What is GA4?
GA4 is the latest generation of Google Analytics.
Google Analytics has been around for around 20 years and is designed to help businesses track and analyse their website traffic, enabling data driven decision making. The increased use of privacy settings, plus multiple devices and platforms in typical user journeys has meant that standard analytics is no longer able to paint the complete picture, hence Google have designed GA4.
The new Google Analytics 4 is a more interactive tool. It is built on advanced machine-learning technology, uncovering valuable insights automatically to give a fresh view on how people are finding and engaging with your site. Importantly, the new GA4 is designed with privacy in mind, so it offers more accurate data even when limitations on cookies and user identifiers affect your data collection.
Why are Google changing their analytics platform?
As Google plans to start phasing out third-party cookies on Chrome browsers (with the total elimination of the tracking technology set by the end of 2024), GA4 has been developed to fill the cookie-sized holes we will see in our analytics. Ultimately, GA4 is not an upgrade, it is a complete redesign of analytics, and so is a fundamentally different tool than GA3 (Universal Analytics)
“Because the technology landscape continues to evolve, the new Analytics is designed to adapt to a future with or without cookies or identifiers. It uses a flexible approach to measurement and, in the future, will include modelling to fill in the gaps where the data may be incomplete,” Google explained
What are the key differences between UA and GA4?
If you are a long time user of Universal analytics (like Peter), GA4 will take some getting used to. Here are some of the key differences to be aware of :
1. GA4 Events
In the previous version of analytics, we relied on “tags” created by Google Tag Manager to track “goals”. Tags are still staying (for a while, at least), but now Custom Events give us a much more granular view of digital interactions, working cross-platform to give a significantly clearer view of customer journeys.
2. Cookieless tracking
You are likely to have noticed an increase in traffic tagged as “Direct” – this is because people who switch on their privacy settings show up in this group. The new version of GA4 focuses on consenting 1st party cookies – data created based on a Google client ID when a user arrives at your site. There is some set-up required to enable this correctly – here are Google’s instructions on Cookie Settings.
3. Report customization
The best thing about Google Analytics for Marketers has been that it has the same layout and data capture whether you are a small local business or a multinational company. Any of us working across multiple accounts could therefore navigate our way around GA easily.
But…not every website has the same objectives, so wouldn’t it be better to be able to customise your reports so that you get straight to the metrics that matter to you? Google think so. In GA4 you can create your own dashboards and reports that get you straight to the data you need to see.
Please be patient with your marketing team – it’s new for them too, plus GA4 is a much more powerful reporting tool than they are used to, so it will take time for them to get confident with the new query skills they are learning.
4. Bounce Rates
Traditionally, a low bounce rate is good, and a high one is bad as it was used to measure how many people “bounced” away from the first page they arrived at. However, there is a UX conundrum …. if your site visitor finds exactly what they want on the page they arrive at, isn’t a high bounce rate just fine?
Google have replaced Bounce Rates with Engagement Rates, which tells us the mix of visitors have engaged with content, for how long and where.
Are there more differences….?
Yes – here is a great infographic from Orbit Media that we feel summarises the differences well. The Ikea / Home Depot (think B&Q in the UK) analogy is great. Ikea products come in kit form, so like UA, you choose your kit and off you go. At Home Depot / B&Q you can pick your own component parts to build the thing that you had in mind – just like when you build a GA4 report.
It’s exciting to see video engagement, scrolling activity, file downloads and use of site search being tracked – giving access to a much better funnel visualisation than we had previously.
What are the “buts” with GA4 to be aware of?
As it stands, annotations (the ability for you to pop a note onto a report) have been removed.
Plus some report fields are no longer filterable …. We’re sure that Google have received this feedback loud and clear!
However, Marketers are reporting that the biggest issue they have found is that GA4 only tracks 14 months of event and user level data, so for year on year reporting, you may need to export data into a tool like BigQuery to access it through Looker Studio. The default setting for data storage is actually just 2 months, so make sure you have adjusted your Data settings to 14 months
What are the deadlines for GA4?
UA stops collecting data on 30th June 2023.
GA4 starts collecting data from whenever you have set it up. The earlier you start using GA4, the more familiar you will be with it as it cuts over.
If you use year on year reporting, the deadline to cut over was 30th June 2022. If you are not set up by 31st May 2023, nor will you have month on month comparables easily available at the end of June.
Give yourself time to consider the impact on any automated reporting you use regularly.
What happens if I let Google do the automated update for GA4?
You will probably have seen the notification from Google that their analytics assistant will set up your GA4 for you. You can opt out of this if you choose.
There is a warning flag to raise about using the automated process – the assistant will not know what events are important to you, so you will get the basic set-up with just 2 months of data retention.
This means that businesses could miss out on crucial opportunities for customization from the start. While some elements can be configured later, there will be gaps in data related to these things. As a result, it’s crucial to create a GA4 property before the early 2023 deadline, to ensure that all historical data is captured and that you can fully customize the GA4 property with your required features.
How do I get started with GA4?
If you are new to GA4, here is a guide from WSI Home Office to get you going:
- Set up a GA4 property: To use GA4, create a GA4 property in your Google Analytics account.
- Install the GA4 tracking code: Once you have set up your GA4 property, install the GA4 tracking code on your website to start collecting data.
- Configure your data streams: GA4 allows you to configure data streams for different types of data, such as web data, app data, and offline data.
- Set up conversion tracking: To track conversions, such as purchases or form submissions, you need to set up conversion tracking in GA4.
- Explore the GA4 interface: Once you have set up GA4, you can start exploring the interface to see how your data is presented and what insights you can gain from it.
If this all sounds a bit complicated, it’s time to hire a GA4 expert to assist you – of course, WSI Digital Advisors can help!
Google Ads and GA4
If your UA version of Google Analytics and Google Ads accounts were previously linked, then you should migrate your Google Ads to link with Google Analytics 4.
Then, you’ll need to import your Google Analytics 4 conversions for bidding and/or add Google Analytics audiences to your campaigns or ad groups for remarketing purposes. You can also import Ad costs from other platforms, giving you a much more rounded view of Return on Ad spend (ROAS) than was previously available.
The move to Google Analytics 4 is happening to every website on 1st July, so we all need to be ready to adapt to the changes that it brings. It calculates differently, is laid out differently and the reporting functionality is different – it will take some time to get used to your new control panel. The sooner you start, the sooner you’ll become familiar with it! Also, don’t forget to set your Data Retention to 14 months.
At WSI, we have been implementing GA4 for our clients since the beginning of 2022, so we are already familiar with set-up process, and the pitfalls to look out for. Need help? Contact us for a no commitment chat.