Google recently released the next generation of Google Analytics to the general public: Google Analytics 4 (GA4). This new iteration upends much of what we digital marketers have used for years with Universal Analytics (UA). As Google rolls out the new power and functionality of GA4 to the public over the next few months, we will have to learn as a collective industry on how to analyze and report data.
I created a GA4 property for Spark Creative as soon as Google gave me the option to upgrade my existing UA property! I tend to be one of the early adopters of most things new. However, I quickly realized that GA4 lacked many of the features I took for granted in UA to gain accurate data. Moreover, when I went scavenging for help articles to learn how these features changed or evolved with GA4, there was nothing out there.
A side note: this guide assumes that you have a GA4 property for your site. If you do not yet have a new property set-up, follow this guide from Google.
The Case of the Missing Internal Traffic Filter
One of these missing features was the ability to filter out internal traffic. As an agency owner, I log onto Spark’s site and my clients’ sites frequently. When I look through Google Analytics, I want to ensure that the data I am examining reflects real users, not my browsing. With UA, filtering out internal traffic was pretty simple. I created a new view, added a new filter, and set the filter up to exclude my IP address.
With GA4, little documentation was available on how to achieve the same result. With the documentation that did exist, mainly from Google’s help forums, the steps outlined did not match what I saw on my end. As an aside, one of the things I have observed with GA4 is that features tend to appear at different points for different users. For example, the steps Google outlined for filtering internal traffic were missing in my property for the first few weeks I was using GA4.
Recently, the steps I needed to take to filter internal data appeared in Spark’s GA4 property. I recently published a video tutorial on LinkedIn, laying out the exact process to follow. For those who prefer to read, I will dive into how to filter internal traffic. I will also cover some of the nuances of this new version.
1. Define Internal Traffic in Your Property’s Data Stream
In GA4, your property’s Data Stream is how data comes from your website into the various Google Analytics reports. To start, log in to Google Analytics and click on your GA4 property. Then, in the bottom left, click Admin. In the center column, click the Data Streams tab. Now, if you are like me, I only have one Stream for my site. However, GA4 does give the ability to add multiple streams coming into one property.
Click the applicable Stream, and when the tab flies in from the right, scroll down until you see a tab labeled Tagging Settings. It is here where we control the data as it comes into our GA4 property. If you click on Tagging Settings, there is an option to define internal traffic. Click that, and then click the create button.
This section is pretty straightforward. Give your rule a name (e.g., “Office IP Address”) and paste your IP address into the empty field. You will notice that one of the cells is pre-populated with the term “internal.” We will want to leave that be. The powerful functionality of GA4 is due in part to its built-in variables. From event tracking to conversions, the variables that come standard with GA4 properties streamline tracking that previously needed to be manually done.
Once done, click create and then close out of the various tabs until you are back in the Admin portion of GA4. A brief note: you can add as many IP addresses as you want. Follow the steps above for each new IP address.
2. Configure the Filter
Once back in the Admin area, click the Data Settings tab (it is directly beneath the Data Streams tab), and then the Data Filters line item. You will notice right away that there is a filter already there for internal traffic. As soon as you add your IP in step 1, you are technically good to go. However, GA4 offers an additional option for this internal traffic filter that impacts how the platform pulls in data.
If you click the pre-built internal traffic filter, you will see that the “internal” term we saw in the IP address tab is listed. GA4 tags all traffic originating from your excluded IP addresses with the “internal” parameter. What happens next, however, is up to you and your specific use case.
The goal of filtering internal traffic is to prevent the skewing of your data so that you can make accurate decisions. You want to learn about what your customers are doing on your website, not what you are doing! As such, we need to decide how we want this data filter to be applied.
There are three options—Testing, Active, and Inactive. By default, the filter uses the Testing option. Both Testing and Active treat your internal data differently:
- Testing: GA4 tags your internal traffic as “internal” but proceeds with mixing it in with the rest of your data. Instead, GA4 gives the ability to add a dimension to separate this traffic as you look at reporting. I will dive into this a little further below.
- Active: GA4 tags your internal traffic as “internal” and stops it from mixing with your data. From this point forward, no internal traffic will be in your metrics.
The Inactive option is what it sounds like—the filter is off. At first, I was going to switch the option from Testing to Active. However, I left it on Testing. I will explain my rationale in a moment. After deciding which option you want, click the save button, and you are all set!
Why I Left the Testing Option As-Is for the Internal Traffic Filter
With UA, the best practice was to create a new view, separate from the “All Web Site Data” view, and add all your filters there. This way, your site’s property had all the raw data accessible in one view and the filtered data in another. With GA4, the Views section in the admin area is gone.
If you choose the Active option for your filter, you will never have truly unfiltered data. While this may be fine for some digital marketers, I feel more comfortable having access to both an unfiltered set and a filtered set. In GA4, you accomplish this with the Testing option for the internal traffic filter.
With this option checked, you add a Comparison Dimension to your reporting (similar to a Segment in UA) that excludes the internal traffic. You end up with both data sets side-by-side, which I love for the sake of analysis and comparison. To see how this works, navigate to the Acquisition tab on the lefthand navigation, and click Overview.
Beneath the “Acquisition overview” heading, click the button to add a comparison. A lightbox will fly-in from the right. Choose to Exclude from the dropdown and select “Test data filter name” from the dropdown. Under Dimension Values, our internal filter is listed! Click that and then apply it. This comparison puts all of your website’s data next to the data set that excludes any internal traffic. The comparison carries through the entire GA4 platform, too, once it’s implemented.
I have been on the hunt for UA features and functionality in GA4, to see what changes Google made and how it will impact reporting for digital marketers. I hope that this guide helped layout how filtering internal traffic works in this next generation of Google Analytics. Over the next few months, I will be working to answer some of my other questions, and when I find answers I will be sure to share them with you all on our blog.