Get Started with Google Analytics Explorations in GA4
Read Time: 7 Minutes

Get Started with Google Analytics Explorations in GA4

22 Oct, 2021 Read Time: 7 Minutes
Published by
Adam Brodsky
Director, Training (Analytics & GMP)
Inspire Inform Ignite

By now I’m sure you’re familiar with Google Analytics 4 properties. They are the next generation of Google Analytics, on an all-new code base, and they offer our data to us in different formats from what we’ve come to know within Universal Analytics.

All well and good, but where do we start?

The new version of the familiar GA platform can certainly be a bit jarring at first, as we wonder how to extract the kinds of insights we need to optimize our site, app, and campaign performance.

Fortunately, insights in GA4 are much easier to uncover thanks to the new custom reporting feature, Explorations. Explorations allow us to dig into our data and cross-reference and segment it more flexibly than Universal Analytics ever could.

Sounds good, right?

So Let’s take a look at some of the features that GA4 Explorations has to offer, and how we can turn this new capability into success for our organization.

Exploration reports - the basics

Google Analytics 4 Explorations menu

All Explorations operate using the same curated variables. This means that we choose the Dimensions and Metrics that we want to use, from the full list of what’s available in our property. This essentially creates a ‘short list’ of the most important variables for our work - no more searching through lists of dimensions or metrics any time we want to bring something new into a report.

This gives us the opportunity to use our reports as living documents, where we can bring new dimensions, metrics or segments in on the fly rather than creating a whole new report or tab.

Some reports use particular dimensions or metrics though, like the Lifetime Value report (more on that in a bit). In these cases, the useful dimensions and metrics automatically appear as selectable, while any metrics on your curated list that won’t work within the confines of the report are automatically greyed out.

Pretty useful, so let’s dive in!

Free-form analysis

Google Analytics 4 Freeform analysis report

The main analysis type we’ll be using in Explore is the Free-form analysis.

This analysis type has many capabilities on its own: It allows us to build flat tables like we’re used to, but now we can also create pivot tables as well as nested rows in either type.

It still has a few extra tricks up its sleeve, too.

We can also use the Free-form analysis to create visualizations for our data. We can create doughnut charts, line graphs, scatter plots or bar charts, all of which have the further advantage of being able to incorporate up to four segments for comparison. They’re interactive, too - mouse over a data point on one segmented visualization, and the corresponding data point will automatically highlight in the other segments you’re comparing it to.

And that’s still not the best part!

Now, in all of these analysis types, when we discover an important insight we can right-click on that data point and automatically create a new segment based on that condition. This means that segmentation is now no longer a proactive, hypothesis-based exercise but a reactive, natural way to follow what the data is telling us.

Last but not least, the Free-form analysis also gives us the option to create a geo chart. Lots of features here!

(Tip: Export your large sheets to a spreadsheet program to get into greater detail.)

Funnel reporting

GA4 explorations funnel analysis tool

Funnel reporting gets a huge upgrade in Google Analytics 4 too! 

Gone are the limitations to 5 steps - now you can track up to 10. Don’t know Regex and couldn’t get much insight only using exact match dimension values? Now you can use friendly operators like Begins With, Ends With, or Contains - along with OR operations (finally!). You can even include custom metrics or values as steps, using numerical operators like < , > , <= , >= .

The improvements don’t end there though.

You can now set a time limit between funnel steps, from a matter of seconds to a span of days. You can create a trended funnel to analyze behavior over time. You can switch back and forth between an open and closed funnel on the fly (no more having to create different funnel tabs to examine the difference!). And rather simply but very handily, you can compare up to 4 segments side by side at a time in your funnels, instead of having to click between segments in your old Universal Analytics Custom Funnels.

(Oh and it probably goes without saying but we can now incorporate funnel tabs into the rest of our reports.)

Segment Overlap

GA4 Segment overlap report

This one’s probably the sleeper of the new analysis types, but don’t judge it by first impressions.

On the surface, simply being able to compare the number of users in up to three segments seems nice, if not particularly hard-hitting. But dig into your segments with the right mindset, and you can discover major affinities between slices of your audience with almost no effort - and of course, you can just right-click on your newly discovered overlaps to create new segments from those you’ve already identified.

Path Analysis

Google Analytics 4 Path analysis report

The Path Analysis is yet another major improvement in GA4. 

First of all, it’s interactive unlike the flow reports for User / Behavior / Events in Universal Analytics. It’s much easier to read and understand. No more mess here! 

Second, it’s now capable of displaying the flow between pages/screens and interaction events - just change the headers on top of each node. Are you done following one pathway and want to go back to follow a different one? Just click on where you want to go back to and the path you’ve taken will minimize back, so you can focus on your new pathway.

User Lifetime 

GA4 User Lifetime analysis report

The User Lifetime analysis helps us figure out which of our marketing channels is referring the highest-quality user base over time. So, instead of focusing on last-touch or session-based analysis, the focus here is on first touches and whether or not those users continue to convert over the first 90 days. This is particularly useful for app developers!

Cohort Analysis

Google Analytics 4 Cohort Analysis report

Want to know how your users behave over a period of time?

The Cohort Analysis report allows us to look at the acquisition numbers for a particular group over an extended timeframe, and then follow whether or not those users returned and performed a particular action (such as a conversion) over the following periods - we can analyze traffic by day, week, or month here. 

Very useful for seasonal analysis and even has good applications for offline marketing!

User Explorer 

GA4 User Explorer analysis report

Lastly, we have User Explorer. This is only available to GA4 users with Edit access, and isn’t actually an analysis type - instead, it’s a list of users by Client ID or User ID for the particular conditions you set up in the report. It’s mainly intended for export to a big data environment (such as BigQuery, or a data warehouse) for predicting behavioral patterns using a machine learning algorithm.

So, there we have it, a quick overview of the new Exploration custom reporting feature in GA4!

Pretty cool, isn’t it? It’s also still under development at this point, so be sure to check back in your account often - who knows what new cool features are just around the corner.

If you want to know more about how to get the most out of GA4 reporting features feel free to check out our dedicated Google Analytics 4 Reporting course.

Finally, If you've yet to make the switch away from Universal Analytics you might also be looking for some help with Google Analytics 4: Implementation & Configuration.

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