For better or worse Google Analytics 4 (GA4) has fully rolled out, replacing the beloved Universal Analytics (UA / GA3) promising enhanced insights and a more user-centric approach.
One vital aspect that has left many scratching their heads, however, is the seemingly complex task of setting up GA4 conversion tracking. Fret not, because we’re here to unravel the mysteries and declare loud and clear – it’s not as complicated as it seems!
As businesses continue to transition to GA4 and mourn the passing of UA (R.I.P.), there’s a noticeable chorus of confusion surrounding the process of implementing GA4 conversion tracking. The good news is that beneath the initial apprehension lies a rather straightforward method that works incredibly well for any site that also leverages Google Tag Manager (a vital piece of any martech stack for enabling more comprehensive conversion tracking).
In this blog, we will show you how to set up conversions in GA4 using Google Tag Manager in a straightforward and repeatable way with the underlying logic for this methodology. Get ready to turn confusion into clarity and transform your analytics game in 4 easy steps:
- Create GA4 Tag in Google Tag Manager (connects your website to GA4)
- Configure GA4 Conversion Tags and Triggers in Tag Manager (fires a tag when desired action you want to be tracked is taken on your website)
- Setup the conversion in GA4 (listens for the tag firing to display data in reports)
- Testing the conversion setup via Tag Manager preview mode and GA4 realtime report
Methodology Behind Using Tag Manager for GA4 Conversions
As digital / growth marketing professionals working with both B2B and B2C startups and even large enterprises of all different kinds, we have seen conversion tracking setups across many tools and to varying degrees of accuracy. Over the years we have come to rely on the simple yet powerful combination of Google Analytics and Google Tag Manager for most all of our marketing analytics needs.
Google Analytics (GA4) is used as our source of truth for website and channel marketing analytics and offers some really powerful reports straight out-of-the-box to understand the demographics of our site visitors, how they get there, and what they do on the site.
Google Tag Manager is used as our tag management system (TMS) that essentially functions as a connection hub between all our systems and tools (HubSpot, Google Ads, LinkedIn Ads, Mailchimp, etc.) so that they can communicate with each other and share vital data all without ever having to touch website code.
GA4 and Google Tag Manager Simple MarTech Diagram
Do You Need Google Tag Manager with GA4?
In short, you do not need Tag Manager to use GA4. You can connect GA4 to your website by hard-coding the Google Tag (gtag.js) and you can set up conversion tracking directly in GA4 but it’s less capable.
We highly recommend using Google Tag Manager to unlock more advanced ways to trigger conversion events (when a user takes the desired action on the site) and send that information to GA4, rather than setting up GA4 conversions directly in GA4 without using Tag Manager. Plus, we advise using Tag Manager for controlling GA4 conversion events as opposed to setting up conversion tracking directly in GA4 with custom events for two reasons:
- Enables more complex conversion triggers like HubSpot form fills, element visibility, combinations of page view triggers using RegEx and better testing with preview/debug mode
- Triggers setup for use in a GA4 Tag (that sends to GA4 for conversion tracking) can be reused for other tags (LinkedIn Ads, Google Ads, Reddit Ads etc.) so you have some consistency reporting across platforms
How to Add GA4 to Google Tag Manager
This can either be hard-coded by a developer, added into the header.php file on WordPress (or use a simple plugin), and in the integration settings of Hubspot. Most other CMS systems / website builders provide documentation on how to add the code to your site.
Then create a Google Analytics account with a GA4 property if you have not already. Once you have these two key pieces in place it’s time to create the connection between your website and GA4 using Tag Manager as the intermediary (which should be coded into your website HTML from above).
Important note: You DO NOT need to code in the Google Tag (gtag.js) at all if you are using Tag Manager to connect your site to GA4, and using both methods could result in inaccurate data. Unfortunately is not very clear in most Google documentation, but we got you covered.
Now we are ready to cook!
Open Tag Manager > Workspace > Tags > New > Tag Configuration > Google Analytics > choose Google Tag.
Find your “Tag ID” in GA4 > Admin > Data Streams > choose your site > copy the “measurement ID” (which is the same thing in this case as “Tag ID”) > return to Tag Manager and paste into the Tag ID field:
Next, click Triggering > Trigger Configuration > choose “Initialization – All Pages”, this is better then just “All Pages” trigger because it ensures it fires before any other trigger while still respecting consent initialization.
Finally, rename your tag to something like “Google Analytics (GA4)” click Save > Submit (at the top of Tag Manager) > Publish (pushes the changes live) > Continue.
How to Set Up Conversion Tags and Triggers in Tag Manager
The second step is about identifying the conversion you want to track in GA4, then building a simple trigger (the set of parameters seen in the site HTML when a user takes that desired action) and associating that trigger to a tag that sends information (data) to its final destination for measurement – which in this case is GA4.
For our GA4 conversion example, we are going to use the basic case of using a specific page visit URL as the conversion trigger. This is common in both B2B and eCommerce where a “thank-you” page is served either post purchase or after filling in a lead form. As alluded to earlier, there are countless more complex ways to build conversion triggers in Tag Manager (on button clicks, sequences of page visits, pop up messages, and more) but that would merit an entire separate series of blog posts.
Let’s say that we want to track when a user downloads our whitepaper and after filling in the form, they are redirected to a specific “thank-you” page URL of:
Pop back into Tag Manager > Workspace > Tags > New > Tag Configuration > Google Analytics > choose Google Analytics: GA4 Event. Insert your “measurement ID” from GA4 (same as the Tag ID used in the setup of the Google Tag in the last step) > choose an “Event Name” (something simple, yet descriptive of what we are trying to track) let’s go with “Ebook_Download_SEO” (use underscores with no spaces as GA4 requires that) as this is what will show in your reporting dashboards > rename your tag to something like “GA4 – SEO Ebook Download”.
Now lets build that simple trigger outlined above. Click Triggering > “+” symbol > Triggering > Trigger Configuration > Page View > Now we need to specify which page view triggers the download otherwise as is, any and all page views would trigger this and that’s bad. Click Trigger Configuration > Some Page Views > Change “Click Classes” to “Page Path” > select “equals” as the modifier > Paste in the final path part of URL (excluding the domain name): “/seo-best-practices-ebook-download” > rename your trigger to help identify the action taken, we will use “SEO Ebook Trigger” > Save (trigger)
Click Save (tag) > Submit > Publish > Continue.
How to Set Up Conversions in GA4
Almost there! Now we need to associate “Event Name” from our tag we just created to the GA4 Conversion itself for this to fire inside GA4 anytime it is triggered on the website when someone views our trigger URL.
GA4 Events vs. Conversions
Quick note about these two important metric categories. Anything that happens on your site can be considered an event, whereas only specific events that you deem more important should be upgraded to conversions. GA4 starts tracking basic events as soon as you setup the GA4 tag in Tag Manager (our first step) like “page_view” / “session_start” / “purchase” (although this one only works with some extra setup) and while these are important indicators, we typically advise to only mark any of these events as conversions if they have monetary value or result in a lead. Think of events as micro conversions and conversions as macro conversions.
Let’s seal the deal on this!
Go to GA4 > Admin > Conversions > New Conversion Event > Paste or type in the same text used in “Event Name” from your tag created previously, and ensure there are no extra spaces at the end (for us that was “Ebook_Download_SEO”) > Save.
Now you should see that listed as a “Conversion name” in your list on GA4
Testing the New GA4 Conversion
The final step is to test that the conversion setup is working so you can confidently move on to setting more of these up and racking up the wins! There are two places to test this:
1. Tag Manager > Preview (also known as debug mode) > Paste your trigger URL (https://www.firebrand.marketing/seo-best-practices-ebook-download) in the pop up page and click Connect. In the new window that opens you should see an event on the left panel under Summary called “Container Loaded” which shows our newly created tag had successfully fired “GA4 – SEO Ebook Download”.
2. GA4 > Reports > Realtime > Find the card “Conversions by Event name” where we should see our newly created conversion (“Ebook_Download_SEO”) showing up from the trigger we just did above in Tag Manager (essentially the action was taken, the trigger saw this and fired the tag, the tag sent that info to the final destination).
Voila, it worked!
Wrapping it Up
In the ever-evolving realm of digital analytics, adapting to new platforms and tools is an inevitable part of staying competitive. As we bid adieu to Universal Analytics, it’s evident that setting up conversion tracking in the new Google Analytics (GA4) doesn’t need to be a daunting task. Armed with this step-by-step guide, you’re now equipped to effortlessly navigate the intricacies of GA4 conversion tracking, ensuring that your business can make data-backed decisions in marketing. If you prefer a hands-off approach or have a more complex martech configuration to dial-in and are looking for some help, check out our martech audit and service offerings. Now let’s dive into the world of GA4, embrace the power of conversion tracking, and watch as your insights become sharper, your decisions more informed, and your digital success more tangible than ever before.
About the Author
Alastair is Senior Vice President of Digital Marketing at Firebrand Communications. With over 15 years of both creative and analytical marketing he combines wisdom from both arenas to drive measurable and memorable marketing results for clients. Prior to joining Firebrand, Alastair has been a web designer, creative specialist, and PMM, for a tech manufacturing company, entertainment agency, and mobile gaming startup.