A Deep Dive into the GA4 Dashboard: Unlock Data-Driven Decisions

Written by Mate Tagaj

11 min read

Published on Apr 19, 2024

Updated on May 08, 2024

We live in a data-driven world. Nonprofits are no exception to this. Although you may have just gotten familiar with reporting via Universal Analytics, switching to the Google Analytics 4 (GA4) dashboard can feel like a huge leap. At Boostern, we understand that as a nonprofit, you have unique needs. We’re here to help you improve your overall data collection to maximise your impact with easy-to-use, clear insights from your own GA4 dashboard.
3D vector illustration of a gentleman in a suite looking behind screens showcasing graphs and charts

Why Should Nonprofits Use Google Analytics 4?

If you have a Google Analytics account, you probably used Universal Analytics (UA) to gather data on your website during the last decade. However, this iteration of Google Analytics is currently being phased out and replaced by GA4. 
If you haven’t exported your data from Universal Analytics yet, you need to hurry up and extract them before July 2024, or you will lose access to all of your important data.
Although you need to make the switch to GA4 out of necessity, it’s actually a great thing for nonprofits who want to collect reliable data that can be used to make better decisions about their digital communication efforts. 
If you want to learn more about what GA4 is, whether it is free for nonprofits or not, whether it’s GDPR compliant, why you should switch to GA4 ASAP and what the top differences are between UA vs GA4, read our comprehensive Nonprofit Guide on How to Master Google Analytics 4.

Get The Most Out Of Your GA4 Dashboard

To make full use of your GA4 dashboard, you will first need to understand the main features, sections and tabs. If you haven’t done so, read our How to Master GA4 guide to familiarise yourself with the GA4 dashboard.
Ready? Awesome. In this section, we go one level deeper and discuss the differences between GA4 dimensions and metrics, as well as show you the most important metrics within the GA4 dashboard for nonprofits.

Differences between GA4 Dimensions and Metrics

Let’s start with some foundational questions: What is a metric in Google Analytics? What is a dimension in Google Analytics? And what is a secondary dimension in Google Analytics?
Dimensions and metrics are the backbone of data collection and GA4 reporting. By default, standard GA4 reports include a table within the Google Analytics 4 dashboard with a dimension column and several metric columns. This can be further extended with an additional dimension column called ‘secondary dimension’. 
Let’s break it down. A dimension is essentially an attribute of your data, while a metric is a quantitative measurement. Now, it might sound straightforward, but bear with me. This is fundamental to how we gather and make sense of data.

Understanding Dimensions and Metrics Through an Example

To make it more tangible, consider this table below. We’ve got a dimension: City (with options like Brussels and Berlin). On the right, we’ve got a metric: sessions. Simple enough, right?
City (dimension)Sessions (metric)
By knowing the city dimension, we can see that there were 5,000 sessions in Brussels and 4,000 in Berlin. Remove the dimension, and we lose crucial insights into where these sessions originated.

Understanding Secondary Dimensions Through an Example

Let’s take it a step further. Now we’ve got the dimension of ‘City’ and a secondary dimension about the browser used by the visitors. Along with two metrics – sessions and views per user. By breaking down Brussels into browsers, we discover more details. For instance, 3,000 sessions in Brussels were via Chrome, and 2,000 via Firefox. This nuanced approach allows us to capture a richer understanding of our data.
City (dimension)Browser (secondary dimension)Sessions (metric)Views per user (metric)
Nevertheless, you need to be careful, as not all dimensions and metrics play well together. Some just aren’t compatible. The key takeaway for now: dimensions are attributes, and metrics are quantities.
In this article, we primarily focus on standard dimensions and metrics. Therefore, if you would like to learn more about this topic, please consult this GA4 guide about custom dimensions and metrics.

Key Metrics for Nonprofits within the GA4 Dashboard

When you log into your Google Analytics 4 platform, this is the screen you’ll be faced with.
Google Analytics 4 Demo Property Home Dasboard
This may seem like a lot of numbers and graphs to take in. However, once you understand what each of these metrics means and how they can apply to your nonprofit, you’ll quickly be able to make sense of everything.
The Home Report offers a consolidated view of essential data and insights. It gives you a snapshot of your site’s health in seconds. In addition, it provides breakdowns of user acquisition, user engagement, and donations (if applicable).
This centralised GA4 dashboard lets you easily spot trends, summarising key metrics. For instance, it showcases where your users come from, which campaigns drive results, and what content resonates with your audience.
In short, it gives you a helicopter view of all your data, just like the ‘Overview’ reports within each report tab. However, the golden mine of data can be found in your specific acquisition, engagement, monetisation, retention and user reports. This is where you should spend most of your time for data analysis and GA4 reporting.
Here are some key metrics nonprofits should primarily be looking for in their GA4 dashboard.

Top 5 Acquisition Metrics in the GA4 Dashboard

This tab tells you how people are finding your website. It consists of a traffic acquisition report and a user acquisition report. The first shows how all your visitors ended up on your site, while the latter focuses only on new users. Hence the difference in the numbers found in these two GA4 reports.

Decoding User Acquisition Channels

In terms of the primary dimension, which is set to “Session primary channel group” by default, it could be that they’re finding you:
  1. Organically through ‘Organic Search’ (primarily Google) – this is a good indicator of whether your communication strategy is working)
  2. In a ‘Direct’ way, by typing your website URL into their browser
  3. Through ‘Paid Search’ advertising (maybe thanks to your Google Ad Grants efforts) or ‘Paid other’ if you are using other paid advertising tools to drive traffic to your website
  4. Via a ‘Referral’ link from another website
  5. From the ‘Organic Social’ content you’ve posted on social media that does not rely on paid advertising
  6. By clicking a link in your YouTube or Vimeo ‘Organic Video’
  7. By clicking a link in one of the ‘Email’ blasts or newsletters you sent out
  8. Or other unidentifiable ways, which usually appear as ‘Unassigned’
GA4 Dashboard Acquisition Metrics

Top 5 Acquisition Metrics to Track

Acquisition metrics may be one of the most important ones as they will help you understand what is driving traffic to your organisation’s website, and what channels you need to develop further. For example, if you are investing in social media posts but aren’t seeing too much traffic from them, it could be a good time to rethink your communication strategy and try something new.
The top 5 acquisition metrics you should follow in these GA4 reports are the following:
1. Users: The total number of GA4 active users
2. New Users: The number of GA4 new users who interacted with your site for the first time
3. Sessions: The number of GA4 sessions that began on your site
4. Event count: The number of times users triggered a GA4 event like a newsletter signup 
5. Key Events: The number of times your users triggered one of your key GA4 events (previously called GA4 conversions)
By following these metrics in your acquisition reports, you will understand where all your users, new users, sessions, events and key events are coming from. 

Top 6 Engagement Metrics in the GA4 Dashboard

Once you’ve got people to your website, the work doesn’t stop there – you want to know how they interact with your site!
In the user engagement portion of your GA4 dashboard, we recommend keeping an eye on the 
  1. ‘Pages and Screens’ report to understand how your users interact with specific pages of your website
  2. ‘Landing Page’ report where you can analyse how people engage with those pages where they first enter your site
  3. ‘Events’ report to understand through which particular actions your visitors engage with your site
  4. ‘Key Events’ report to see what key events (previously conversions) have been completed the most 
GA4 Dashboard Engagement Metrics
This is a good way to see what your visitors are interested in and how engaging your content is. For instance, if you have a really low ‘Average engagement time per session’ on one of your pages or landing pages, it indicates that this page isn’t relevant or interesting enough to hold people’s attention, and it needs work from your end.
When navigating these and even the acquisition reports in your Google Analytics 4 dashboard, we suggest following these six user engagement metrics:
1. Engaged sessions: The number of GA4 sessions that lasted longer than ten seconds, had a key event or had two or more screen or page views
2. Engaged sessions per user: Average session count per active user for the time period selected
3. Average engagement time: Average engagement time per active user for the time period selected
4. Average engagement time per session: User engagement duration per session
5. Engagement rate: The percentage of engaged GA4 sessions (Engaged sessions divided by Sessions).
6. Views: The number of pageviews on a website in the selected date range.

Top 3 Retention Metrics in the GA4 Dashboard

It’s not good enough for someone to visit your website once. You want to be an authority and ensure that they keep coming back time and time again. Consequently, it is important to keep an eye on retention metrics too.
Understanding how visitors return to your website is crucial for building long-term relationships.
GA4 Dashboard Retention Metrics
The ‘Retention’ tab within your GA4 dashboard is also a report, and it looks exactly like the ‘Overview’ report, which makes it slightly more difficult to use for in-depth analysis. For more sophisticated GA4 reporting, we recommend using the ‘Explorations’ feature to showcase the user retention metrics, which are visualised in charts within the standard retention report.
As a baseline, you should be tracking at least the following three retention metrics:
1. Returning users: Users who have initiated at least one previous session
2. User retention: Percentage of GA4 new users who return each day
3. Lifetime value: For each new user, Google Analytics 4 calculates the sum of purchase events (donations – if applicable) during the user’s first 120 days of website usage. The lifetime value (LTV) is the average of this metric for all users, which can give you a good idea of the long-term value of your donors. 
In summary, retention metrics can give you an idea of how loyal your returning users are and if there are any specific areas of your website that people frequently come back to. Additionally, if you’re leveraging your website for individual donations, you can analyse your donors’ lifetime value metric, which helps pinpoint segments of high-value donors, enabling you to tailor fundraising strategies for each group and ultimately maximise contributions.

Metrics Powered by GA4 UTM Parameters

UTM stands for Urchin Tracking Module, and it is an extra text snippet appended to the end of a URL to track the metrics and performance of specific digital campaigns.
This is particularly useful if you wish to tell Google from which specific in-house campaign some of your traffic is coming. 
Have you sent out a special newsletter? You can include UTM parameters on all your links to find all the data in your acquisition reports about the traffic you generated with your email
Do you include QR codes in printed materials? Ensure that the URLs used for the generation of QR codes include UTM parameters so that you can analyse all the sessions happening on your website thanks to your offline campaign.

UTM Parameters and Their Significance

When it comes to tracking your campaigns, GA4 UTM parameters play a pivotal role. 
GA4 UTM Parameters Metrics in Dashboard
These are key elements. Let’s break down the two most vital UTM parameters for nonprofits:

Source and Medium

Source indicates the specific origin of the traffic, while medium provides a broader category for the traffic source.
Examples include:
Campaign 1:
  1. UTM Source: Newsletter
  2. UTM Medium: Email
Campaign 2:
  1. UTM Source: Facebook
  2. UTM Medium: Social
Campaign 3:
  1. UTM Source: Google
  2. UTM Medium: Organic

Campaign, Term and Content

Beyond UTM source and medium, there are three additional UTM parameters: campaign, term, and content, though they aren’t obligatory. These parameters are included in the link that directs users to your website.

How to Create a UTM Link for Free?

To implement GA4 UTM parameters, you need to modify the URLs associated with your campaign links. For instance, if you’re sharing a link in a newsletter or email, incorporate UTM parameters like source and medium by using Google’s Campaign URL Builder tool and insert the new UTM link into your newsletter instead of the original one.
Google Campaign URL Builder
Here’s a sample UTM tracking URL:
Ensure all campaign links within your newsletters or emails have these UTM parameters for comprehensive tracking. Occasionally, you may need to create your own URLs, but there are also some tools that provide built-in UTM generation functionality. Here are the best 5 free UTM building tools we recommend:
Make sure to use one of these tools to build your campaign URLs or check one of your existing tools, like your social media automation tool, which might already have this feature integrated.

Free UTM Tracking Sheet to Keep Track of All Your UTM Powered URLs

Despite the obvious benefits, the only issue with creating links with UTM parameters is that it can quickly become messy within a busy nonprofit organisation. You will be able to create hundreds of links and track the outcomes, but you will not know who created which and when, which can lead to duplication of efforts.

Download Our Free UTM Tracking Sheet

To assist you, we've created a FREE interactive UTM Builder that consolidates all your tracking needs in one place. You can access it by clicking the button below to streamline your campaign tracking efforts. Just click on the button to access the Google Sheet and make a copy for yourself by going to 'File' and selecting 'Make a copy'. 

Once ready, start filling in all fields. By typing into the first field, the date will be auto-generated. Once you’ve typed in the source URL and the basic parameters, you will get your final URL generated in column I. This approach will help you get more organised with your campaign URLs internally and will save you plenty of time avoiding duplication.

Where to find UTM Data in Your GA4 Dashboard

You’ve created your campaign URLs and added them to your assets. Moving on to GA4, let’s explore how to view campaign data. 
To analyse the collected data, head to the traffic acquisition report under the Google Merchandise Store Demo Property, which is publicly available thanks to Google’s generosity. UTM parameters appear in session dimensions and user dimensions:
  1. Session dimensions: Display general categories like organic search and direct.
  2. User dimensions: Offer more specific insights, such as newsletter-specific details.
Adjust the view to showcase ‘session source and medium’ for a more practical analysis.
How to find UTM data in the GA4 Dashboard
And there you have it. By using UTM parameters, you will be able to optimise your campaigns and refine the data presented in GA4. Filter and categorise campaigns to streamline the information for better analysis.

How to Turn Google Analytics 4 Metrics Into A Winning Communication Strategy

Although learning how to understand your GA4 dashboard is a great place to start for nonprofits who are just beginning to take their digital communication seriously, you’re going to have to do a lot more than just read the data to make a difference.
Here are some of our top tips on how you can use the data you find in your Google Analytics 4 dashboard to level up your communication strategy:
  1. Optimise Your Website: Look at your dashboard and see which pages are getting the most traffic and user engagement in GA4. Try to figure out what works and then replicate that throughout your website. You can also use A/B testing to experiment with different content formats and calls to action.
  2. Targeted Outreach: Segment your audience based on their behaviour (e.g., returning visitors, high-value donors, engaged users) and create targeted paid ad campaigns for each group.
  3. Personalise the User Journey: Use GA4 data to personalise user experiences by tailoring content towards specific audiences.
  4. Measure Campaign Effectiveness: Track the performance of your communication campaigns (social media, email, offline etc.) by using UTM parameters to understand their impact on website traffic and conversions. This is especially important during EU elections when every piece of content counts.
  5. Automate GA4 Reporting with Looker Studio: Leverage the power of Google’s Looker Studio (formerly Google Data Studio) to visualise interactive custom reports focusing only on the metrics that count. Save a massive amount of time by automating the report submission to your boss by scheduling an email with a PDF report and link to the interactive version on the first day of every month. Finally, don’t forget to go beyond your data provided by Google and use a tool like Supermetrics or PowerMyAnalytics to plug additional data streams into these reports from your social media channels, email marketing tool and more.

Level Up Your Nonprofit With our GA4 Training

GA4 is a powerful tool for any nonprofit organisation, and it all starts with understanding your dashboard. 
As soon as you know what each of the figures means and how you can use them to make noticeable improvements in your organisation, you can improve your website, personalise communications, and, ultimately, maximise your impact on the causes you champion.

Google Analytics 4 (GA4) Training for Nonprofits

Our recent GA4 training will give you a much more in-depth understanding of how the new platform works and how it can benefit nonprofits like yours. If you're interested to learn more, book a meeting with us to discuss the first steps.

At Boostern, we specialise in helping nonprofits leverage the power of digital analytics. If you’d like to learn more about your GA4 account, create relevant dashboards, or make sense of all the figures, subscribe to our newsletter and get notified about our content to receive useful tips and resources.

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