Complete Guide to Reading GA4 Data


For marketers, Google Analytics 4 (GA4) is like a kids’ toy box. Pop open the lid and your whole world changes. Do you reach for that valuable insight first? No, wait, there’s an important user interaction metric over there. Hold on — are those search console analytics? 

The good news is that, if GA4 is your toybox, all of the internet is your playroom. You have all the space and freedom you need to turn GA4 exploration into your new favorite game.

But a certain tool in this box is particularly cool. If the others are action figures, diecast cars and Barbie Dreamhouses, this one could be a life-sized and fully-functioning Millennium Falcon. We’re talking about Google Analytics 4 reports — a goldmine of data that makes digital marketing like a day at your favorite theme park.

Here’s the complete guide to what GA4 is telling you (and why it matters).

Explain It Like I’m 4: A Quick Rundown of Google Analytics Reports

Let’s say GA4 reports are really like a fully-functioning Millennium Falcon toy. You probably couldn’t walk right in and know how to fly this famous spaceship — unless, of course, you’re its equally famous pilot, Han Solo.

So if you happen to be Han, you can skip this section. Otherwise, let’s take a quick and easy look at how Google Analytics 4 and GA4 reports came to be.

A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away, there was a tool called Urchin. This eventually became Universal Analytics, which then became GA4. To make things more complicated, GA4 now exists in two versions: the free GA4 Standard and its premium cousin GA4 360.

The most modern iterations of GA4 put a lot of power in your hands, including:

  • Flexible but powerful privacy controls.
  • Cross-platform, cross-domain tracking for maximum visibility.
  • Data models and analytics for your key performance indicators (KPIs).
  • Every valuable insight you can think of, from active users to traffic sources.
  • Tools for search engine optimization (SEO), user behavior, content performance and more.

But you know what they say about great power and great responsibility. That’s why it’s important to know the top GA4 terms, including:

Engaged Sessions

GA4 identifies an engaged session if a visitor does one or more of the following:

  • Spends 10+ seconds on your site.
  • Views 2+ internal pages.
  • Has a conversion event.

This GA4 data provides insight into page traffic, session length and more.

Path Exploration

In GA4, path exploration is a look at the virtual road map your visitors follow as they navigate your site. This includes scrolling, clicks, interactions, data entry and more. It’s a great way to learn about user behavior and preferences. 


GA4 reports are the story of your content, web presence and target audience all wrapped into one. There’s no single data source for this information; instead, GA4 gathers information from across your websites and apps.

Reports are split into different types. The broadest categories are “overview reports,” which summarize data about a whole topic, and “detail reports,” which provide an in-depth look at a particular interest area. Other classifications include:

  • Realtime report: This is where data goes as soon as GA4 receives it. Details can include number of users, traffic sources, event counts, conversions and more.
  • Snapshot report: This is an at-a-glance roundup of your most important information.
  • Predefined report: This type covers predefined data and metrics.

How To Use Google Analytics Reports

Now that you know the basics, it’s time to see what Google Analytics 4 reporting can really do. Here’s what you need to know to pilot this tool like a pro:

Find Your Reports

Open GA. You’ll see a menu on the left side, which should show “Reports” with a little graph icon. Everyone with GA access will see the same reports here — generally snapshot, real-time and predefined reports. You can click on each one for a more detailed view.

Use Your Reports

Here’s where things get interesting. Best practices for using your data will differ depending on whether you’re looking at a detailed or overview report — and, perhaps more importantly, what your KPIs are.

Generally speaking, you can turn to GA4 reports for data on:

  • Users: This includes devices, demographics, engagements and more. You’ll even see graphs and maps that visualize all this data.
  • Acquisitions and conversions: You’ll get important information about how people first find your site, when they make purchases and how often they fill out forms. Although GA4 automatically identifies trigger events, you can customize these settings, too.
  • Commerce: Your E-commerce data all lives in GA4, including tracking across campaigns, keywords, devices and locations (and the associated revenue). 
  • Digital journeys: Compare information across channels to see how digital journeys twist and turn through your touchpoints.

Once you have these insights, it’s time to make them actionable. This is when it’s handy to have a digital marketing platform that can integrate Google Analytics data to create a complete snapshot of your “playroom” — essentially, putting every action right next to its concrete outcome. That way, you can see what’s working and what needs improvement.

Get Specific Data

Need to get more specific? Anyone with editor or administrator access to your GA account can customize reports, which means you get to choose exactly what you’re tracking. Every GA4 property can have up to 150 of these custom reports.

Remember, there’s a difference between detail reports and overview reports — so it’s no surprise that the processes for customizing them can differ, too. For example, the former includes a dimension picker, metrics, filters and charts that can all be tweaked; meanwhile, the latter is split into editable “cards” and “report templates.” 

Getting More From Google Analytics Data

How do you unite custom and standard report data? What’s the best way to share it, visualize it and make it matter? That all depends on your unique situation — but there are a few tools that can help across the board. All you have to do is crack open some more marketing toy boxes.

For Sharing and Exporting

Google provides built-in tools for extracting your GA4 data. These enable you to share the information via a link; you can also download it as a PDF or CSV. The tech giant also mentions Looker Studio and its Analytics Data API as effective options.

These aren’t the only tools available for data extraction. However, when researching third-party options, it’s important to remember a few details:

  • Most tools are external (from Google and from your own company), meaning they require more steps and often third-party accounts or authentication. This can sometimes eat into your time and budget.
  • You’ll still need to get extracted data to all the right people. This can be difficult when using platforms or applications that don’t keep everyone together with specific permissions (as GA4 does).
  • Every outside tool you use is one more potential entry point for hackers, especially if the tool is free or seems suspicious in any way.

For Tracking

Sometimes, there’s nothing better than a good old-fashioned spreadsheet — except maybe a digitized one. The good news is that you can find tools that help you grab GA4 data and move it cleanly to Google Sheets or Microsoft Excel. You’ll generally need to:

  • Connect your accounts.
  • Grant the proper permissions.
  • Clean up or transform your data.
  • Select an existing spreadsheet or make a new one.
  • Run the data transfer.

Some tools let you automate these transfers at regular intervals — that way, your spreadsheet updates every time GA4 does.

For Visualization

Other tools skip the spreadsheet altogether and go straight for visual communication. You can put Google Analytics data into any number of graphs, charts and tables to help it tell its story more effectively. 

Keep in mind that GA4 automatically visualizes some of this information for you. The idea behind these tools is to customize the visualization parameters — for example, enabling you to decide which pieces of information are compared or shown side-by-side. You also have more power over the data format; from pie charts to scatterplots, the creative choices are yours. 

For Communication and Utilization

Remember when I mentioned digital marketing platforms? These are like big whiteboards in your playroom, each with a bunch of colored dry-erase markers. They help keep track of what you’re playing with and what the results are — no matter where on the internet you’re working, which campaigns you’re focused on or how many people are involved. Better yet, many of them automatically grab data from GA4 and other sources, giving you a complete view of your progress, resources, deadlines and more.

Get Your Google Analytics On

You know what’s in the GA4 toybox. Now it’s time to crack open that lid and get your Google Analytics on. Whether you want to experiment with standard reports or are ready to customize everything, now’s your chance to turn the whole internet into a playroom.

However you use your next GA4 report, make sure it’s exactly as cool as a life-sized, fully functioning Millennium Falcon.


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