaign to that audience to drive conversion.”

This makes sense – especially since, according to Salesforce, it takes 8+ touchpoints to capture a prospect’s interest and generate a sales lead. While the ultimate goal is conversion, you still need a way of measuring the effectiveness of individual touchpoints across the journey.

This will bring greater clarity to campaign reporting, right?

Unfortunately, it might not. “While it'll streamline the process, I don't know if this will fix the clarity problem entirely. The language can still feel really ambiguous”, Savva told me.

“One issue I often see is that every business uses terminology differently. What counts as a conversion, marketing-qualified lead or sales-qualified lead for one could mean something totally different to another.”

“Lots of people find the ‘conversion’ word confusing. It’s too close to the language of sales, so they think a digital conversion is more than it actually is.”

“Ultimately, the terminology change will enable us to have deeper, more transparent conversations about the desired outcomes: what’s the ‘conversion’ you want to optimize around and spend money on? Where does each ‘key event’ fit within the customer journey – whether a view, a scroll, or a click?”

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Are we damned to eternal confusion or is there a light on the horizon?

Damned? No. Whether it’s brand, lead gen, or demand gen, ultimately what works best for one campaign may not work as effectively for another. So you just need to be ready for a bit of testing, learning, and adapting.

“It’s an upfront strategic thing as well as a reporting thing”, Savva explains. “This is such an important conversation to have early on – you need to have shared definitions and a shared agenda.”

“We’re all in the same boat with these changes; it’s just a case of testing to see what works best for each business.”

Google Analytics Agencies Digital Marketing

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Earnest is the award-winning B2B marketing agency that’s chasing out the humdrum in London and New York.

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