Well, we’ve found Google Analytics 4 (GA4) to be one of those hot potato subjects that gets passed around the business. No one wants to get their fingers burned, everyone is hoping the potato will cool down if they just leave it alone. Sadly, no. The potato doesn’t exist in a vacuum. It’s smack bang in the middle of a digital marketing and analytics oven and the closer we get to July 2023, the hotter that oven is getting.
You’ve got to grab that potato before it’s burnt and gross.
How do you grab a hot potato? Oven gloves.
I don’t want metaphors, I want answers!
Your GA4 oven gloves. Get some measurement mittens.
If you want to continue using a free analytics platform once Google’s Universal Analytics (UA) is sunset this year, you need to prepare for GA4 and confront those measurement demons (…potatoes).
Here are some steps we recommend to glove up and get GA4 ready.
- Install the tag, see the data.
It sounds obvious but you’d be surprised. There’s nothing to be afraid of, installing GA4 won’t affect your current UA data. We recommend using Google Tag Manager (GTM) to give you the most control or, if you’re already using gtag for UA, you can install GA4 through your Analytics property admin interface. After 24 hours you’ll start receiving default data (page views, clicks, downloads, video engagement, scroll, session start, first visit and engaged users). This gives you some metrics to start exploring in your reports to get used to the new interface.
- Learn the lingo.
GA4 builds on the analytical concepts of UA whilst completely changing the data structures beneath. Once you learn how the new language relates to familiar principles, it won’t seem so intimidating. A few examples:
- All ‘hits’ (pageview/events) are now ‘events’. Events are no longer limited to category, action, label and value; they can be called anything and have as many additional values (parameters) as you need. You register these in your custom definitions to show them in reports.
- ‘Goals’ are now ‘conversions’, and you can make any event a conversion with a simple toggle switch.
- ‘Views’ are gone, ‘measurement streams’ are in (but they’re slightly different). A lot of what you may have used views for in UA are replaced by Explorations (custom reports) and Library reports.
- Start from scratch.
You’ll be tempted to try to migrate your goals and events over from UA, Google even provides a setting to import this for you. Don’t do it! UA is almost 15 years old – it’s legacy tech designed for a different digital landscape and comes with a lot of technical debt that will bloat your data. GA4’s unrestricted data structure can be overwhelming at first but use this opportunity to re-evaluate your business measurement and make the platform fit your needs. We’re hosting a webinar on 27th April 3pm explaining why this is an exciting investment for your analytics.
- Make a list.
Google offers a migration checklist in-platform but this will only cover the generic steps needed to switch over. As we’ve set up GA4 properties, we’ve honed our own migration checklist, including key platform settings and a system for mapping out enhanced, recommended and custom events. This will help anyone looking at the account for the first time understand what to expect and where there might be possible gaps. This document will evolve with your GA4 implementation as your business needs grow and your measurement keeps pace.
- If you’re completely daunted, find a measurement enthusiast (data nerd) to help translate things for you.
The nitty gritty isn’t for everyone. I geek out planning the most effective and scaleable system for translating ‘user-action-X’ into ‘metric-Y’. For me, it’s that comforting feeling of sorting all the square and round pegs into their shape-suitable holes. But maybe you’re more of a ‘big-picture strategist’ or an ‘insights analyst’. If data organisation isn’t your passion, but you want those sweet reports, team up with someone who can speak the language and can help you map out your user actions, journeys and objectives.At Fountain, we have assembled an in-house team of measurement technicians (the data nerds) who have a particular passion for sorting things out that the rest of our Digital Marketing Consultants and clients can collaborate with to build out an efficient, modular and comprehensive GA4 property.
GA4: is your business ready for the new data landscape?
We recently participated in a Pimento panel exploring how GA4 is disrupting digital marketing, the challenges this brings and the opportunities this change presents to your business. You can watch the full video below and read our expert responses to some of the questions which came up during the session.
We’ve explored some of the key questions from the panel.
Can I do nothing?
Technically, maybe, yes but we (and Google) advise against it. If you’re using currently Universal Analytics (UA) and the tracking code is installed on your website, Google will automatically migrate you to GA4 by creating a new property for you, mirroring basic UA settings. We’ve not experienced this first-hand (we’re taking this opportunity to re-evaluate our client’s KPIs and use GA4’s event structure to build a new analytics foundation) but we anticipate the default metrics (e.g. page views and UA structured events) will get pulled over. Whilst this will give you the most basic traffic data for the lowest effort, you’re dragging over all that technical debt from the sluggish, Frankenstein that UA has become. We’re hosting a webinar at the end of April exploring why you shouldn’t do that!
Is my reporting going to look different?
Yep. GA4 is a complete structural overhaul (both input and output) and, by default, offers fewer out-of-the-box reports in favour for a more flexible approach to reporting. The reporting sidebar on the left is completely stripped back to just a few key reports. When you want to get more granular in your analysis, you’ll want to move away from the default reports (no more second dimensions) and instead delve into explorations for completely custom funnels, path analysis and free-form reports. Below are some examples of the interface and reports will vary.
Will Google Ads and GA4 have data discrepancies?
Probably. Hopefully not too drastically. This is down to how platforms attribute traffic acquisition to a particular event or conversion; different attribution models (e.g. last-click vs. linear) will proportion users differently depending on date ranges, touch points and device use. Helpfully, both Ads and GA4 are moving to data-driven attribution models as standard plus GA4 has a useful anomaly detection feature for highlighting rogue patterns which might be distorting your analysis.
What about privacy and GDPR?
GA4 seems to hand the privacy responsibility over to the Analytics platform administrators, providing granular privacy settings which can be configured in-platform. Make sure your data controllers and processors understand the impact of adjusting each of these settings and that there’s a clear processes in ensuring that each adjustment is accurately reflected in user-facing privacy policies. On a foundational level, we advise all of our clients to ensure their website has a clear, user-friendly, explicit opt-in consent management system and that Google Consent Mode is installed on-site to appropriately flag consent states to all Google tags.
Oven glove dispensaries (A.K.A. my favourite GA4 resources)
A lot of the resources I prefer lean towards the technical implementation and configuration of GA4 rather than building reports and interpreting the data. That said, each of these resources will cover a range of approaches and satellite topics around the GA4 conversation. Enjoy!
- Analytics Mania
Beginner friendly and offers a mixture of videos and written guides, Analytics Mania is an excellent catch-all resource for GA4 beginners and helps put GA4 concepts into practical examples and tutorials.
- Simo Ahava’s Blog
At the other end of the spectrum, we have Simo, Analytics developer and GTM master. Though intimidating at first, the man’s a wizard. Here you’ll find useful code snippets and solutions for measuring the most obscure user actions as well as some excellent GTM memes.
- Optimize Smart
Pitching itself somewhere between the first two on the technical spectrum, Optimize Smart’s approach to tutorials is to take one concept and cover it in forensic, step-by-step detail. Pick a guide, follow it, and it’ll be impossible to go wrong with your setup.
- …Google’s documentation
Google has vastly improved its documentation offering for GA4 and have a lot of materials for helping users migrate from UA to GA4. Although a bit dry, the information is there and new resources are being created all the time to keep up with the knowledge demand. If these are too boring for you, you can always look at Google’s Skillshop and try some of the courses there for a slightly more interactive learning experience.