Guest Post by Ross Barefoot
In Brief: What this Article Will Cover
- Who Should Pay Attention
- Why the Subject is Important
- Why the Subject is Urgent
- How the New Google Analytics – GA4 – is Different from Previous Versions
- What you Need to Watch Out For
- What you Should do Right Now
Let’s start with a bit of terminology
- Google Analytics – The free, and there most widely used, tracking tool that measures the Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) of your website
- KPI – Key Performance Indicators are the numbers you need to measure to know whether your website is performing well or poorly, like number of visitors, for example.
- Universal Analytics – Also known as Google Analytics version 3. The version of Google Analytics everyone has been using for more than a decade. It stopped tracking data for any websites we work with in August 2023.
- GA4 – Google Analytics 4. The new version of Google Analytics. If you want Google Analytics from now on, you have to use this version.
Who this Article is For?
Do you ever have to answer questions like these about your business website?
- How many people are visiting our website?
- Where do they come from?
- Do visitors like our website?
- Is our Website helping us to make any sales, or get any leads, or grow our business at all
If you do, this article is for you.
Why is this Subject Important?
If you need to see how your website is performing (i.e., answer the above questions), you most likely have used Google Analytics. With Google Analytics version 4, the platform has changed. Radically.
If you have resisted the barrage of dire warning emails from Google about the new GA4 and have done nothing, your Google Analytics is probably no longer working. If you want data about your website, you’re out of luck until you engage with GA4.
If you took heed of the emails from Google, and got GA4 set up and tracking on your website, good for you. But the new GA4 is overwhelming to most users. In a recent poll of industry professionals, the largest segment, 50%, said they hate the new GA4. That’s probably because it’s so overwhelming.
Most users who have simply used the set up tool provided by Google, or have themselves set up a new property and got it tracking, have only scratched the surface of really setting up GA4. (In our experience, Google’s automated tools do a lousy job, and most website developers don’t know how to do much more than get it turned on, which means it’s only running at its most rudimentary level
The only way to get used to GA4 is to know a little more about it, and if data is important to your business success (spoiler alert, it is!) then you need to start delving deeper into this fraught topic.
This article is just to cover a few basics to get you started. Such as…
In What Ways is GA4 Different from the Previous Version of Google Analytics?
Here are 5 of the key differences between GA4 and UA:
- Data model: GA4 uses a different data model than UA. In UA, data is collected at the hit level, which is a single interaction with your website or app. In GA4, data is collected at the event level, which can be any interaction, such as a page view, a button click, or a purchase.
- Metrics and dimensions: GA4 also has different metrics and dimensions than UA. Metrics are the numbers that you measure, such as sessions, pageviews, and conversions. Dimensions are the labels that you put on your data, such as country, device, and traffic source.
- Reporting: GA4 has a different reporting system than UA. The reports in GA4 are more customizable and interactive, and they’re designed to help you understand your users’ behavior across all of your channels.
- Attribution: GA4 uses a different attribution model than UA. The attribution model determines how you credit your marketing channels for your conversions. GA4 uses a machine learning model to assign credit to each channel, based on its contribution to the conversion.
- Privacy: GA4 is more privacy-focused than UA. GA4 uses differential privacy, which is a technique that adds noise to your data to protect user privacy.
What are Some Things to Watch Out For?
When you switch to GA4, there are a few things to watch out for:
- Your historical data from UA will not be available in GA4. This is because GA4 uses a different data model than UA.
- Some of the metrics and dimensions in GA4 are different from the ones in UA. This means that you may need to create new reports or adjust your existing reports when you switch to GA4.
- The attribution model in GA4 is different from the one in UA. This means that you may see different results when you measure the effectiveness of your marketing channels, such as Google Ads.
- Conversion tracking (such as sales, lead captures, etc.) is very different in GA4. It requires a fair amount of technical knowledge to set up properly and is not going to give you accurate conversion data “out of the box.”
- There is an overwhelming amount of information in GA4. It’s important to know specifically what you want to track before you dig into it, and then ignore everything else.
- The numbers won’t add up. If you compare metrics from GA4 to UA and expect a precise correspondence, you’ll end up frustrated. This is because of two things: 1) Usually GA4 is tracking a slightly different metric, and 2) in our experience, GA4 doesn’t track as many users of your website due to its enhanced respect for privacy.
- GA4 is still changing frequently. Expect navigation to move around, and numbers to shift, as Google works out the bugs and figures out what it wants to do with the platform.
- Default settings in GA4 are often unreliable. For example, there is a way to “easily” turn on form tracking that, in our experience, is completely inaccurate and should not be used. Plus, automatic migration from UA doesn’t work very well.
What You Should do Right Now
- If you don’t have GA4 set up, do it now. If you need help, reach out to a consultant that is familiar with GA4 (not just any web guy or gal).
- If you do have GA4 set up, and if you’re not expert in it, have an expert review your GA4 set up and make sure it will give you the data that’s important to your business.
- Once you have it set up properly, use it. Even if you don’t know what you’re doing at first, start looking for answers to your questions using GA4. Resist the feeling of overwhelm and confusion. Pretend you have been dropped in a foreign country for immersion training in a new language. At first you won’t understand anything, but merely by being in the environment you’ll find yourself learning fast.
- If you don’t have time to learn GA4 at any level (or simply don’t want to!), get a GA4 consultant to set up custom reports that will give you the data you need, and ONLY the data you need.
We hope this quick overview will answer some of your questions and give you the gentle nudge to make sure you are ready enough for GA4 that you won’t be left behind as the old Universal Analytics fades into our collective rear-view mirror.
Ross Barefoot is an SEO consultant and trainer with 20 years experience in Search Engine Optimization and all things Google. He lives in Western Colorado and among his several roles serves as the President of Search Engine Academy, an SEO training organization. Ross Barefoot full bio. Ross Barefoot on LinkedIn.