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The Difference Between Key Events and Conversions: Google Analytics Explained

the differences between key events and conversions for Google

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In 2024, Google made a big change to what “conversions” are called in Google Analytics 4. Now I agree that this is a bit annoying since the new name for “conversions” in GA4 is ‘Key Events’ and you have to start to explain the difference to clients, management, and whoever else wants insight into how your website and ads are performing.

Key Events in GA4

It’s important to note that conversions didn’t go anywhere but instead of being the term for both Google Analytics 4 and Google Ads, now ‘conversions’ is only tied to Google Ads.

From our research and understanding (as much as I can at times…) about Google, I assume that this change is here to stay for the long haul. So the real questions are: what are key events, what are conversions, what’s the difference between the two, and why did they make this change? We’ll explain all of that below.

What are Key Events in Google Analytics 4?

With so many changes (and likely more coming) happening in Google Analytics, it can be hard to keep up. From the transition to GA4 from Universal Analytics, ‘Goals’ to ‘Conversions’ to ‘Key Events’, new metrics in GA4, and much more, being someone who utilizes GA4 is a fun spot to be in.

To give it to you straight, key events are just what events that are important are called. This could be a form submission on your website or a user clicking an important link, really whatever you want to track as a key event a user does on your website, you can track. 

There was no change in how these are tracked, what they mean, or how they operate. Really the only change is in the name, which also impacts what other metrics are called. For example, conversion rate is now key event rate.

You can mark and create events as key events the exact same way as you did before, so don’t worry about how to do this if you understood it previously.

What are Conversions in Google Ads and GA4?

Confused yet? Well, let’s do a brief on what conversions are now. A conversion is now created only within Google Ads based on a key event that was set up in Google Analytics 4.

These conversions are to help you improve your marketing strategy by understanding the performance and optimizing your ad campaigns. Unlike the new key events, only conversions are eligible for bidding and reporting in Google Ads (although all key events can be marked as conversions if you’d like).

Why did Google change Conversions to Key Events in GA4?

To put it simply, the reason why Google decided to make this change was to help clear up discrepancies between the term ‘conversion’ in Google Ads and GA4 reporting.

Since the previous conversion in GA4 was being measured differently than how conversions are measured in Google Ads, there tended to be a lot of differences in reporting around conversions that led some to scratch their heads as to why conversion analytics weren’t lining up between the two.

The hope is that this clears up some confusion but it seems that most people aren’t a fan of the change and as much as it might help connect conversion reporting between Google Ads and GA4, it makes conversions (or should I Say key events) that you don’t want to be a conversion in Google Ads seem less important.

The Benefits of Changing Conversions to Key Events

Now, I’m not the biggest fan of this but there are some benefits to it that can be helpful, especially for those who have large ad budgets and are extremely into/look at analytics.

1. You can track important actions in GA4 without impacting Google Ads

Previously marking an event as a conversion tended to impact your Google Ad campaigns. Some actions that you see as important aren’t exactly a conversion or a potential lead and now you have the ability to track these effectively.

Let’s use pdf downloads as an example. Say you have a guide on your website that if a user downloads it, they are labeled as a marketing-qualified lead but you do not want this to be a true conversion since it’s not them truly reaching out to you.

Instead of having to mark this as a conversion, you can mark it as a key event, track it in GA4, and not have it impact your true conversion data.

2. True data around conversions

When you used to look at conversion data in Google Analytics 4, you were looking at everything you marked as a conversion, whether that was a conversion only in GA4 or also a conversion in Google Ads.

Now, when you’re looking at conversion analytics in GA4, you’re looking at only true conversions from Google Ads. This can help you measure the performance of your ad campaigns more effectively in GA4 without having to think about how many of those conversions aren’t true conversions.

In a simple way, you have more advanced reporting capabilities and insights into your Google Ads performance directly in Google Analytics 4.

Final Thoughts on GA4 Conversion Renaming

If you haven’t read between the lines already, I’m not too sold on this renaming. I understand the reasoning behind it and as I stated before, if you’re extremely dialed into Google Ads, you might see this as a positive.

To me, it makes it difficult for those who only do simple reporting and analysis to understand and communicate the data they have to those who need to know how things are going. If I’m being realistic, it’s not that big of a deal since it’s just a name change and my guess is in a year or so, I won’t even think about it. Guess time will tell.

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