Contrary to some popular beliefs, Google Analytics 4 (GA4) is an entirely new product in the Google Workspace Suite. GA4 will be replacing the outgoing Universal Analytics product—commonly referred to as 'UA'—or GA360. It’s important to note that both of those will be deprecated in 2023 (July for UA accounts and October for GA360 accounts). This means that after this time, any older tags implemented for those Google Analytics products will no longer function and collect any data.
If you are...
Existing Google Analytics tags will need to be updated to the new GA4 tags to continue collecting and transmitting data after July and October of 2023. Currently, it is not necessary to update and replace the existing tags to the new tags. In fact, our recommended approach would be to add a GA4 tag to your existing Analytics tab, in addition to any existing UA or GA360 tags. This will enable overlap in data tracking, and, more importantly, will provide critical context by comparing the data being collected with the new GA4 tags vs. any legacy tag implmentation. This way, when the date enforced cut-over takes place, you will be in a better position to monitor and track a "before and after" consideration proactively. This enables an understanding of what the GA4 dashboard and metrics will be providing on a regular basis—while avoiding any blindspots for legacy tracking—as long as both products continue to be active and supported by Google.
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GA4 uses an entirely different data model from the previous Universal Analytics model. This means the way that you will digest this information needs to be thought of differently before translating the real-world performance indicators to your stakeholders. Given our recommended approach listed above, the overlap should allow your team adequate time to compare current metrics to the new metric categories in GA4. Check out ‘Top Tracking Metrics’ later in this blog for more information comparing legacy vs. new.
The biggest difference between existing analytics and GA4 is the data model. It is a philosophical shift in how data is being collected, stored and presented, evolving towards the future of data collection. Everything in GA4 is now ‘event’ driven versus the previously used ‘session’ based data. Previously, Analytics was divided between both web properties (traditional Google Analytics) and Analytics for Firebase (to specifically cater to App needs). GA4 seeks to set its owners up with flexible—yet more powerful—analytics capabilities within the parameters of cookie-less tracking and consent management, spanning across both Web-based and native Mobile applications.
Setting it up is easier than you think, especially if you are already using the current Universal Analytics (UA) tags. When you login to GA, you will see a notification that indicates GA4 is available. You can click on that link, or navigate to your Admin Settings. From there, go to Property Settings and look for the ‘Upgrade to GA4’ link. Simply click ‘Get Started’ to begin the setup process. At this point, the setup assistant will help walk you through the different variables and options to implement the new tracking. Some accounts will have additional variations or restrictions, all dependent upon the complexity and sophistication of prior configurations and analytics tracking. If you need help setting up or upgrading to a GA4 account, feel free to reach out to us for assistance.
If you feel like Google Analytics can be overwhelming or too complex to easily grasp, you are not alone. To help you better understand what you will be looking at, we’ve compiled a list of what we think are the most foundational and worthwhile metrics to consider (in no particular order).
- Sessions – This refers to the volume of visits to your site. Each visit counts as one ‘session’. For example, if the customer uses a phone to visit the site, and then a tablet, this will be counted as 2 unique sessions.
- Average Session – This is the average time duration in which visitors stay on your site. It may seem like there isn’t much by way of insights to gain here, but it does enable you to easily decipher if the effectiveness of referrals, advertisements or other traffic generation strategies is working. For example: Based on the originating source for the traffic, what variance do you see in average session durations? Are paid sources of session traffic performing as well, or better, then organic sources? How well are you targeting your highest value audiences with your Google Ad campaigns based on average session durations? This metric can help inform the answers to these questions.
- Users – Google now ‘tags’ each unique customer who visits your website with an ID. Now when they are viewing your site—even on a variery of devices (mobile, tablet or desktop)—GA4 will only count them as one unique visitor, or user.
- Pages per Session – This calculates how many pages a reader sees per session, within 30 minute time limits. One caveat here—while this metric is useful, it may not always be 100% accurate. This is due to the fact that technically the same customer could login to the same pages 3 times, and still have the same analytics result as them logging in to 3 unique pages.
- Default Channel Grouping – This metric is valuable for understanding where exactly your visitors to the site are coming from. You will need to assign the source link with UTM tracking so you can capture all of the precise details of their origination, such as paid advertising, 3rd party affiliate, etc.
- Conversions – Those of you familiar with the current Universal Analytics platform will recognize this metric as 'Goals'. This metric is used as a way to customize and target specific conversions which occur on your site. If you are an online retailer, a simple example would be to setup a conversion to a specific ‘Add to Cart’ button per a specific product, which would give you insight as to how many times users are adding items to a cart, but not following through with purchase. That is just one example, but the same concept would apply to whatever the key conversion goals are for your business: customers signing up for services via a form, visitors registering to download or engage a service, subscription buttons, on-site banner clicks, etc.
- Total Views – This is a rather general metric, but it is a good one to review for a quick and easy month-over-month, week-over-week, etc., benchmark assessment. This tracks how many times your website received views in total—but not by unique views. For example, if one user visits your site 50 times logging in/logging out, or closing browser each time, that would count as 50 total views to your site.
- Views by Page – This metric shows you views on each specific page on your site. While that may sound trivial, it is actually a pretty valuable metric to track, depending on your business. As an example, a photography website could track and use this metric to see which specific categories their visitors are most interested in. The analysis could reveal that more visits occur to the 'Wildlife' category vs the 'Urban Culture' category. That insight could be leveraged to inform everything from what to highlight in advertising or promotions to the actual photographs made available for sale.
- Percentage of New Sessions – This is a pretty straightforward metric that tracks the rate of new visitors vs return visitors to your website. Depending on your industry and business model, either end of the spectrum here can be useful to understand.
- Lifetime Value (LTV) – This metric is a bit more specific than others, and really should be used along side other customer acquisition analytics. It measures the lifetime value of each customer who visits your site. For a more detailed breakdown on the details refer to this Google article on the topic.
- Lead Generation Cost – This metric can only be seen if you have a Google Ads Campaign running. It is used to calculate the amount of money needed to acquire a lead from Google Ads, essentially a Cost Acquisition metric. Google Ads is kind of its own animal with many product implementation nuances as well, so if you would like a better understanding or assistance with Google Ads, get in touch with us and we’ll be glad to help guide you through this.
If you’re interested in learning more about GA4, specific metrics, dashboard layouts or specific GA4 reports for your website, we're always more than happy to help, just send us a a note and we'll be in touch!