GA4: Time to get going and growing
Much has changed since our last update on GA4, including Google’s key announcement that Universal Analytics will stop processing new data on 1st July, 2023. Whilst that may generate a rush to get a new property set up, the next couple of months are a good window of opportunity to have a positive rethink of your website and app tracking to benefit wider reporting and business intelligence in the long term.
As we mentioned in earlier blogs, in October 2020 GA4 became the default property type when setting up a Google Analytics account and interest in it understandably increased overnight. Since then, many new features have been steadily rolled out to enhance the capabilities that this new tool offers. Some of these features are significantly different from the reporting capabilities of the older platform, Universal Analytics (UA), whilst others simply expand on the features that many analysts and marketers are already familiar with.
Continuing our series covering everything you need to know about GA4, Space & Time’s Solutions Analyst Claire Feeney tells us what caught her eye in Google’s latest round of release notes.
Those taking an early delve into what GA4 has to offer will have noticed during setup that product linking wasn’t yet available as a feature. For anyone hoping for the ability to easily connect reporting for SEO and Google Ads to their new Analytics property, this functionality arrived in December – with more to follow throughout the year.
Once connected, you will have access to two new reports:
- Organic Search Queries – split by search query, with only Search Console metrics available in this report.
- Organic Search Traffic – split by landing pages, with both Search Console & Analytics metrics available in this report.
As with most things in GA4, making these reports immediately accessible requires a bit of back-end work; they will initially be unpublished, even after linking. Further limitations include:
- Maximum one Search Console link per GA4 property
- Links are not editable – if a change is needed the link will need to be deleted and remade
- Maximum 16 months’ historical data
Importing an existing link from Universal Analytics is now available.
Linking GA4 to Google Ads has been available for a while, but for those of you yet to complete this step, it just got a whole lot easier! Google Ads links can be imported directly from your Universal Analytics property into your new GA4 property. Saving you time, linking to Google Ads is now as simple as clicking 2 buttons – then off you go!
As of February 2022, a DV360 connector has been available, including features such as DV360 traffic showing in the GA4 cross-channel reports, and GA4 conversions being sent to DV360. Eligible GA4 audiences can be imported into DV360 to target specific users for your campaigns. Aligning campaigns across different platforms is now a lot easier, as you can import the same audiences to each platform – giving you directly comparable results.
No more Smart Goals
Smart Goals in Universal Anaytics were one of the first features to be powered by Machine Learning, with the aim of targeting users with a higher probability to convert. These were usually applied temporarily (and indeed clumsily) if event tracking hadn’t been set up. This has been replaced in GA4 with predictive audiences, again powered by Machine Learning.
Predictive audiences look at all data points to identify users who are more/ less likely to convert based on their past behaviour. This can be turned into a conversion event and used in the same way as Smart Goals were in UA. All predictive audiences are automatically shared with linked Google Ads accounts, but we wouldn’t recommend using them until they have collected data for a few months, allowing the model to learn patterns of user behaviour on your site.
More UTM parameters
Consistent URL tagging demands respect – especially when needing to find campaign results in Analytics and collect data correctly by source and medium. GA4 promises a few additional parameters that can be appended to URLs to define and catgorise inbound marketing efforts: source_platform, marketing_tactic and creative_format. Usually uncomfortably crammed into campaign or content tags, this additional granularity is welcomed, but could cause potential issues with tagging consistency with more fields to consider. If not using one already, we’d recommended using and maintaining a bespoke URL tagging tool that gives stored and fixed options for UTM parameters to avoid errors and give you the ability to easily find and segment ad activity.
GA4 has been shown to be quite different to UA when it comes to reporting on data, and default channel groupings are no exception. Since UA was first released, formats within online channels have multiplied and vary in usage depending on campaign objectives, meaning that you can now target adverts in more ways than ever before. Updating channel groupings beyond Direct, Paid Search, Organic Search, Display, Social, Email, Affiliates, Referral and ‘other advertising’ makes sense. Below is a list of additional channels being introduced to GA4, with default rules set up to segment your data. Those, of course, may need to be configured and checked against existing tagging processes.
- Organic Shopping
- Paid Shopping
- Organic Video
- Paid Video
- Paid Other
- Mobile Push Notifications
A key takeaway from this change is that we’ll be unable to directly compare data from default channels between UA and GA4. Take YouTube for example; UA doesn’t have a specific default channel for video, meaning data is usually categorised as ‘Paid Search’, making it difficult to determine where exactly your traffic came from in this context.
Cross-channel data-driven attribution (DDA)
Even if you’re not quite ready to set your Analytics property to a non-last click attribution model, Attribution Reports now support data-driven attribution, which can be compared against other models in GA4. DDA distributes the credit for conversions between all touch points and uses a specific model for each advertiser, making it a recommended way of accurately reporting on attribution. Powered by Machine Learning, this model uses both converting and non-converting paths to learn how different events affect conversions. As this model uses Machine Learning, it will increase in accuracy over time, meaning the longer you have GA4 set up, the more intelligent the basis of your reporting will be.
Accessing historic data
After 1st July 2023, Google have said that access to data (directly or via the API) within Universal Analytics will be withdrawn – not for at least six months, but it will go. It’s important to have a plan in place for exporting and storing necessary data that you will need to refer back to or join onto new GA4 data for reporting consistency. You may already be warehousing data to some extent as part of wider reporting solutions, but it’s worth checking that availability and access to historic dimensions and metrics has been considered as part of your GA4 transition plans.
Space & Time Technology can provide support to help you make the most out of a change to GA4; from general set up, consultancy and training right through to customisation and integration initiatives to position web analytics effectively within a wider measurement and reporting framework.
Read more about GA4 from Space & Time:
The future of Google Analytics: https://spaceandtime.co.uk/blog/ga4-the-future-of-google-analytics/
How the property sector can benefit from GA4: https://spaceandtime.co.uk/blog/how-the-property-sector-can-benefit-from-improved-analysis-in-ga4/