[UA→GA4] Conversions and key events in Google Analytics 4

In Universal Analytics, you measure conversions by setting up goals and ecommerce transactions. In Google Analytics 4, there is no distinction between goals and ecommerce; you measure all key events via GA4 events. GA4 events are triggered as users interact with your site or app. Using the user interface, you flag any events that contribute to the success of your business as key events. Whenever any of these flagged events is triggered, a key event is registered in your GA4 property. 

GA4 automatically flags the purchase event, which you use to tell Google Analytics that an ecommerce transaction has occurred, as a key event.

Before diving into the details of replicating your conversions in Google Analytics 4 (GA4), you should understand the GA4 data model and be familiar with some of the nuances of how key events work differently from Universal Analytics.

In this article:

But first: Do you need to migrate every goal?

Google Analytics 4 adoption provides a great opportunity to confirm which KPIs are important to your stakeholders. You can set up GA4 to measure success in the way that makes the most sense for your business. While replicating and validating existing conversion definitions, take time reevaluate the conversion tracking strategy at all levels. You may find that some preexisting conversions are no longer relevant (for example a "Holiday 2017 Purchase" goal). And you may discover new ways to measure your success.

Events replace "hits"

To start, you should be familiar with the differences in data in Universal Analytics versus Google Analytics 4. In particular, be aware that while Universal Analytics is "hit-based", GA4 is "event-based". How events are sent in GA4 is quite different from how they are sent in Universal Analytics. Universal Analytics events have 3 attributes (category, action, and label) whereas GA4 events have a flexible number of parameters.

Example: Pageview hit vs. page_view event

In Universal Analytics, the most prevalent hit types are pageview, which in most cases corresponds to a physical page load, and event, which you can use to send other types of user interactions.

In Google Analytics 4, pageviews are sent as events. There’s no concept of a pageview hit (or hit type). All interactions are sent in Google Analytics 4 as events. For example, Google Analytics records a pageview when it receives a page_view event. The page_view event has parameters that indicate the URL, page title, and so on.

Learn more about automatically collected events in GA4.

Key events replace "goals"

In GA4, you no longer have to set up goals based on a limited set of criteria. Instead, GA4 automatically marks 4 collected mobile app events as key events. In addition, you can mark up to 30 more (50 for Google Analytics 360) app or web events as key events. This gives you great flexibility and refinement in how you measure your important user activities.

Key events are based on event_name

Every event has at least one parameter in common: event_name. The value of this parameter is the name of the event.

When you mark an event as a key event, Google Analytics registers the key event every time that event_name is sent. You can't base a key event on a different parameter value.


You create an event named "XYZ", which you mark as a key event. Every time GA4 sees the XYZ event stream in from a website or app, it registers a key event.

Now let's say you only want XYZ to be a key event when it meets a certain condition. To create a key event based on the values of event XYZ’s parameters, you can create a new event that only fires when XYZ’s parameters meet certain conditions. This is illustrated in the Replicate a destination goal in GA4 article.

Learn how to create or modify key events in GA4.

Different match types

The options for match types in Universal Analytics and GA4 differ. For example, when you’re configuring a destination goal in Universal Analytics, you can choose one of three match types for the Page dimension that you are mapping to a key event:

  • equals to
  • begins with
  • regular expression

When you modify and create events via the user interface in GA4, you have the following match types for any of the condition statements:

  • equals/does not equal
  • contains
  • starts with
  • ends with

Note that GA4 does not support regular expressions when defining an event. In some cases where you may have used regular expressions as the match type in Universal Analytics goal definitions, you may be able to use starts with or ends with as the match type in GA4 instead.

In cases where starts with or ends with matching is not sufficient (e.g., to match /contact-us-1-confirmed, /contact-us-2-confirmed, and /contact-us-3-confirmed for the same key event), you can configure the event in GA4 to separately map each of the pageview variations to the same key event as illustrated in the following table:

Create event rule Event generated
event_name - equals - page_view
page - equals - /contact-us-1-confirmed
event_name - equals - page_view
page - equals - /contact-us-2-confirmed
event_name - equals - page_view
page - equals - /contact-us-3-confirmed

You can then mark generate_lead as a key event.

A new way to set intelligent conversions

Smart Goals in Universal Analytics use machine learning to determine signals that indicate the likelihood of a key event. Smart Goals allow users who aren't importing explicit Analytics goals into Google Ads and/or who aren't using the native Google Ads conversion code to optimize their Google Ads campaigns based on those signals.

Smart Goals are not supported in Google Analytics 4. An alternative you may want to consider is predictive audiences, which use machine learning to predict the future behavior of your users, including the probability to purchase. You can then use an audience trigger to convert the predictive audiences to an event that can be marked as a key event.

Learn more about bidding on Google Analytics 4 conversions in Google Ads.

A new way to represent key event values

In a Universal Analytics property, you can assign a value to the goals you define. Goal value is the basis for calculating metrics like Page Value and Per-Session Goal Value.

A new way to represent key event value in Google Analytics 4 is to add a value as a custom event parameter (for example, event_value) to an event, create a custom metric (for example, Event Value) for the event parameter, and then include the custom metric in your reports and explorations.

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