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Structuring your GA4 properties and data streams

Make the most of your data by structuring your GA4 properties and data streams the right way.

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We've all been there, frustrated at inheriting a Google Analytics account that's jam packed with so many vaguely titled properties and views that you're never fully confident that you're looking at the right thing. Moving to GA4 is an opportunity to start out right, and these tips should help you to structure your account in the right way.

From Google Analytics Help:

In Universal Analytics, you use views to create separate collections of data, such as geographical separations, line of business separations, etc. In GA4, you can accomplish this kind of data separation in different ways.

Where we used to have 'properties' and 'views' in GA Universal, in GA4 we now have 'properties' and 'data streams' – and neither of these are really comparable to the old properties and views. In a good way, I think. Helpfully, Google has been pretty clear on how we should use these two things. Broadly you can summarise this as...


What is a property?

A user base. This is a whole user base, not a specific segmented group from a wider collection of users, but the entire collection of users. This might mean you have one property for your live marketing site, one for the staging environment, and perhaps another for a mobile app or other very separate site.

If you want to be able to analyse behaviour for users who are moving between different applications, the data all needs to be contained within the same property.

Note: When we say 'applications' or 'apps, we mean any kind of digital product – websites, mobile apps, and anything else.


What is a data stream?

A collective data source. I use the word 'collective' because you don't need to have separate data streams for each of your applications (e.g. your marketing site and your purchase pathway). In fact, if a user is likely to move between the applications they should really share a single data stream. So that means your marketing site, purchase pathway, online shop, HR site, microsites, and any other website that a user might visit in the same session should all use the same data stream.

Google recommends having no more than three data streams in a single property (if possible); the second and third data streams could be individual mobile applications that you have (e.g. separate data streams for the iOS and Android versions of an app for ordering interval drinks). Users are unlikely to move between native mobile apps, just like they may be unlikely to move between a mobile app and your website. If you do link to your website from your native mobile apps, you just need to ensure that you're properly tracking this as a referral to your website so that you can analyse what this particular group of users are doing from the data stream for your websites. You can do this by appending UTM parameters to the link URLs in your app, or using custom events and dimensions.

You could therefore view data streams as broad platforms, with one for a web browser, and additional individual data streams for each of your other standalone digital platforms (if any).

From Google Analytics Help:

App data stream: You can have one data stream for each combination of app-package name and platform.

Web data stream: In most cases, you should use a single web data stream to measure the web user journey. To ensure consistent user and session reporting for web journeys that span domains, use a single web data stream combined with cross domain measurement.


Example property and data stream setup

Here's an example of a typical GA4 property/data stream setup for a cultural organisation:

Account My Organisation
The GA4 account for my organisation.
Property My Organisation users
A single property shared by all of my organisation's digital activity.
Data stream 1

A data stream for all of my websites, i.e. anything a user will be accessing through a web browser that they may navigate between.

Data stream 2 Interval orders app (iOS)
A separate data stream for my native mobile app that let's users order food and drink for the interval (iOS only).
Data stream 3 Interval orders app (Android)
A separate data stream for the Android version of my native mobile app.


Frequently asked questions

Should I have a separate property/data stream for my staging sites to my live sites?

Yes, you should. Although we'd recommend sharing the same Google Tag Manager (GTM) container between your staging and live websites to make it easier to test triggers and tags out on your staging website before promoting to Live, you want to keep your staging and live data separate at all times.

Most organisations will have two properties: one for staging, one for live. And within each of these properties, a single data stream that collects data for all of their websites.

Should I have a separate property for my online shop?

No, in most cases your online shop should share the same property and the same data stream as your marketing site and other websites. The exception to this is if you need to legally keep the two datasets distinct. Even if your shop is a separate legal entity to the rest of your organisation and has its own privacy policy, in most countries anonymised user data can be legally shared between your organisations.

For any personally identifiable data (PII), you can legally share the data between your organisations provided you have a valid reason to do so and you document its original source (e.g. 'online shop checkout'). For Google Analytics, most organisations only collect anonymised data, but as good data privacy practice it's worth regularly investigating whether your analytics data inadvertently contains any PII.

It's always worth double checking the specific legal situation of your own organisation with your Legal Counsel or Data Protection Officer.

Should I have separate data streams for the iOS and Android versions of my mobile apps?

Yes, Google recommends that you have separate data streams for the iOS and Android versions of the same app.

Where can I get help?

Looking for help with your analytics? We'll work with you to identify the best analytics tools to help you track your particular KPIs, and can handle the setup and configuration of Google Analytics, Mixpanel and more. Email [email protected] to find out how we can help.

For the full step-by-step guide to setting up GA4 on your websites and mobile apps, head here: Setting up GA4 – the step-by-step guide

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Cover photo by Markus Winkler on Unsplash

Joel Enfield ()
Digital Consultant
Joel is the founder of Objectively Digital, working with cultural organisations to optimise their digital output and better understand their audiences.