[12] GA4 Reporting Mistakes That Could Cause More Headaches

Reporting in Google Analytics (GA4) can sometimes be challenging. In this article, I’ll share twelve (12) common mistakes to avoid when using «Standard Reports» in Google Analytics to prevent more headaches.

Instead of debating whether GA4 was built for reporting, I’d have this guide focus on identifying the twelve critical GA4 reporting errors to avoid.

By «GA4 standard report,» I refer to a category of reports in Google Analytics that includes customisable pre-made formats designed to facilitate easy use by marketers and analysts to get the answers they need.

Spoiler alert: I have included some freebies in this article, so keep reading to find them.

Google Analytics Standard Report Mistakes to Avoid

In this article, I will outline the common errors you should avoid when using standard reports in Google Analytics 4 (GA4). Understanding these pitfalls can help you navigate GA4 more effectively and avoid unnecessary frustration.

So, what are these reporting mistakes?

  1. Failing to structure your GA4 standard reports properly
  2. Not assigning descriptive names to your reports
  3. Attempting to access today’s data in your reports
  4. Unlinking a report from its original template
  5. Creating a report collection but not publishing it
  6. Misunderstanding user and session scope attributions
  7. Not using the «save as» option when creating reports
  8. Neglecting to publish the search console report collection
  9. Not leveraging the standard report template library
  10. Limited understanding of report-sharing options in GA4
  11. Selecting the wrong save options when updating a report collection
  12. Missing up unrelated dimensions in your report configuration

Let’s look into each of these reporting mistakes to fully understand what they entail and how you can avoid them.

Failing to structure your GA4 standard reports properly

This issue is crucial to address and is one of the things to look out for when performing a GA4 audit for a business to uncover how they utilise Google Analytics. A poorly structured GA4 report can significantly complicate the reporting experience for you, your stakeholders and your collaborators.

So, what exactly does this mistake entail? While there is no universally adopted perfect structure for GA4 reports, certain strategies can enhance the customisation of the standard report interface in GA4.

Consider the confusion that arises when you mix insights from paid media traffic and organic traffic behaviour within the same topic of a report collection or, worse, across unrelated collections. Such disorganisation can hinder other collaborators from finding specific reports that hold the answer to their marketing questions, emphasising the importance of a well-organised report structure.

For example, putting a «paid traffic campaign report» under the same «Engagement» topic within the «Lifecycle» collection can create a user-unfriendly environment that only gives other collaborators an unhelpful reporting experience.

A practical approach is to cluster reports by related themes or topics or even into distinct collections. This organisational strategy enables users to locate the specific reports they need quickly, streamlining the navigation process and enhancing overall efficiency in report usage.

Not assigning descriptive names to your reports.

This common oversight should be addressed when creating standard reports in GA4. Always ensure that you choose a name that is both descriptive and insightful.

It may seem like a simple step, but it’s easy to ignore. For instance, when you have a report named «Paid Report,» it does not convey an insight into what to expect from the report. In contrast, a more descriptive and insightful name provides clarity and enhances understanding for you and other analysts working in that analytics property.

Another route could be using abbreviations, but ensuring they are well-documented or commonly understood internally is essential.

Another creative strategy involves the use of emojis. For example, if a client is overwhelmed by the array of reports in GA4, you could use a star emoji to highlight the reports essential for their performance reviews. This approach helps clients or stakeholders focus on critical reports without remembering the standard reports’ specific titles, thus navigating the reports more intuitively.

While the emoji example is specific, don’t feel restricted to this method alone; consider other innovative ways to enhance report recognition and accessibility, ensuring they align with your specific needs.

Attempting to access today’s data in your reports

A popularly discussed and known GA4 reporting limitation is real-time reporting; I often see this discussed within the analytics community; the mistake or headaches you can add to your GA4 reporting problem involves trying to access recently collected data in Google Analytics 4 (GA4).

It’s crucial to remember that GA4 operates differently from Universal Analytics (UA), especially regarding the timeliness of data reporting. Therefore, when reporting in Google Analytics (GA4), you shouldn’t look at today’s or yesterday’s data (in some cases, for example, the search console report).

When utilising the GA4 interface for reporting, I recommend allowing a 48-hour gap, according to the timezone settings of the analytics property, to ensure the data you are analysing is available in the analytics UI.

However, if you need to access data from today or the past 48 hours for urgent reporting, consider utilising Google BigQuery. For guidance on integrating GA4 with BigQuery, you can refer to Datola’s guide on linking GA4 and BigQuery. You can also learn the basic functions of BigQuery to build your first GA4 report in BigQuery. Additionally, for creating real-time reports, check out this step-by-step guide on using BigQuery and Looker Studio for real-time reporting in Google Analytics (GA4).

Unlinking a report from its original template

Every GA4 native report collection, including those you create from templates such as «Lifecycle» or «User,» is «linked» by default. This basically means they automatically receive updates whenever Google changes the report template.

You can unlink a report collection either from the «Library» or directly within the edit mode of a specific report, as shown in the images below.

Or from the specific analytics report.

When collections remain linked, they automatically receive any updates Google applies to the reports. For example, if Google adds a new dimension to the User Acquisition report, this new dimension will appear in all linked User Acquisition reports.

Here are some examples of updates that Google might apply to linked collections:

  • Addition or removal of reports
  • Changes to topic names

It’s important to note that these automatic updates will not affect any reports or topics added or removed by you or another admin on the property.

While it might seem minor, this feature can save significant time that would otherwise be spent manually updating reports. A notable instance of such an update is the addition of the traffic attribution type dimension to the GA4 attribution standard report.

Please be aware that if you unlink a GA4 report collection, it will not receive new updates. Also, remember that GA4 report collections created from scratch will be «unlinked» by default.

Creating a report collection but not publishing it.

A common oversight occurs when you create a custom Google Analytics report collection but fail to publish it in the «Library» section. As a result, the collection will not be visible or accessible to you and other collaborators within the GA4 interface.

Publishing the collection after saving it is crucial to ensure that your reports will be accessible by other collaborators while on the standard report view to address business or client inquiries. This action makes it available to everyone with access to the analytics property.

To publish a collection, you must have the «Editor Role.» The process is straightforward:

  • Navigate to the «Report Library» section.
  • Locate your collection.
  • Click the «More options» represented by the three-dotted icon. and
  • Select «Publish.»

Misunderstanding user and session scope attributions

Misinterpreting user and session scope attribution is a mistake commonly made by beginners or first-time users of GA4, although even experienced users can sometimes fall into this trap when analysing acquisition performance reports.

Suppose you are new to Google Analytics (GA4) or just starting to learn this tool. You should look at this GA4 introductory blog post, like the Datola article, which covers all you need to get started with Google Analytics (GA4).

So, what exactly does this mistake involve?

Within the «Lifecycle» collection, under the «Acquisition» report topic, there are two key reports:

  • User Acquisition
  • Traffic Acquisition

It’s easy to overlook these reports and misinterpret the data they provide.

Here’s a brief explanation to help clarify: The User Acquisition report is a detailed, pre-made report that offers insights into how new users discover your website or app for the first time. This report is distinct from the Traffic Acquisition report, which focuses on the origins of new sessions, whether new or returning users initiate those sessions.

Understanding these two reports’ differences is crucial for accurately interpreting attribution data in GA4.

Not using the «save as» option when creating reports.

A common mistake occurs when customising an existing standard report template with the intention to save it as a new, separate report. If you mistakenly click «Save changes to the current report,» as illustrated in the image below, you will overwrite the existing report you modified.

To avoid this, when your goal is to create a new report based on an existing one, you should select «Save as a new report.» However, the process continues beyond there. You must also add the new report to a specific «Topic» and «Collection» and ensure you save these changes.

If your modification intends to customise the native standard report and you do not wish to create a separate report, you should choose the «Save changes to the current report» option. This preserves your adjustments within the report’s original structure.

Neglecting to publish the search console report collection

Linking Google Analytics and Google Search Console is a critical first step in allowing these tools to communicate effectively. However, simply connecting them does not automatically display Search Console-related performance reports in the GA4 report section. So, how can you ensure access to these organic search insights?

The solution is straightforward. Navigate to the report library view in GA4 and verify that the «Search Console» collection is published. This process follows the same principles discussed earlier for publishing any report collection.

Once published, the reports from the Search Console will become visible and usable within your GA4 interface.

If you encounter difficulties integrating Google Search Console and Google Analytics, I recommend consulting this guide on troubleshooting GA4 and Search Console linking issues.

Not leveraging the standard report template library.

While not necessarily a mistake, you should utilise the standard report template library in GA4 to save some reporting times and positively impact your reporting process efficiency.

Rather than creating reports from scratch, leveraging the «GA4 Standard Reports» template can significantly expedite your report-building process.

This approach is time-efficient and ensures that you fully use GA4’s designed functionalities and pre-set configurations, which will be helpful when you’re building custom reports.

Limited understanding of report-sharing options in GA4

While not inherently problematic, limited knowledge about sharing reports in GA4 can become an obstacle if you need to share reports you’ve built with stakeholders, other team members or clients.

Once you have created a report in GA4, there are several methods available for sharing:

Copy and Share the Report URL: This is the traditional approach, where you copy and share the Google Analytics report URL with anyone with access privileges to view the report.

Use the Standard Report Share Link: This option is straightforward. It involves using the share report link option in the top left corner of the analytics standard report view, as highlighted in the image below.

Manual Data Export: This option allows data to be exported manually, as highlighted in the screenshot below.

Scheduled Report Feature: Set up reports to be sent automatically at predetermined intervals, ensuring timely updates to all relevant individuals.

Each method suits different needs and scenarios. To help you choose the right one, I’ve detailed each sharing option’s prerequisites, advantages, and disadvantages in a comprehensive blog post about «How To Share Google Analytics Reports«. This guide will equip you with the necessary knowledge to share GA4 reports effectively, tailored to your specific requirements.

Selecting the wrong save options when updating a report collection.

Selecting the incorrect save option while updating a report collection in GA4 can inadvertently create a duplicated similar report collection within your analytics property.

Here’s what you need to know:

When you customise a GA4 report collection and are ready to apply your changes, it’s crucial to select the appropriate save option. If you intend not to create a new report collection but rather to update an existing one, you should choose «Save changes to the current collection.» This option ensures that your modifications are applied directly to the existing collection without generating any duplicates.

However, suppose you completely revamped the report collection and would like to have it as your own bespoke-designed Google Analytics report collection. You can select the «Save as a new collection» option in that case.

Making the right choice at this juncture prevents unnecessary complications and helps maintain the integrity and organisation of your analytics reporting setup.

Missing up unrelated dimensions in your report configuration

Google Analytics features an extensive array of dimensions and metrics, which is why I find the Datola GA4 Dimension and Metrics Cheatsheet incredibly useful. It not only clarifies the possibilities within reporting but also helps avoid the misuse of GA4 dimensions and metrics that do not align or belong to the same scope.

For instance, if you are creating a custom session-scoped acquisition report and inadvertently apply user-scoped dimensions like source, medium, and campaign, as shown in the image below.

It can lead to confusion for analysts, making you suspect an implementation error when, in fact, the issue lies in the incorrect application of unrelated dimensions within your Google Analytics report.

The End & Final Tips

We have explored various mistakes to avoid when utilising Google Analytics’ standard reports and discussed strategies to circumvent them. I’m eager to hear about your takeaways from this guide. Please use the comment section to share any insights you’ve gained or mistakes you’ve previously made.

Here are the promised freebies I mentioned earlier in the blog post; I’d like to introduce you to two Free tools: the GA4 audit tool, which offers unlimited Google Analytics audits at no cost and a UTM audit tool that helps identify UTM bad practices, governance and strategy issues. This tool can be a valuable asset for ensuring the accuracy and effectiveness of your analytics setup.

To learn more about reporting in Google Analytics, check out this Datola guide on reporting tools that automate the process.

Jude Nwachukwu
Jude Nwachukwu

I Love watching magic videos and documentaries and googling tourism destinations I end up not visiting. I write about measurement topics in my free time and love helping non-technical marketers succeed in the ever-changing measurement space. I'm a marketing analytics specialist with Hedy and Hopp (a Healthcare marketing agency based in St Louis, US) and DumbData’s co-founder.

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