This blog explains how to set up your Google Analytics 4 (GA4) property to record data for common parameters that might be missing from your reports.

While adding GA4 to a client’s website, I recently ran into a snag: key parameters that we expected to see in the analytics reports weren’t showing up, even though GA4’s support docs stated that the parameters would be collected.

It turns out that you need to take a simple but important step to make these parameters appear in the reports. I was surprised to find that this wasn’t explained in Google’s own documentation or in any articles I consulted. It only takes a minute or two. I hope these instructions will save other marketers and site admins from experiencing the frustration I ran into when first trying to use GA4.

You can jump ahead to the step-by-step, but for those who need more context, I’ll first provide a very brief overview of the difference between Universal Analytics and GA4—and why you should consider using both.

What is new in Google Analytics 4?

My personal take is that GA4 takes an action-based approach to tracking user activity. The focus is on tracking user engagement and behavior—what people do on your site—rather than data about the users for its own sake. The goal is to “[mirror] the funnel of acquiring, engaging, monetizing, and retaining users” (About Google Analytics 4 reporting). There is some basic technological and demographic data, but not at the level of detail found in Universal Analytics. 

Most importantly, GA4 aims to be compliant with newer privacy regulations that limit the collection of personally identifiable information. It uses machine learning to fill in the gaps and promises to continue to provide meaningful insights when third-party identifiers like cookies are no longer available to assist with tracking user behavior. Believe it or not, companies are beginning to phase out support for third-party identifiers.

For a summary of the new features from Google, see Introducing the new Google Analytics

Universal Analytics vs. Google Analytics 4: Which should I use?

At the time of writing this blog, Google recommends that site owners use both methods of data collection for maximum flexibility (see the notes under “Get Started”). 

Each system collects different data. Universal Analytics will be phased out eventually, but until it is, you can continue to benefit from what it has to offer. By installing GA4, you’ll have access to newer data points and can start building historical data about your site. You’ll be able to transition when the time comes.

Adding missing parameters to reports

My clients and I wanted to see data about file downloads, such as the file name and file type, and about outbound links, such as the link destination. GA4’s documentation mentions other useful attributes as well. But when we went to the Event reports and viewed data about the desired event, alas, information on the related parameters was nowhere to be found.

The first step to view information about these user activities is to enable Enhanced Measurement. This is clearly documented in many articles and blog posts. For example, “How to set up enhanced measurement tracking in GA4 (Google Analytics 4).”

The GA4’s documentation states that parameters such as file_name, file_extension, and link_url are automatically collected for each event. But the trick is, these parameters are not captured and shown in reports unless you explicitly tell Google you want to track them.

I suppose the reason Google doesn’t automatically include them in reports is that they want to let each site owner decide what to track and what to name the values in the reports. One arguable problem with Universal Analytics is that it provides too much data, not all of which is relevant to a site’s goals. But given that GA4 has already narrowed down the events and parameters to the most essential values, I’m not sure why the default parameters aren’t automatically included once enhanced measurement is enabled. That would be more intuitive.

Here is what you need to do to make the extra parameters appear in reports:

Step 1: Log in to Google Analytics and navigate to your GA4 property.

Step 2: In the sidebar, go to “Configure.” In the interface as of this writing, there is a small list icon that expands to become “Configure.”

GA 4 Configure item circled in sidebar

Step 3. In the sidebar, go to “Custom definitions.”

GA4 Custom Definitions circled in the sidebar

Step 4. On the custom definitions page, click “Create custom dimensions.”

GA4 Custom definitions view with "Create Custom Dimensions" circled in the sidebar

Step 5: You’ll provide a custom “Dimension name,” select “Scope: Event,” and enter the “Event parameter” for each parameter you want to track. For ease of reference, I used the parameter name for “Dimension name,” but you could make the custom dimension name a more human-friendly format: i.e., for parameter “file_name” the name shown in reports could be “File Name.”

In the screenshots above, you can see I added almost all the parameters that are collected for automatic events and enhanced measurement events. But there are some I left out. This is the power of GA4: You can decide exactly which events to measure and how to label them in your reports.

Getting started with content analytics

Now that you’ve set up Google Analytics on your site, what do you do next?

Four Kitchens can provide its clients with a personalized report that pulls together key statistics from Google Analytics and your WordPress or Drupal site itself. This report will give you a bird’s-eye view of how people are using your site and how your editors are managing content. Understanding these patterns is a valuable step toward improving your content strategy. Let your project manager know if you’re interested in this service.

My previous blog, “Using Google Analytics to inform your content strategy: a beginner’s guide,” also provides tips on how anyone can get started using Google Analytics to create a more effective strategy for digital content.

Looking for assistance adding Google Analytics to your site? Contact us to see how the Four Kitchens team can help.