How to Track File Downloads in Google Analytics 4

Laura Caveney
29th November 2022

Not sure how to track file downloads in Google Analytics 4 to see how users are engaging with your content? We walk you through it. 

Do you have downloadable content on your website? This could be anything from a guide or an eBook to a sales deck or brochure.

If you do have downloadable content on your website, chances are you’ll want to know how often it’s being downloaded.

Tracking downloads of your content is a great way to understand what your audience is interested in and provide more high-value content that kickstarts customer journeys.

Keep reading to learn:

So, let’s get stuck in.

Related: How to get set up on Google Analytics 4

Can downloads be tracked in Google Analytics?

Yes you can track file downloads in Google Analytics 4. Prior to GA4, you had to set up pdf tracking via Google Tag Manager, but now you can turn on file download tracking as part of your reports with zero code changes. 

Related: Key differences between Google Analytics 4 and Universal Analytics 

Before you start tracking downloads

Before we get stuck into how to track downloads in Google Analytics, first we need to talk about gated and ungated content.

Understanding the difference between the two will help you set up better tracking to record and then optimise your marketing.

Gated content 

It’s what it says on the tin. Gated content is downloadable content that requires users to share their contact information in order to gain access.

If you have content that could be great as lead magnets (i.e. content that will really benefit people who have a genuine interest in your product or service), then gated content is a good avenue to try.

But remember, the beauty of gated content is that it is much easier to track.

Related: How to track form submissions

In terms of volume that is.

Given you’re using a form on your website, you can simply use each submission on your site as a counter.

The issue with gated content isn’t tracking the volume of downloads. It’s about tracking the leads generated from that content.

💡Pro Tip

Track every inbound lead and match their marketing data to their closed revenue and lead data by using Ruler Analytics. You can take all of the manual labour out of your lead tracking.

Ungated content 

On the other hand, ungated content is where you offer your content without a need for the user to share their contact information.

While both types are useful, it’s worth testing both out to see how they fare. If you have a really strong piece of content that you know helps start customer journeys, it might be worth sharing that for free. You’ll get more downloads which means more eyeballs on your literature.

And that can never be a bad thing, right?

Unlike gated content, there’s no straightforward or automatic way to count the volume of downloads.

So, let’s go into how you can easily set up Google Analytics to track downloads.

Want to learn more? Follow Laura on LinkedIn to keep up to date with tips and tricks on tracking your pipeline and marketing analytics

How to track file downloads in Google Analytics 4

In the admin section of your Google Analytics account, head to Property and then select Data Streams. 

Click into your data stream, and then allow Enhanced Measurement

Click into your Settings and ensure the File downloads is enabled as part of the enhanced measurement. 

If you didn’t have it enabled, then you will need to wait up to 24 hours to see the events come through. 

Where to view file downloads in GA4 

There are two places to view file downloads in Google Analytics 4: 

In standard reports, it’s easy to see file download events once you’ve set them up. They are called file_download events. 

Standard reports 

To view file_download, go to Reports > Engagement and then Events. Here you’ll see a full list of all the events happening on your website. 

Remember, these are just standard events. Any custom events you create won’t appear here. 

Related: Complete guide to events in Google Analytics 4

The problem you’ll find with this report is its lack of detail. 

If you have 10 different file downloads on site, then they’ll all be grouped together in one number. You won’t be able to see which is the most popular file. You also won’t be able to see where users are downloading this content either. 

This is where custom reports come in. 

Custom reports

Create a custom report to build a view of individual file downloads. 

To do this, head to Explore and then select the Blank report template. 

Name your report and then add in the relevant dimensions. 

Add the + symbol and add: 

Then click Import. 

Next, add your metrics. 

Add the + icon again and this time add: 

Click Import. 

You can then double-click all of these to add them to the report, or you can just drag and drop them in. 

What you’re left with is all of your events in this dashboard. So you need to apply a quick filter to limit it just to file downloads. 

Head to Filters and then apply the following rule: 

Save this filter and you’ll be able to see a complete list of your file downloads within a given time period. 

And there you have it! How to enable and view file downloads in Google Analytics 4. 

Why measuring content downloads isn’t enough

Ok, so we know measuring content downloads is vital. Without it, you can’t get an idea of what your website visitors are engaging with. It’ll help you understand what content is working, and what isn’t.

But it only tells you part of the story.

While 500 people might download a piece of content on your website in a month, what information are you missing there?

Well, 100 of those might go on to become a customer. That means you have a piece of highly converting content and do not necessarily know about it.

It gets worse. You could be counting your downloads and see only 30 people downloaded that particular eBook in a month. Meanwhile, 200 people downloaded one of your more popular eBooks. But of those 200, only 1 actually converted. So you go about your day thinking the latter is more successful, but it isn’t!

Accessing this data doesn’t need to be hard. It’s all possible with marketing attribution. We wrote a complete guide to attribution that will help you learn how to go beyond lead generation metrics.

💡 Pro Tip

Ruler Analytics is the perfect tool to help you get started with efficient tracking of PDF downloads and other lead generation methods. Find out how Ruler will benefit you as a marketer.

Wrapping up

So now, you can track downloads in Google Analytics. But remember, while you might count these as new leads they don’t guarantee revenue. And in order to maximise and optimise your marketing, you need to understand which channels, content and campaigns are driving more for your bottom line.

Don’t forget to test out gated content on your audience too. And remember, if you need support on tracking conversions (and viewing your lead’s full customer journey), we can help you track phone calls, track live chat and even track form submissions too.

Download Tracking in GA FAQs

You can track file downloads in GA4 by setting up Enhanced Measurement. This will allow you to report on file_download events directly in your Event report.
You can set up an app stream as a new data stream in Google Analytics 4.
PDF downloads count as file_download events in Google Analytics 4. Once you enable Enhanced Measurement for this, then you will be able to track PDF downloads.
Go to Reports > Engagement > Events to see a full list of file downloads in GA4.
You can create bespoke explorations to see a breakdown of your downloads by file. Add the dimensions and metrics you need to track (event name, file name) etc to view the full report.