FAQs from a year of GA4
Whilst GA4 has been put through its paces by our Tech team for a few years now, 2023 is the year things really got moving in a period of what is arguably the biggest change to web analytics since the advent of the internet.
Over the past 12 months, S&T have conducted over 80 set ups or audits and provided numerous training sessions to a total audience in excess of 500 people from businesses in a variety of sectors, including property, retail / ecommerce, education and charities.
Our Web Analyst, Ed Allen – half man, half GA4 – unpacks some frequently asked questions that have cropped up in that time, to kick off a series looking to demystify the platform’s features and the switch from Universal Analytics (UA).
Change is never easy, let alone with UA being the industry standard for nearly 15 years, however GA4’s stripped back approach to reporting needn’t be seen as a negative, just a shift from “here is every report you may ever need” to “if you need it, you can build it”. Although this may seem daunting, rest assured it shouldn’t be, as this serves to narrow the gap between marketers and an understanding of the data they’re analysing.
Where can I find the performance of my campaigns?
This is no longer in a separate report like it was in UA. Instead, you can go into either the User acquisition or Traffic acquisition reports, changing the Dimension from First user- or Session default channel group to First user Session campaign.
What’s the difference between Session source / medium and First user source / medium?
Dimensions prefixed with First user will detail how a user arrived at your website or app for the very first time, whereas dimensions prefixed with Session detail how each individual session a user generated arrived at your website or app.
You can therefore utilise first user-based dimensions to assess the efficacy of channels, sources, mediums, and campaigns in acquiring new users and their subsequent engagement. Meanwhile, employing session-based dimensions allows you to evaluate the capacity of channels, sources, mediums, and campaigns to generate both new and returning sessions, along with their subsequent engagement.
What are dimensions and metrics?
They are the underlying principle to reporting in GA4, you use combinations of dimensions and metrics to generate reports.
Metrics are the thing that you’re measuring and will always be some form of number (e.g. Total users: 134, Engaged sessions: 56% or Average engagement time: 1m32s).
Dimensions are what you’re splitting the metric by to get additional detail (source / medium, campaign, page path, age etc.)
What is unassigned traffic?
Unassigned is one of the many new channels in GA4. Like all channels, traffic is classified to the Unassigned channel based on the utm_source and utm_medium from an inbound link. However, in this instance, it’s incorrect or a lack of utm tagging that causes traffic to be assigned to this channel, as Unassigned collects traffic that doesn’t match the classification rules of any of the other 18 channels in GA4.
You can amend the classification rules of each channel in GA4 to suit your tagging; this can be based on source, medium, source platform, campaign ID and campaign name, allowing great flexibility reclassifying traffic once it’s already arrived at the platform.
Why can’t I see a specific campaign that I know has had clicks?
This is most likely due to data-thresholding, which is Google withholding some of the data from flowing into the GA4 property as they believe it could be reverse-engineered to identify a user, therefore making it non-GDPR compliant. This most often manifests as a reduction in the number of rows of data, and a consequent drop in metric totals. Much more on the topic of data-thresholding to come in future blog posts.
I had X report in UA, where is this now?
The honest answer is, in all likelihood, it no longer exists. You’ll have to rebuild the report yourself, taking into account that some of the metrics you’re using may be calculated differently in GA4; users and sessions being chief examples of this.
Users in UA referred to the total number of users, whereas users in GA4 refers to Active Users: the number of distinct users who visited your website or app.
Sessions no longer reset at midnight, nor is a new session started when a user leaves and re-enters your site or app via different campaign parameters, this enables a greater unification of a user journey that is more reflective of contemporary online consumer habits. You’d also therefore expect to see fewer sessions in GA4 vs UA.
What is the difference between ‘Goals’ in Universal Analytics vs ‘Events and Conversions’ used in GA4?
Goals were high engagement actions taken by users on your website or app, used to measure the effectiveness of marketing activity.
Events are all actions taken on your website or app, that can range from something as fundamental as a page view to detailed custom interactions on your website (e.g. clicking on a specific button).
Conversions are the high engagement events that you select to measure the effectiveness of marketing activity. They serve as the end goals of your campaigns and should therefore be reserved for the most salient events regarding your marketing activity, such as completing a booking or purchase. Whilst all events (inclusive of conversions) are viewable in the events report, the conversions report is limited to the key events you’ve selected, offering a more concise view of the critical activity.
Where are assisted conversions?
Assisted conversions are, for the present, not available in GA4. However, you can find data relating to multi touch data driven attribution in the Advertising section. GA4 has greater capacity for including more touchpoints that lead to conversions for understanding user journeys and the impact of your marketing efforts.
What’s the difference between the Business objectives and Life cycle reports?
These two reporting ‘topics’, as they’re known in GA4, house the same reports but shuffled around. If your GA4 property was created prior to April-May 2023 you will have received the Life cycle reports, whereas post April-May 2023 you would’ve received the Business objectives reports. There is very little difference between the two, and each property only needs one of the reporting topics.
What is the cross-network channel?
Platforms such as Google Ads allow for asset banks to be created, making it possible to serve the same ad across a variety of channels, resulting in traffic from individual ads that can correctly be attributed to multiple source / mediums. Performance Max, Smart Shopping and Discovery traffic often fall into this channel for this reason.
When should I use an Explore report vs the inbuilt reports?
The inbuilt reports are useful for retrieving the same information, things that you may look at on a daily, weekly or monthly basis, such as channel performance.
Explore reports are much more versatile and are best fitted to answer very specific questions, such as analysing the performance of a specific campaign’s landing page.
What is GTM? Why is it relevant to GA4?
GTM (Google Tag Manager) is a platform that enables tracking code to be uploaded to your website from one central and user-friendly resource, facilitating Google Analytics data collection in addition to many other marketing platforms (Meta, Google Ads, LinkedIn etc.).
Using it ensures consistency in terms of the events that are sent to these platforms for optimisation and reporting, as well as allowing for far more customised and detailed tracking of user engagement.
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