5 min read

How PR Teams Can Use Google Analytics 4 for Measurement & Reporting

Featured Image

If you’re familiar with Google Analytics, you know how powerful this tool is when it comes to measuring website activity. Google’s Universal Analytics has become a staple in our arsenal of tools we use to show how PR efforts are driving prospects through our clients’ sales funnels and contributing to overall business goals. In 2020, Google rolled out the newest version of the platform called Google Analytics 4 (GA4), which promises to yield better reporting by using machine learning insights all while prioritizing user privacy.

This all sounds great, considering we’re moving toward a cookieless future, and marketers need to get used to finding new ways to reach target audiences. But if you haven’t familiarized yourself with the new GA4 platform, brace yourself, because the metrics PR teams rely on to demonstrate the ROI of PR efforts are not so easy to find. In fact, you have to manually build most of the reports. And with Universal Analytics scheduled to begin sunsetting in July 2023, now is the time to make the transition to GA4 and get comfortable pulling your reports from the new interface.

In my previous blog, I outlined five metrics PR teams can use to measure PR results with Google’s Universal Analytics. Here, we’ll show you how to measure three of them that are a bit trickier to find in GA4.


1. Referral Traffic Breakdown

To see if your media coverage is driving web traffic, we used to go directly to the referral traffic report. This report showed a breakdown of sessions from people who came to your domain by clicking on a backlink in an article. Under the traffic acquisition report in GA4, you can see a breakdown of website traffic by session default channel grouping where referral traffic is listed, but since you can’t click into the referral traffic to see the specific referring sites, the analysis seems to stop here.

This is simply not enough information to determine which publications are driving relevant users to a client’s website, so it’s time to build our first report!

Under the Explore tab, you’ll see an option to build a free form report that allows you to use custom charts and tables. From here, add a dimension of source in the rows section. Next, under the values section, add the metrics you want to see listed across the chart. In this case, sessions, total users, new users, average engagement time per session and conversions are some of the metrics we use to show the performance of a specific media placement. Finally, you need to add a filter to only show traffic from the specific referral sources you’re looking for – in the case of a PR professional, this means the articles you secured containing a backlink.

This part is a bit techy but stay with me. Under filters, click the box that says, “Drop or select dimension or metric,” and click, “Source.” In the drop-down menu, select the match type of, “Matches regex.” Now, copy/paste the following script into the expression field and swap out the websites listed (i.e., Forbes, Entrepreneur, etc.) for the publications you want to see traffic from:


Click apply, and you’ll see a table of websites that referred the traffic to your site that looks similar to the previous Universal Analytics view.


referral traffic chart


2. Social Media Traffic by Platform

Next up, we have social media traffic by platform. This report is important to show which social platforms are reaching our clients’ customers. Just like in the referral traffic example, GA4’s traffic acquisition report doesn’t break down the specific social media channels driving users to the website. Instead, it categorizes all of them under Organic Social. If you want to show the performance of individual social media channels, you’ll need to build another free-form report under the Explore tab.

Luckily, this process is very similar to what we did for the referral traffic report. Add the dimension of source in the rows section and the specific metrics you want to look at under the values section. The metrics can be the same ones used for the referral traffic report. Next, add the same filter you did above for source and select the match type of, “Matches regex.” The only changes here are to the websites listed in the script and the top-level domain (i.e., .com or .co). Here is an example for you to copy/paste:


Notice the addition of .co added in the second section of the script. In this example, this is added to track t.co, which are shortened links from Twitter. Click apply, and you’ll have a table of social media traffic broken down by specific channel.


social traffic chart


3. Top-Performing Blogs

PR teams often look for blogs that are generating the most website traffic and engagement to use in media outreach or for social media content. Previously in Universal Analytics, this was found under the content drilldown report. GA4 provides a report called “pages and screens” that pulls data for the top-performing overall pages, which is useful but doesn’t give us the breakdown of the blog itself.

To see the blog traffic breakdown, you’ll need to build another custom report (don’t worry, this one’s much simpler than the others above!)

Go back to the Explore tab, start with a free-form report, and add a dimension for page path + query string under the rows section. Next, add the metrics you want to see listed across the chart under the values section. For blogs, I recommend looking at sessions, total users, new users, average engagement time per session and engagement rate. Finally, under filters, click the box that says, “Drop or select dimension or metric,” and click, “Page path + query string.” Select the match type of, “Contains,” and enter “/blog” in the expression field. Once you apply this filter, the table will populate with all pages that contain /blog in the URL. Note: This report will only work for you if your blog URLs contain the query string of /blog.

Blog traffic chart


One of the biggest challenges PR professionals face is proving the ROI of PR efforts, so when Google announced sunsetting Universal Analytics, it’s no surprise many of us wondered how this would impact our reporting capabilities. Although GA4’s interface is a bit more confusing than its predecessor, it can still be used to pull powerful information about how users interact with your online content – we just have to jump through a few more hoops to get the exact information we need. GA4 is still a work in progress and continues to be updated frequently, so I’ll share more information about how these updates affect the above metrics as they become widely available to Google Analytics users. For now, happy analyzing!

Sign Up for Blogs Straight to Your Inbox