A huge part of our day-to-day in the creative/digital marketing world is website design, development, and maintenance. Our clients come to us trusting and knowing we have the expertise and understanding needed to help them dominate in the digital space. Through our web development, we create an online experience that perfectly expresses your brand and attracts your ideal audience — but how do we know it’s working? That’s where strategy, maintenance, optimization, and testing come into play.
For the last decade, you, as well as our team at AOR, have relied on Universal Analytics (UA) and GA360 UA tools to navigate Google Analytics and collect, track, and measure traffic and engagement metrics across websites and apps.
But you can kiss UA goodbye!
As of July 1, 2023, standard Universal Analytics properties have stopped processing new data — Google really said, get on board and switch suckers! At this point, we are all working with the next-generation measurement solution, Google Analytics 4 (GA4). After working in one program for so long, it can be difficult to make the switch, in fact, because of how different GA4 is in structure and appearance, the migration to the new software has caused major disruption across the SEO and digital industries — this is why we want to help.
Take your time to digest the information we are able to load on you — it’s a lot. But it’s all good stuff! GA4 came to us very quickly, and Google made it very clear it isn’t going anywhere, so let’s take a look at all things GA4.
What is GA4?
Google focused on two things when building this new analytics software: machine learning and data visualization. GA4 was created to have more predictive analytic insights and data visualization with a focus on ease of tracking through data streams and an overall view of a visitor’s online habits and behaviors — not just traffic.
GA4 versus Universal Analytics
1. Event-Based Tracking: For years we’ve relied on UA’s session-based tracking to understand user behavior and track data, but GA4 takes an event-based approach which allows for a better understanding of how users engage with content.
Examples of ‘Events’
Pageviews, Clicks, Scrolls, Downloads, Video Plays, Form Start, Form Submit, Session Start, First Visit, Custom Conversions
2. New Dashboard: What has been one of the most confusing parts of this entire migration process? The look. GA4 has a new dashboard, so all that muscle memory from UA is gone. The new dashboard is much more streamlined and many of the reports you were used to have been moved or are gone.
3. Cross-Platform Tracking: Users typically switch between desktop, mobile, tablet, website, and apps when browsing the internet. Depending on where they are, and what they are doing, it can be hard to keep track of users as they are jumping around the digital universe. But GA4 makes it easy. Unlike UA, with GA4 you can track more closely between multi-device and multi-browser so you can see and understand the complete customer journey.
4. An Emphasis on Engagement Metrics: With GA4’s event-based and user-centric tracking model, businesses are able to make more informed, data-driven decisions based on how their customers/users interact with their site or app. GA4 does this through engagement metrics. Typical reports will show average engagement time as a form of engagement tracking, but GA4 puts an emphasis on average engagement time per session or engaged sessions. Engaged sessions and engagement rate both give us a more holistic view of user activity. An engaged session is a session where the user does any of the following:
Stays on the page for 10 seconds or longer
Views more than 1 page
Triggers a conversion event
Understanding the Transition
Google saw a need for innovation and evolution in the analytics world in order to help businesses make data-driven decisions in a changing digital landscape. For one, it was challenging to track users across devices, platforms, and touchpoints — the purpose of GA4’s event-based tracking instead of UA’s session-based tracking. More and more the digital space saw a need for understanding user interactions rather than just how much traffic the site is getting. It’s one thing to say x amount of people spent time on this one page and it’s another to understand why. The transition will also allow for simplified event tracking with present events while still allowing custom tracking through Google Tag Manager.
An important aspect of this transition to understand is Google’s focus on customer privacy. This mainly comes in the face of new privacy laws, such as GDPR and CCPA.
One Moz article we love to reference states, “GA4 introduces various privacy features, including default IP anonymization, shorter data storage duration, location of servers and restricted data transfer, consent mode, users’ personal data deletion, and rules regarding personally identifiable information.” This is the reason that we will not be able to track demographics as closely as before.
As you’ve now transitioned to GA4 and are starting to understand how things will look from now on, it’s important to understand the key differences in tracking through GA4 versus Universal Analytics.
Key Differences in Tracking
We mentioned a few of these earlier in the insight, but let’s dig in a little more. The new tracking strategy for GA4 allows for new ways of analyzing user interactions, understanding insights, and making business decisions regarding your websites and applications.
As we mentioned before, GA4 utilizes event-based tracking. So, instead of treating actions as part of a session, GA4 treats each action as an individual event. This tactic helps us understand specific actions taken during a user’s journey and collect additional context as to how each user flows through the site.
The user is GA4’s ‘why.’ The software focuses mainly on the user through user-centric tracking. It utilizes individual user tracking versus session-based tracking in order to understand the user journey across multiple sessions and devices, instead of being confined to one session. In the same way, it allows for cross-device tracking to help understand the user journey as they bounce from device to device.
As if all these new ways of tracking and understanding the user journey weren’t difficult enough, GA4 also adopted a number of new terms in the transition from UA.
Bounce Rate vs Engagement Rate
Engagement rate and bounce rate are two important metrics in Google Analytics. They are the tools that allow you to measure and analyze user engagement on your website or application.
Both of these metrics are defined by engaged sessions.
Whereas a session is the amount of time a user is engaged with you on your website or app, an engaged session is a session where the user is actually engaged. As we mentioned above, this could mean a session that lasts longer than 10 seconds, has a conversion event, or has at least 2 pageviews or screenviews.
In Universal Analytics the bounce rate was the percentage of users who navigate away from the site after only viewing one page, but in GA4 the engagement rate is the percentage of sessions where users engaged in meaningful interactions.
Because the engagement rate is considered the inverse of the bounce rate — a higher engagement rate is a good thing.
Goals vs Conversions
In Universal Analytics language, UA Goals were specific actions or interactions the business owner defines. GA4 now refers to this process as a conversion. GA4 Conversions are more flexible and, of course, event-based. They can include predefined events or customizable events unique to your business.
Terms Used in Looker Studio
Active Users: Any user who is a New User + any user who has an engaged session.
Average Engagement Time: The average length of time that the app was in the foreground, or the web site had focus in the browser. Average Engagement Time Per User: Number of engaged sessions per user (Engaged sessions/Users). Bounce Rate: The percentage of sessions that were not engaged with your page. Conversion: Any user event that is valuable to your business. Manually set up events as conversions in the admin settings. Engaged Session: A session that lasts longer than 10 seconds, has a conversion event, or has at least 2 pageviews, events or conversions. Engagement Rate: The percentage of engaged sessions on your website or app. This is the opposite metric of Bounce Rate. Event: Users interaction or an action with a page element. New Users: Users who interacted with your site for the first time. Session: A group of user interactions with your website that take place within a given time frame. Total Users: The total number of unique users who logged an event of some kind. Views: The number of times the website was viewed by your users.
Setting Up a New GA4 Profile
Now that we’ve covered what GA4 is, the differences between GA4 and Universal Analytics, the new tracking strategies, and new terminology, we hope you feel comfortable and prepared for the next phase of the process — setting up your new GA4 profile (if you haven’t done so already).
Step 1: Sign into Google Analytics through your business account and start measuring.
Step 2: Create a New Property
Ensure you have the editor role.Go to the Admin tab.
Enter the property column and click the ‘Create Property’ button.
Name your property and select the reporting time zone and currency.
Step 3: Select a Property Type
Select your industry category (web for website, etc.)
Ensure all other essential information is filled out correctly.
Step 4: Add a Data Stream
In the Property column, click Data Streams > Add stream.
Choose ‘Web’ as the data stream type for a website.
Add your URL.
Include any advanced settings.
A Helpful Check-List
Once the property is created here is an AOR checklist of items we like to give our clients to set up / check for in the GA4 process:
Connect Google Tag Manager: Insert the Measurement ID (found in the Data Stream Tab in Settings) into your GA4 set-up in Tag Manager.
This is where you can set up your custom conversions that will pull into GA4.
As we mentioned above, one of the more confusing parts of this transition to GA4 has been the interface. Everything is in a new place, the dashboard does not look the same, and some things are added or removed. Here is a brief breakdown with some screenshots to help you start getting accustomed to the new look:
The ‘home’ dashboard offers quick links to relevant reports, providing insights and recommendations based on your data.
This includes sections like:
Insights & Recommendations
The reports section of the dashboard offers a snapshot of customizable reports, including real-time data, user lifecycle insights, acquisition analysis, engagement metrics, and more. This evolved reporting structure encourages businesses to look for deeper insights into user behavior.
It includes features and sub-sections like:
Realtime Information (Users in the last 30 minutes.)
Acquisition (User versus traffic)
User: How users are engaging with your site; demographics, engagement, behavior
Traffic: How users are arriving at your site; source/medium, campaigns, channels
Events, conversions, pages and screens, landing pages, etc.
Getting Used to GA4
That’s really your biggest next step — repetition and understanding. The more time you spend in GA4, the more familiar with it you will become. Whether or not you like it, the fact of the matter is that GA4 is changing the analytics world with event-based, user-centric tracking. Data-driven decision-making is bringing user intent to the forefront of business strategy — where it should be.
Yes, change is scary, and this process certainly hasn’t been easy, but lucky for you, you’ve got help and resources.
We recently wrote about the top website metrics in UA and GA4, and now with this insight, we are starting to build a repertoire of resources for our clients and our community in the digital space.
If you’re looking for more support in this space, or are looking to start your journey in the digital world, we’re here to help. Give us a shout and we’ll be ready and equipped with the expertise and knowledge you need to stand out and take your business to the next level.
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