What Is the Difference Between Events and Key Events in GA4?

Updated May 30, 2024

While the two terms “events” and “key events” sound eerily similar, especially in terms of reporting, they represent two separate actions in GA4.

It is important to understand the clear distinction so that you can gauge the success of your marketing campaigns in the proper way. With that in mind, keep on reading to find out the differences between events and key events in GA4.

What Are Events in GA4?

In GA4, an event measures a certain action or occurrence on your website. Some examples of these are button clicks, downloads, purchases, scrolling, or page views. There are a number of events that will automatically track when someone views a page.

The automatic events include:

  • First_visit – This is collected the first time a user visits your website. GA4 will use this event to create the “New Users” datapoint in reports.
  • Page_view – Page views are reported on the page the user is viewing.
  • Session_start – This event determines when a user’s session is started. It’s important to note that after 30 minutes of inactivity, a new session_start event will be fired.
  • User_engagement – Engagement is reported when someone has spent at least 10 seconds on the website and is collected periodically.

It’s important to note that these are automatic events and cannot be switched off. In addition to ones listed above, you also have the option to turn on enhanced measurements to automatically track other events.

Some examples of enhanced measurements include:

  • Scrolls
  • Outbound clicks
  • Site search
  • Video engagement
  • File downloads

With both default events and enhanced measurements, you can have the opportunity to create custom events that are tailored to your website goals. Below is a screenshot of where you will find your events in GA4.

events vs. key events in GA4

What Are Key Events in GA4?

A key event (formerly known as a conversion) is an action that a user makes that analytics owners deem important to their business, like a form submission or purchase on the website. For most companies, these are the key metrics of success for your business. Key events in GA4 essentially replaced goals from Universal Analytics.

As we mentioned, key events were once known as conversions. The change from conversion to key event was made to streamline the terminology between GA4 and Google Ads. Conversions still exist, just under a new name. The function itself allows you to define the most important visitor events for your business, while the name change is meant to create a unified experience between two platforms.

The unity is extremely beneficial for those who have an Ads account tied to their Analytics account, which allows them to see consistent information across channels.  This gives GA4 users better insight into what is working and what needs to be changed.

Now that we clarified the reasoning for the difference, it is time to talk about setting up your key events.

The way to measure a key event in GA4 is to create a custom event that you would like to measure and mark it as one of your key events for tracking. It’s important to note that for each key event you have, you need to create an event for it.

Additionally, if you are interested in tracking a regular event as a key event, you can do this too. Just navigate to your events, and toggle on the switch that is titled “mark as key event.” For more information on how to set up key events and other destination goals, check out our comprehensive guide on replicating destination goals in GA4.

Some common occurrences marked as key events include:

  • Phone calls
  • Destination goals
  • Purchases
  • Downloads
  • Appointment bookings

We wanted to note that some actions, like phone calls, must occur as an event on the site first for you to mark it as a key event.

Key Differences Between GA4 Events and Key Events

While events and key events can overlap, here are the specific differences between the two:

  • Events tracks any action of the user on the website, while key events track specific valuable actions that are defined by the GA4 user.
  • Events are meant to understand users’ behavior, while key events help measure success and results.
  • Events are counted every time they occur, while key events are counted once per session.
  • There can be multiple events on one page, but typically only 1-2 key events.
  • Events can be tracked automatically in GA4, where key events need to be configured.

Learn More About GA4

For more information on GA4, check out some of our other relevant blog posts:

Subscribe to our newsletter to stay up to date on industry news!

Steve DiMatteo

About the Author

Steve DiMatteo

Steve DiMatteo is our Senior SEO Strategist and Content Manager and has been working in marketing since 2010 on accounts ranging in legal, SaaS, and more. His past experience also includes writing for the Associated Press. Over the years, he has been featured in the Washington Post, Variety, BuzzFeed, Huffington Post, and numerous other publications.

Our Partners & Awards