December 8, 2022
Google Analytics 4 Audiences (GA4 Audiences) – How to use them?
Updated: December 8th, 2022
When it comes to analyzing your data with Google Analytics 4 and comparing different subsets, you have features like segments, audiences, and comparisons. For new GA4 users, this might be confusing because each feature has some similarities but also has significant differences.
In this blog post, we will take a closer look at Google Analytics 4 audiences: what they are and when they are useful.
Table of Contents
+ Show table of contents +
- Audiences and segments
- What are audiences?
- Where can you use audiences?
- How to create an Audience?
- Audience templates
- Audience triggers
- How to edit, duplicate or delete an audience?
- Import audiences to Google Ads
- How are audiences different from segments?
- Final words
Prefer video content? Take a look at this tutorial from my Youtube channel.
Note: the GA4 interface has changed a bit since I recorded this tutorial. Audiences are now managed at Admin > Audiences.
Audiences and segments
Audiences in Google Analytics 4 are closely related to segments (even though they serve different purposes). To properly understand how GA4 audiences work, I highly recommend reading the blog post about segments too.
What are audiences in Google Analytics 4?
Audiences are groups/subsets of users that you can use in analysis and also show ads to them. You should think of them as the most important groups for your business and they can be created based on dimensions, metrics, and/or events (or their sequences).
As your Google Analytics keeps getting data about new users, audiences are constantly reevaluated to make sure that they meet the criteria.
Where can you use audiences in Google Analytics 4?
Audiences can be used to show your ads. If you have linked the GA4 property with a Google Ads account (and enabled Google Signals), audiences will be available in the Audience Manager of Google Ads. You can use them as targeting options for your paid advertising campaigns.
The other place where audiences can be useful is comparisons. At the top of every standard report in Google Analytics 4, you will see an option to Add comparison. This feature allows you to compare groups of users based on certain conditions. One of those conditions is the audience name.
For example, you can create two comparisons where each one of them uses separate audiences. Then you can see how metrics differ with each audience and perform over time.
How to create an Audience in Google Analytics 4?
There are two ways to create audiences in Google Analytics 4, via segments (in Exploration reports) or by going to Configure > Audiences. I will explain both options.
Create an audience from segments
In the first column (Variables), you will see Segments section.
Click the plus icon to start creating a new segment (or if you already have some segments here that you want to use as an audience, then click 3 dots next to that audience and then choose Edit).
If you want to create a new segment, choose from one of the templates (you can learn more about them here). If you are editing an existing segment, you will be redirected directly to the segment builder. On the right side of the builder, you will see a checkbox Build an audience. Click it to reveal additional options.
You can set for how long a user should be included in the audience if he/she meets the criteria. The minimum is one day. The maximum is 540 days.
Another setting is the Audience trigger. I will later explain what it means.
When you save the segment, the audience will be automatically created. After that, the audience will start accumulating data. There are some limitations here you need to be aware of:
- Audiences are not retroactive. They start accumulating data from the moment you create them.
- You cannot edit audiences (Except the name and the description. You can also configure the audience trigger if you haven’t done that yet).
On the right side of the audience builder, you will see a summary/preview of the audience size. But here’s a tricky thing: these are only estimates based on the last 30 days if we are talking about audiences here.
When you save the audience, it will be displayed as with less than 10 users (that number is displayed in Admin > Audiences).
This is because (and I will repeat this multiple times in this blog post) audiences are not retroactive. Your past data will not be included in the audience. It starts aggregating data only after you create it. So if you see “<10 users”, you did nothing wrong. That’s how Google Analytics 4 audiences work.
Admin → Audiences
On the left sidebar of the Google Analytics 4 interface, go to Admin > Audiences. Then select one of the suggested templates or just click Create a custom audience.
The interface here looks almost identical to what you saw in the Segments. You can add condition groups, sequences, groups to exclude.
There isn’t much to explain here since we have already taken a quick look at this in the previous chapter. If you want to learn about the segment builder in general, read this guide.
When you decide to create a new audience, you get two options:
- Create a custom audience
- Or use one of the suggested audiences
Currently, there are three types of suggested audiences:
If you choose one of them, they will either prefill some conditions in your audience or their layout will look different. For example, if you select Purchasers, it will add the following conditions:
- Event is in_app_purchase
- or event is ecommerce_purchase (which is a bug knowing that the recommended event for GA4 e-commerce purchase tracking is just “purchase”). If you see purchase instead, it means that the bug was eventually fixed.
If you choose one of the audiences in the Templates tab, the layout of the segment builder will change. You will get a bunch of predefined dimensions that you can use (or leave them blank). Here’s an example of the Demographics template.
You cannot add additional dimensions/conditions.
The last group of suggested audiences (as of the moment of writing this blog post) is Predictive. These are using the machine learning capabilities of GA4. Based on your current data, GA4 tries to predict which users will likely convert soon (or churn).
But this is not for every business. You need to have a solid volume of conversions in order to benefit from this. For example, according to Google, you would need to have at least 1000 users who have purchased over a 7-day period in the last 28 days. These numbers are not possible for small businesses.
Compared to Universal Analytics (GA3), Google Analytics 4 offers a new feature called “Audience triggers”. When a visitor enters an audience, GA4 can be configured to generate an event automatically. And then you can mark that event as a conversion.
Example: If you want to track generate_lead event as a conversion only once per session (because, by default, GA4 tracks conversions every time they happen), you will have to:
- Create an audience where you include visitors who complete the following sequence within the same session: the first event is session_start, and then the next step is generate_lead event. The first event in the sequence must be session_start (it helps us limit everything to “once per session” because session_start occurs only once per session). If you want to learn how to create sequences, read this.
- Then you configure an audience to dispatch an audience trigger. That will generate an event that you will call au_generate_lead_once_per_session. You can use any other name here. “au” means “audience”. Also, you will need to configure the audience trigger to fire every time the user’s membership in the audience refreshes.
- Then you register a conversion in Google Analytics 4 interface where the event name is au_generate_lead_once_per_session.
All of the steps are explained in greater detail here.
Another possible example:
- If you are already tracking select_promotion events (that track banners in your e-commerce store) and purchase (both of these events are part of the e-commerce setup), you can create an audience where both of these events happen in sequence within the same session.
- Then create an audience trigger that will dispatch the event every time the visitor’s membership refreshes. Name that event “au_purchase_after_promoclick”.
- From now on, you will be able to quickly check the report of all events and see how many times did a visitor click an internal promotion on your site and then made a purchase.
I recommend reading a guide related to audience triggers in GA4.
How to edit, duplicate or delete an audience in Google Analytics 4?
Once you create an audience, the editing possibilities become very limited. You cannot change their settings except:
- Change the name
- Change the description
- Add an audience trigger (if you haven’t done that yet)
Audiences are not retroactive, they start collecting data only after you create them. Therefore, GA4 does not allow you to change their conditions. This is unfortunate. I wish they were retroactive and their members would be reevaluated if I changed the conditions.
To edit the basic info about the audience, go to Admin > Audiences. Then click three dots next to the audience that you want to edit and click Edit.
You will then see the audience/segment builder where you can rename, add/edit the description or add an audience trigger.
Other possible options are to duplicate the audience and archive it (which is what you should select if you want to delete an audience).
If you think duplicating an audience and changing its settings is a workaround for the inability to edit the existing audience, it’s not. Remember, audiences are not retroactive. If you duplicate an audience and tweak its settings, you will create a new audience (that will start aggregating data only from the moment you create it). Historical data will not be available in that audience.
Import audiences to Google Ads
As I mentioned in this blog post, you can link your Google Ads account to your GA4 property and then use audiences as targeting options for your ads.
This requires two components:
- Enable Google Signals
- Link Google Ads with Google Analytics 4.
Activate Google Signals
Let’s start with Google Signals. In the admin panel of Google Analytics 4, click Data Settings > Data Collection (in the property column). Then click Get started. By the way, before you continue, I highly recommend learning more about this feature in general.
Click Continue. And then click Activate.
This will enable remarketing features in your Google Analytics 4 properties. This means that when a visitor lands on your website (and GA4 is loaded), he/she will also get 3rd party cookies related to remarketing. If you want to control it programmatically (e.g. disable Google Signals if consent for marketing cookies is not given), read this documentation.
This automatic control of Google Signals can also be implemented with Google Tag Manager, and I explain how to do that in my Google Tag Manager Masterclass for Beginners.
Important: enabling Google Signals can enable thresholds for your Google Analytics 4 property.
If Signals are enabled, rows with small numbers in reports will be hidden with almost all reporting identities (except device-only). So marketers should think very carefully before enabling this feature.
But if you want to use audiences in Google Ads, there is no other choice. You will have to turn on Google Signals. Here’s a quick video showing you how to get rid of data thresholds with device-only reporting identity temporarily.
Link Google Analytics 4 with Google Ads
Go to your Google Analytics 4 admin panel and click Google Ads Linking in the property column.
Click the Link button in the top right corner. You need to have an Editor role in GA to be able to do this.
Click Choose Google Ads accounts.
Here you will see a list of all Google Ads accounts that you currently have access to with your Google account.
You can select one or more accounts. Click the checkboxes next to them and then click Confirm.
Then Click Next.
In the next step, you will see two settings:
- Enable personalized advertising. If this is disabled, you won’t be able to use audiences as remarketing lists in Google Ads.
- Enable auto-tagging. If this is disabled, Google Analytics 4 will not automatically associate Google Ad click data.
It’s recommended to leave both options as they are.
Click next. Review all the settings and then click Submit.
You should now see the notification that the Google Ads account has been successfully linked. Within the next 24 hours, you will start seeing your GA4 audiences in Google Ads Audience manager.
Where to find GA4 audiences in Google Ads?
Log in to your Google Ads account, and in the top-right corner, click Tools & Settings > Shared Library > Audience Manager. The names of GA4 audiences follow this structure: [audience name in GA4] of [GA4 property name].
Here’s an example of the audience that is named “All visitors” in GA4, and the GA4 property name is “Demo website GA4”.
When you create new campaigns, you will be able to choose these audiences as your targeting options.
How are audiences different from segments in Google Analytics 4?
If you were skimming this article and looking at the titles, here’s a quick overview of the differences between segments and audiences in Google Analytics 4.
#1. Segments can be used only in explorations. Audiences can be used in comparisons as one of the conditions in standard reports. As of the moment of writing this blog post, audiences cannot be used as conditions in segments.
#2. Segments are retroactive, audiences are not. Segments will show you past data based on the conditions you enter. Audiences will start aggregating user data only from the moment when you create them.
#3. Audiences can be imported into Google Ads, and you can show ads to them. Segments cannot be directly imported. But you can build an audience based on the segments.
#4. Segment settings can be edited any time you want. That is not possible with audiences (except by changing the name or description)
#5. Limits. The limit of audiences applies to a property, you can create up to 100 audiences in total (per GA4 property). The limit of segments applies to a single exploration. You can create up to 10 segments per exploration.
Google Analytics 4 Audiences: Final words
At first, it might be easy to confuse audiences and segments in Google Analytics 4 if you’re just starting with it. But eventually, you will get used to it.
Whether you are a small business owner or a digital marketer, Google Analytics 4 Audiences is worth considering as a valuable addition to your digital analytics toolkit.
The key takeaways:
- Segments are built for analysis. They are retroactive and they are limited only to explorations
- Audiences are mainly built for retargeting (in Google Ads) or quick comparisons in standard reports. They are, unfortunately, not retroactive.