Three GA4 Features You Might Not Know About

Three GA4 Features You Might Not Know About

Posted on November 15, 2023 nerdymind

We’ll be blunt: GA4 had a very rocky start when it launched in 2020. The successor to Universal Analytics proved to be less user-friendly than its predecessor and, at times, unnecessarily complex. Its creation, however, was a necessity. With 3rd party cookies on their way out and user privacy gaining attention, Google released GA4 to provide analytic data to website owners, while complying with the digital zeitgeist.

Despite its complexities, GA4 hosts a variety of unique and helpful features for website owners. The platform provides insight into user & session data, along with settings to facilitate the flow of information. GA4 features, however, might not be the easiest to uncover—especially if you’re new to Analytics. Since we’re NERDs (it’s in our name, after all) we love to learn and share our knowledge with others. We uncovered three interesting features of GA4 that you might not know about.

GA4 Feature #1: Data Retention Extension

One of our favorite tools in Universal Analytics was the ability to create custom reports. The simplicity of building reports with specific metrics was a major boon to analyzing data. These custom reports allowed us to create thoughtful, focused analyses. In our opinion, no other tools provided the same level of simplicity and specificity.

The unveiling of GA4 gave us a similar feature, however, with a painful stipulation. The new explorer reports are a little difficult to use. The drawback being that you can only view two months’ worth of data.

Only Two Months? Why??

Why indeed. This two-month span never made much sense to us, especially given the value of comparing metrics year over year (YoY). We are thankful that the GA4 data retention features help fix this problem.

To access this feature, navigate to the admin section in GA4. In the Data Collection and Modification section, there’s a neat little subsection titled, “Data retention.”

Data Retention example in GA4

Previously nested within Data Settings, this option is now more visible. If you click on Data Retention, you will see a message stating you can “change the retention period for data you send that is associated with cookies, user identifiers, or advertising identifiers.”

The dropdown menu below this message defaults to two months. Click this menu and select “14 months.” Now custom reports will collect historical data beyond two months. After the appropriate period of time passes, you’ll have the insightful year-over-year data that we so desperately love. Just don't forget to save your changes!

14 Month Data Retention Setting in GA4

GA4 Feature #2: Tag Coverage

Ever wonder if your gtag is collecting data on all your pages? Maybe you have a few subdomains you wanna track, or possibly you just wanna check if the tag is set up correctly. If so, then the tag coverage feature is a great tool to accomplish these objectives.

Unlike the data retention setting, this report is much more hidden. Google loves a good treasure hunt! In order to find this option, navigate to “Data Collection and Modification” and find “Data Stream.” From there select the data stream you want to inspect. The setting exists for web and mobile data streams so fear not missing a particular channel.

Great, Let’s Get a Bird’s Eye View of Coverage

Right-o! Once you select the appropriate data stream, scroll down and click “Configure Tag Settings.”

Tag Settings in GA4

Here you’ll be greeted with a page showcasing your tracking tag and the property associated with it. This looks like what we’re looking for, but we’re not quite there yet.

Gtag settings page in GA4

In the top nav on this page click “Admin,” and look at the “Tools” section. You’ll see an item titled “Tag Coverage” in there. Click on it and voilà! We’re here!

Tag Coverage setting in GA4
In-Depth Tag Coverage Settings in GA4

This page now provides a high-level view of the pages your tag covers, along with the associated domains. It will also reveal if certain pages on your domain aren’t covered—like those nestled into subdomains. If you’re not collecting data on subdomains, or even certain pages on your site, this report is a great place to begin troubleshooting. Tag coverage will even recommend pages to which Google suggests extending tagging.

This is a very helpful tool to check out what's been tagged and what hasn't been, and a great place to begin your troubleshooting of tracking issues.

GA4 Features #3: Eliminating Unwanted Referrals

Seeing self-referrals skewing data in your session reports is infuriating, to say the least. The two previous features help with troubleshooting and mitigating this issue. The elimination of unwanted referrals, however, is the grand prize.

Much like the other two aforementioned features, this one is a little hidden. As we said before, Google loves a treasure hunt! Unlike the previous feature discussed, this one doesn’t take as much digging as the last one.

Hidden, but Not Impossible to Find

Navigate to “Data Streams,” find the applicable data stream you want to work on, and then select our old friend “Configure Tag Settings.” Here’s where it gets a little tricky. When you’re in the setting, you’ll notice there are only three other navigation options: “Manage automatic event detection,” “Configure your domains,” and “Allow user-provided data capabilities.” But below those three options, is a button to show more. That’s where you want to go.

See More option in GA4 Tag Settings

Select “Show more” and the list will expand, uncovering the option we want: “List unwanted referrals.”

List unwanted referrals setting in GA4

Select that option and now you’ll be able to tell GA4 which referrals to ignore as traffic sources. This helps with self-referred traffic and also works in conjunction with the aforementioned features to help with cross-domain tracking.

When All Is Said and Done…

GA4 can be quite confusing and difficult to navigate. Even for experienced digital marketers, we may overlook nooks and crannies with features and settings. While Google continues to update and optimize GA4, it's necessary to remain curious. Always stay in the know on GA4 features like data retention, tag coverage, and referral exclusions.

If you need help with your GA4 configuration or don’t have time to dig into it yourself, reach out to the NERDs at NerdyMind. We love diving into analytic programs. We’re in these programs practically every day and enjoy helping people understand how to take advantage of these—and many other—GA4 features!