Our guide to GA4 – new features, getting started, and useful tips & tricks

16th January 2023

If you’re involved in digital marketing or use digital marketing channels to promote your business, you’ll probably have heard about GA4. After 17 years, Google is sunsetting Universal Analytics this July, and replacing it with GA4 – a new platform built in response to changing industry and privacy landscapes. With a fast-evolving digital landscape, and marketing getting ever more competitive, the thought of having to learn to use a whole new analytics platform can fill busy marketing teams with dread. At Sciad, we understand how difficult it can be – especially in small businesses and start-ups – to keep on top of complex and technical digital changes, so we’ve put together this short blog to help you understand what GA4 is, how you can start implementing it, and how it can benefit your digital marketing strategy.

 

GA4 - What’s changed?

Compared to Universal Analytics (UA), GA4 has some significant differences – and benefits – that you need to know about.

Cookie-Free

We’re all familiar with cookies being used to track our behaviour online. But with privacy changes, 3rd party cookies are being phased out. That’s why GA4 is moving away from a cookie-based model. Although it still uses cookies for now, it’s built on a very different framework. It incorporates machine learning to provide and predict user behaviour online, which doesn’t require cookies. GA4 offers further privacy advantages, giving brands more control of how they collect, process, and store data from their users.

Websites and apps are united

GA4 allows data from websites and apps to be tracked in a single platform. This gives a more holistic picture of visitor behaviour. For example, if a user discovers your brand through a mobile app but completes a purchase via a desktop device, this is recognised as one visitor journey. Furthermore, cross-channel data-driven attribution models can determine how different channels interact.

From sessions to events

And thirdly – and probably most importantly for users of the platform - GA4 is not made to measure website visits or sessions, but built to measure interactions, known as events.

 

“Events, dear boy, events”

‘Events’ are at the core of GA4 analytics, so it’s worth taking a detailed look at what these are. In simple terms, events are user interactions with the website, such as:

  • Starting a visit
  • Watching a video
  • Downloading content
  • Viewing specific page

Many common events are tracked automatically, providing your Google tag or Tag Manager is set up correctly. There are additional recommended events with pre-defined names and parameters that you can implement if you wish. However, the real power comes from custom events. These are specific events you can set up and track, similar to destination URL goals in UA. This means that if Google’s automatic or recommended events don’t cover your needs, you can set up your own, allowing you to track the user interactions that are most important to your business.

 

How to implement GA4

Now you know what GA4 is, you’ll probably be wondering how to set it up. Fortunately, creating a GA4 property and adding it to your website isn’t as intimidating as it may seem. The set-up process can all be done by following the instructions of the GA4 set-up assistant. Simply open your UA account and go to the admin area. Under ‘property’, you’ll find the GA4 set-up assistant. This will guide you through creating your property, installing tags and adding details about your website, as well as providing you with a GA4 tracking code and measurement ID.

 

From here, you can import any goals and ad links from UA over to GA4, you can connect your GA4 property with any apps that accompany your website, and you can activate audience signals to model traffic. After you’re comfortable with the basics of your GA4 property, you can continue to explore and optimise.

 

What do the reports look like?

So you’ve got GA4 set up and tracking your website traffic, but how do you see the results?? The answer comes from the reporting function. GA4 gives you some pre-defined reports, but also gives you more opportunity to customise your reports than UA. Let’s start with the pre-defined reports.

There are four main categories of pre-defined reports: life-cycle reports; user reports; games reports; and app developer reports. The latter two are only relevant for businesses with gaming or app functions, so we’ll focus on the first two for now.

Life-cycle reports give you an overview of events, from the first interaction right to repeated visits. Within the life-cycle category, there are four key reports:

  • Acquisition reports show the channels that bring users to your website
  • Engagement reports give details on the standard and custom events
  • Monetisation reports give an overview of your ecommerce revenue
  • Retention reports give data on repeated user visits

And, as you can guess by the name, user reports give detail about your website users. There are two key reports:

  • Demographics reports give an overview of the age, gender, location, interests, languages, and so on, of your website users
  • Tech reports give data on the platforms, browsers, devices, and operating systems visitors are using

On the surface, these pre-defined core reports don’t appear to give as much information as UA reports, but you can drill into them by applying filters and comparisons to better explore the data.

However, the new opportunity comes from exploration reports. These give you the freedom to get data on specific questions you’re trying to answer about your website. Simply create a new exploration report, name it after your question, enter the factors you want to find out about as ‘dimensions’, and add the measurements you want to know about these dimensions as ‘metrics’. These customisations can be saved in your library for future use.

 

Potential trip hazards

All simple so far? Well, as always with a new platform, there are little quirks that may catch you out if you’re not aware of them. Here are five potential trip hazards to watch out for:

 

  1. The luxury of 50 months of data storage in UA is gone, and GA4 can only store up to 14 months of data. But watch out – data storage can be set to 2 or 14 months, so make sure you check what your data storage period is set to.
  2. GA4 is slower to process data. With complex AI and machine learning, the platform takes 72 hours to process traffic, so you can’t get such a ‘real time’ picture of your website data as with UA, and you will have to wait a bit longer to see the impact of any optimisations you’ve made.
  3. GA4 can sometimes apply ‘thresholds’ to your reports, which limit the amount of data. This can result in the appearance of mismatched data between reports, channels and dimensions. Make sure you click the ‘show all’ button to prevent this.
  4. Bounce rates – how many people enter and exit on the same page – are being replaced with engagement rates, which are the number of sessions in which the user spends enough time on the site to be considered ‘engaged’. This is set to 10 seconds by default but can be adjusted as appropriate.
  5. Watch out for confusion between ‘visitor’ and ‘session’ data. Think of visitor data as zooming out, looking at the complete journey of a visitor from their first to last click. Session data then zooms in on the occasions in which a visitor visits the website during their journey, allowing you to look at sessions of interest, such as the session in which an ecommerce sale occurred.

 

Your to-do list for now

Our top tip is to install GA4 ASAP, importing any goals from UA. GA4 relies on machine learning, and, true to its name, machine learning needs to ‘learn’. The more time you give the algorithm to build up data about your platform and users, the better your results will be. UA will stop processing new data on 1st July 2023. After this, read-only data will be available for six months before it’s deleted all together. Installing GA4 now means it can run in parallel to UA up until July, allowing you to cross-check and validate all numbers and data between the two during this transition period. 

 

Need further help? We’re happy to give advice or assistance. Just email our digital team at info@sciad.comwith your query.

 

References

https://digitalmarketinginstitute.com

https://neilpatel.com/blog/google-analytics-4/

https://braidr.ai/assets/Braidr-GA4-Guide.pdf

https://amplitude.com/blog/google-analytics-4-migration

https://www.targetinternet.com/resources/hands-on-guide-to-ga4/