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GA4 is coming: Here’s what you need to know

GA4 is coming - here's what you need to know - Cameo Digital

The web is awash with posts like this following Google’s recent announcement of changes on the horizon to Google Analytics, so we’ll keep ours concise! Yes, Analytics is changing. No, you don’t need to be terrified. As with everything when it comes to a Google update, it’s all in the knowledge and preparation…

What’s happening?

All businesses using Universal Analytics (Google Analytics 3) are going to have to shift to Google Analytics 4 (or another analytics platform of their choice, but let’s be honest – most people aren’t going to do that).

Important Deadlines

From 1st July 2023, Universal Analytics profiles will stop recording new data. This means that to have year-on-year comparison data without switching between systems, you’ll need to launch your new GA4 profile by 1st July 2022.

Google has committed to keeping old data available for at least 6 months after that – so you’ll also need to think about potentially exporting historical data, but not for a good while yet.

I heard GA4 is shit!

There’s been a lot of bad press about GA4 and based on our LinkedIn feeds; a lot of marketers seem to hate it. It’s unsurprising because UA has been around for so long and people are used to it, and because GA4 is pretty technical compared to UA in a lot of ways. Plus, people tend to complain about change for a bit – it’s a rite of passage! But, there are positives.

Good things about GA4

Customisation: There is far more flexibility for recording custom events, so you can really personalise your Analytics to your website. In a similar vein, there is a customisation of the reports offered, so you can set up your own custom reports much more flexibly, rather than trawling through millions of menu items in UA.

More user-focused: GA4 is built to track user journeys seamlessly across websites and apps, so if you have more digital properties than just a website, your life will be easier.

A clean slate: More importantly, GA4 gives you the chance for a fresh start on your Analytics. Most people’s UA profiles are a bit of a mess, particularly for older sites. We’ve got used to trawling through old goals, incorrect configurations and skewed data, but GA4 gives you the chance to start clean and really think about how your measurement is working and which metrics are most important to you.

Analytics often drops down the vast digital to-do list, so having a deadline like this is a great opportunity to really focus on measurement, solve any reporting niggles you’ve been trying to ignore, and set yourself up for the future.

So what do I need to do?

Here’s a step-by-step rundown of what to consider:

Installing GA4: Setting up a GA4 profile is easy, as is adding the base code to your site. It’ll sit alongside your UA account under the same login, so you can view your old and new data side-by-side. You’ll then set up a “data stream” from your website, app, or anywhere else you want to send analytics data from. We highly recommend using Google Tag Manager to install GA4 – if you’ve not already got it, get it now. It makes life much easier.

Basic configuration: GA4 can be set to track quite a few things UA couldn’t out of the box via Enhanced Measurement – outbound links, video views, page scrolls and file downloads are all tracked by default now. Definitely enable this! Make sure you’ve set up IP address exclusions for your office and any remote workers who spend a lot of time on your site so they don’t skew the data.

Also, make sure you’ve connected any Google Ads or Google Search Console accounts for your site so that this data pulls through correctly. These are the basics.

However, GA4 requires a fair bit of customisation to get it working correctly, so the basics probably aren’t going to be enough for most businesses.

Event tracking: For anything you want to track beyond the basics, you need events. Just about any action you want to record on your site – newsletter signups, contact form submissions, purchases etc. – are handled through event tracking now.

It’s a good idea to take a step back and look at your site critically, then draw up a list of all the things you potentially want your visitors to do. This then gets drawn up into a measurement plan, where for each interaction a user takes, you define exactly what event will be triggered, how that will be implemented (in GTM or directly via your website’s code), and what it’ll be named in GA4.

This can be a very simple plan with a few key events or a very complex one with dozens – it’s up to you how far you want to take it! Generally, we recommend tracking as much as you can even if you’re not using it immediately as it could come in handy, but obviously the technical realities of making that happen need to be considered too.

Conversion events: Universal Analytics was heavily built around goals. There aren’t goals as such in GA4 – instead, you’ll choose the most important events you set up previously as “conversion events” – these would be the critical interactions that matter most to your business, like purchases or lead generation events. You can’t just set up destination goals in quite the same way as you could – it needs to go through event tracking first.

Ecommerce tracking: One challenge with GA4 is that eCommerce tracking is more complicated to implement than before. You’ll need to work with a developer to get the right tags added to the right areas of your site, and these are different from the UA tracking you have in place right now. If you’re on Shopify, there isn’t an official implementation for GA4 yet and their eCommerce tracking doesn’t work by default the way it does in UA. We can help you with a workaround, just get in touch to find out more.

Custom reporting: A lot of the real power of GA4 comes from creating custom reports that surface the events you’re tracking. This can be a complex process, although it’s much easier if you’re already familiar with Google Data Studio, which works in a similar way to GA4’s data explorations. Once your data is recording and your custom reports are up and running, you’re good to go!

Urgh! This is all too technical!

While GA4 is a pretty powerful system, setting up GA4 is a lot more involved than Universal Analytics, and it relies heavily on concepts borrowed from Tag Manager or Data Studio, which lots of marketers might not have been exposed to.

If it all feels like too much – we can help. We’re running GA4 setup projects which include a full measurement plan, tracking implementation and configuration of custom reporting, as well as a training tour to show you where to find your new data.

Get in touch to find out more about the support we can offer businesses with the move to GA4.

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