Love it or hate it, Google Analytics 4 (GA4) is coming and the recommended July 1, 2022 deadline to prepare and pull your historical data is right around the corner. Are you ready for it?
We recently sat down with Eric Squair from our accredited partner, Data Habits in a webinar to discuss how nonprofits and charities can best prepare for these significant changes. You can see the recording here or to make it easy for you, we’ve highlighted the most important things to know below.
What exactly is Google Analytics 4?
Google Analytics 4 (GA4) is replacing Universal Analytics (UA) on July 1st, 2023. GA4, as described by Google, is a new property designed for the future of measurement:
- Collects both website and app data to better understand the customer journey
- Uses events instead of session-based data
- Includes privacy controls such as cookieless measurement, and behavioral and conversion modeling
- Predictive capabilities to offer guidance without complex models
- Direct integrations to media platforms that will help drive actions
Why is this happening?
You can blame cookies and mobile apps. No not the cookies you eat, but the ones that track users. Browser support of cookies are on the decline and given Universal Analytics’ large reliance on cookies, they’ve been propelled to innovate. Additionally, as the usage of mobile apps increases, Universal Analytics, which focuses on web pages through page views, needed to expand its reporting capabilities to apps which don’t really use pages.
What are the main differences between Google Analytics 4 and Universal Analytics?
- Mobile apps – Universal Analytics wasn’t built to track mobile app usage, but GA4 can
- GA4 is more powerful and flexible. UA used the last click attribution model, but as the donor journey expands and multi-channel journeys become the norm, data tracking needs to evolve with it. In GA4 you will be able to change the attribution models between first click, last click, linear, and data-driven. We are still learning about the attribution models, but data gurus “rejoice!” there are some great advancements here!
- UA tracked “page views” and then added “events”. GA4 tracks “events” (and page view is an event) this will make tracking more robust and flexible across your work, as it’s not solely focused on page views.
- The future is here! Machine learning and artificial intelligence are built into the platform to fill in information for individuals who have chosen not to be tracked based on profile knowledge. And therein lies the reason you need to set up GA4 as soon as possible. In order for the AI to learn your donor habits it needs time to accrue data about them– the more data over a long period of time the better.
Do we have to use Google Analytics 4?
Yes and well, no. If you are currently using Universal Analytics and you want to continue using Google Analytics you will have to start using Google Analytics 4 on July 1, 2023. From Google, “You’ll be able to see your Universal Analytics reports for a period of time after July 1, 2023, but you will no longer be able to use Universal Analytics.”
If you’re not interested in GA4 and you’re willing to change your data analytics tracking platform, there are other data options. However, many of them are pay to play. Reach out to Eric Squair to learn more.
So, what do we do with this information?
- Start a GA 4 account
If you opened an account after October 14, 2020, a Google Analytics 4 property (known as an “App + Web” property) was the default. Therefore, you should be all set to go. But, if your Google Analytics account is before then, you’ll need to make the switch from UA to GA4.
To create your account you’ll follow the directions here from Google under “GA4 Setup Assistant Wizard”. It is recommended that you set up your account along with adding it to your site (step 2) as soon as possible to give your account time to accrue data.
- Put the code on every page of your site
Next, you’ll need to add the Google Analytics code to your site– including your Engaging Networks pages. Reach out to an accredited Partner to update your templates, or follow the directions here on the Supportal. Here are steps from Google.
- Run GA4 alongside UA
This is a very important step because you want to give time and data for AI to learn your donor’s habits. With GA4, machine learning and artificial intelligence will fill in information for individuals who have chosen not to be tracked. This information is informed by the data in your account, so the more data and time you give it, the better your results will be.
- Use Google Tag Manager to track signups and donations as conversions
Using Google Tag Manager will make your life easier and it will allow you to track where your conversions are coming from. Learn more about Google Tag Manager here.
So, if this doesn’t launch until July 1, 2023, why should I set up GA4 by July 1, 2022?
Machine learning and artificial intelligence are built into the platform to fill in information for individuals who have chosen not to be tracked based on what it’s learned in your account. You will want to set up Google Analytics 4 as soon as possible to give it time to accrue that data and knowledge. Setting up GA4 before or in early July 2022 will ensure your historical data is in order to make YoY and other annual data-driven reports. Currently, there’s no way to integrate existing Google Analytics data into GA4.
Goodbye, so long, farewell– what will you miss in GA4?
A lot of the tried and true things that marketers used will no longer exist in GA4 such as:
- Metrics built around a page view are disappearing in default reports
- Bounce rate and goal conversion rates
- My personal favorite as a former marketer, conversions by source– i.e.) your donations and where they came from
- Your data from UA– in many ways, you’ll be starting anew.
In closing– Setting expectations
Like all changes in technology there will be a learning curve and with this change, there won’t be an easy migration tool to migrate your data from UA to GA4. It won’t be a flip of the switch, therefore, plan for some bumps along the way. You’ll want to be proactive and educate your teams and stakeholders around the changes, and if necessary bring on an accredited partner such as Data Habits to make the updates as seamless as possible.
Given the foundational difference in how data is tracked from page views to events, analyzing the data won’t be apples to apples. Outside of all of the technology changes, organizations may need to change goals, workflows, and structures around these updates.
Only time will tell if these changes are worth it– but, we suspect they will.