Data is the backbone of thoughtful decision-making processes. Analytics tools like Google Analytics have become indispensable for understanding user behavior, evaluating marketing return on investment (ROI), and refining user experience on websites. However, the world of web analytics is never static, and Google has replaced Universal Analytics (UA) with Google Analytics 4 (GA4). By July 2023, UA had stopped collecting new data, and the pre-existing data will only remain available until July 2024.
So what’s new in GA4 and why should businesses care? More importantly, how can you adapt to this change efficiently and mine the advantages GA4 has to offer? In this guide, we will delve into the event-driven architecture of GA4, how it differs from UA, how to ensure smooth GA4 migration, and how to decide what events and metrics to capture via GA4. Finally, we will explain how you can utilize Looker Studio (formerly Google Data Studio) to visualize this data in a more actionable way.
Universal Analytics vs GA4: The Key Differences
User-centric vs. Event-centric Models
- Universal Analytics: Focuses on sessions and pageviews, tracking user interactions during specific sessions and bounce rates.
- GA4: Adopts an event-driven model. Instead of sessions, it focuses on the events (user interactions) that occur during the entire lifecycle of the user on the website.
- Universal Analytics: Comes with predefined reports and custom report building options.
- GA4: Provides more customizable and flexible reporting options. For example, there are pre-built templates available, and the event-driven model enables reports on the entire customer journey from acquisition to conversion and retention.
- Universal Analytics: Limited control over user data.
- GA4: Enhanced data retention controls and built-in features to help with GDPR and CCPA compliance. For example, GA4 allows you to separately manage how long user-level and event-level data are stored before being automatically deleted, and GA4 also provides an easier way to delete user data (e.g., to comply with “right to be forgotten” requests). Further, GA4 introduces a new “Consent Mode,” which allows you to adjust how GA4 behaves before and after a user gives consent to be tracked.
Why does GA4’s Event-driven Emphasis Matter?
The event-driven model allows you to track and analyze individual events or interactions that users generate on your website, giving you a more granular understanding of user behavior. This model aligns more naturally with the key performance indicators (KPIs) that businesses have, making it easier to define and measure success.
Migrating to GA4 Explained
Create a GA4 property
Follow Google’s instructions to create a new GA4 property and either set up a tag or reuse an existing Google tag.
Identify Key Events
Identify the events crucial for your business, including those that were previously being evaluated through sessions on UA. Below are examples of important events and metrics that you may want to monitor in GA4:
- User Engagement Events
- Engagement Time: Measures the total time a user is actively engaged on your website.
- Engaged Sessions: Counts sessions where users are actively involved (i.e., performed actions like scrolling, clicking, or had a session length longer than some predefined minimum).
2. Traffic Source Events
- First Visit: Records the first instance when a user visits your website, which is helpful for tracking the effectiveness of various acquisition channels.
- Traffic Medium: Tracks how users arrived at your site, be it through organic search, referral, or social media.
3. Content Interaction Events
- Scroll Depth: Measures how far a user scrolls on a page, which is useful to understanding engagement levels for sites with long-form content.
- File Download: Tracks the number of times a user downloads a file from your website.
- Video Start: Tracks the number of times a user starts to play a video on your site.
4. E-commerce Events
- Add to Cart: Captures when a user adds a product to their shopping cart.
- Checkout Start: Records when a user initiates the checkout process.
- Purchase: Monitors when a purchase is made, along with associated data like revenue, product details, and quantity.
5. Error and Exception Events
- 404 Errors: Tracks instances where users encounter a ‘page not found’ error.
6. Custom Events
- Form Submissions: Tracks when a user submits a form, which is informative for lead generation metrics.
- Social Shares: Captures when a user shares content from your website on social media platforms.
Set up GA4 Events
GA4 allows you to define your custom events directly from the user interface, unlike UA which often required you to insert custom code.
Identify Metrics of Interest
GA4 allows you to create calculated metrics based on the events you track. These metrics can be set up via the user interface, without requiring additional coding. Here are some examples of metrics that may be of interest:
- Conversion Rate: The percentage of users who perform a specific action (like making a purchase) divided by the total number of visitors.
- Customer Lifetime Value (LTV): A calculated metric based on the total value a customer brings over the course of their relationship with your business.
- Average Session Duration: Even though GA4 is less session-focused, you can still calculate the average time spent per user on the site.
Evaluate and Modify
Give it some time and compare the insights derived from GA4 versus your old UA reports. Use this evaluation to refine your GA4 setup.
Visualizing GA4 Data with Looker Studio
Looker Studio, formerly Google Data Studio, offers powerful data visualization capabilities that can help you make the most of your GA4 transition. Although GA4 also allows you to create custom dashboards, a major advantage to using Looker Studio is that you can easily create a template that can be used with differing GA4 properties. This is a valuable feature for digital agencies who would like to create analytics reports for multiple clients, as well as business owners with multiple websites.
Below is a step-by-step guide to creating a template via Looker Studio to display your GA4 analytics:
Step 1: Connect Your GA4 Data Source
- Navigate to ‘Connections’ in Looker Studio and add your GA4 data source.
Step 2: Create a New Dashboard
- Start a new dashboard and give it a meaningful name, like ‘GA4 Business Analytics.’
Step 3: Add Key Events and Metrics
- Drag and drop the key events and metrics that you identified earlier into the dashboard.
Step 4: Customize Visualizations
- Use Looker Studio’s many visualization options to make your data easily understandable.
Step 5: Share and Collaborate
- Once your dashboard is ready, share it with your team to unlock more insightful business decisions.
The shift from UA to GA4 is more than just a technical change; it’s a paradigm shift that offers a more granular, flexible, and compliance-friendly analytics model. Embracing this change may require a period of adjustment, but the benefits are substantial. Utilizing tools like Looker Studio can make this transition particularly impactful by offering powerful, real-time visualization of your GA4 data.
If you need expert help in getting the most out of your website analytics, JH Media Group is here to assist you every step of the way. Contact us today to learn more.