We know the move to Google Analytics 4 (GA4) might feel like a big change, which is why at Forward Action we’ve worked hard to understand what the transition will mean for our partners, and how we can use GA4 to boost engagement across the sector.
This is the second of our two-part GA4 series. In our first blog, we gave an overview of what GA4 is and why Google has re-built their analytics platform, as well as reviewing on-page events and the changes we made to enhance the data being collected. Make sure you’ve read that blog first, before coming back here for a more in-depth view of the platform! You can find it here.
In this blog, we’ll be covering the following topics:
- Structuring your GA4 account
- Understanding conversion events
- Setting up Exploration reports
- Data modelling with machine learning
- Our recommendations
Structuring your GA4 account
The way you structure your analytics account has changed slightly with the introduction of GA4. So here’s a quick overview of what to expect.
For the most part, each organisation will have a single Google Analytics account. This account can hold multiple properties (either GA4 or the legacy UA properties that you can access for the next 6 months).
Generally speaking, each property should represent a specific product or website. How you choose to interpret what a “product” is comes down to your organisational strategy, but it’s still very common for an organisation to have one property that serves all sites. If you are using one property for all sites, cross-domain metrics can be set up so that the user is tracked across all sites (even different domains) as long as the same GA4 property is active.
The major difference from UA is that there are no longer ‘Views’. Previously you could create a new View for a filtered version of the property, for example you could filter by region/country, by domain etc. Google recommends to replace Views by creating report collections specific to certain parts of the business (eg. region) and to limit access to some data for users, using access permissions.
There is a paid-for option as part of Analytics 360 called Subproperties, which act much the same as UA Views. However, as you can achieve much the same with custom reports, we don’t believe this is necessary for most organisations.
Another paid-for property is the Roll-up Property. This acts like a summary if you do have multiple properties for one account. The Roll-up Property won’t collect data itself, it just aggregates data from the properties you specify in order to give users an overview of all sites/regions/domains (or however you’ve decided to split your property).
Understanding conversion events
One of the key changes in GA4 is that what used to be Goals, have now become Conversion Events. With the move to a fully events-based platform, all user behaviours are recorded as single events and can be easily converted to conversion events. These conversion events should be reflective of your organisation’s or team’s KPIs. E.g. How many supporters opt in to your mailing list? Or, how many people donate after completing a campaign action?
You can watch a short clip from our recent webinar to see how this works in practice:
Setting up Exploration reports in GA4
One of the major limitations of UA was a lack of built-in reporting tools. GA4 has rectified that and created Exploration reports that allow users to create custom reports using templates or from scratch. Exploration reports make it easy to see how pages are performing without needing to dig through all the data in your GA4 property.
We also spoke about Exploration reports in our webinar, and an overview of how they work can be seen here:
Data modelling with machine learning
As mentioned in our first GA4 blog, GA4 is very privacy-focused. It comes as Google recognises the changing landscape of the internet and also accepts that things aren’t likely to change any time soon. In fact, Google expects that it will only get more difficult to track users as more and more people choose to browse privately.
A modern analytics platform needs to take this into account. How can organisations reliably track how their pages are performing if a large number of their users are opting out of cookies and tracking?
Google’s answer to this is machine learning and data modelling.
In its simplest form, machine learning is an application of artificial intelligence that uses existing data to fill in the gaps in reporting. It does this by analysing as much attributed data as possible and then creating data models to predict how users who have not opted in to being tracked are behaving online or are using a private browser for example.
An example of an application of this is how GA4 does conversion modelling. As mentioned above, GA4 makes it easier to track conversion events, and if data modelling is enabled, the figures you’ll see in conversion reports will be aggregated data that includes both attributed and modelled user behaviour.
While we haven’t touched on everything GA4 is capable of, we identified the features above as being key to how our partners are using GA4 and analytics in general.
Below are a few suggestions on what you should be doing with GA4 right now that will give you a solid base to expand on.
1. Make sure your user’s cookie and privacy settings are taken into account
It’s important to consider your users’ privacy across all your sites. Google’s move to a privacy-focused analytics platform is reflective of a changing internet landscape. While GA4 has made it easier to keep your users’ data private, it’s not an out-of-the-box solution and requires the proper implementation of a cookie banner across your platforms. At Forward Action, we’ve helped our partners implement custom or third-party cookie consent solutions that reflect their unique cookie and privacy policies.
2. Create conversion events based on your KPIs
As covered above, conversion events are simple to set up and make it easy to measure your KPIs, especially when combined with Exploration reports. What’s important to do first is think about what your KPIs are and then figure out if you have the information you need in GA4 to be tracking them. For example, if measuring email opt-ins is one of your KPIs, are you firing an on-page event when someone opts in to email communications? If not, that’s your first step. Then it’s a matter of marking this as a conversion event in GA4 and making sure you do the same for anything else that will help you with reporting.
3. Set up custom Exploration reports to make reporting more efficient.
Finally, set up custom Exploration reports. These can take a bit of time to get right, but are invaluable when using GA4 as a reporting tool. As one of GA4’s major new features (at least to customers who have only ever used the free version of Google Analytics), it’s something that might seem like it has a high learning curve, but is something that we feel is worth investing the time in.
Get in touch
If you’d like help with anything covered in this blog, or to learn more about what GA4 support we can offer and how to maximise opportunities for your organisation, please do get in touch – firstname.lastname@example.org.
We hope you’ve enjoyed our webinar rundown. Want to join our next webinar? Get our emails.
There’s so much more to say about GA4! Here are some of the questions we covered at the end of the webinar.
Q. How can we build custom reports to identify events taken by users with a given UTM campaign code?
In the events reporting under Explorations, you can add in any dimensions that you want to. The dimension options here are very similar to what was in Google’s Universal Analytics, and they can give you complete control over the data you’re seeing. I would recommend leaning into using the tabs, because you can set up a tab that filters events by campaign and dig into how each one is performing. There’s a lot to the Exploration view, and it took us a while to wrap our heads around it! We’re very happy to talk more on an individual basis about those reporting set-ups and how best to use them for your specific KPIs.
Q. What are the advantages of GA4 over Plausible, Umami and other analytics platforms?
I’d recommend asking: is GA4 the right product for what you need specifically? Lots of platforms were created in response to the fact that Google’s Universal Analytics wasn’t very privacy-focused. But now that GA4 has addressed this, it does have many benefits, especially the Exploration views and the fact that it integrates so well with other Google products. For example, if you’re using GA4 alongside Google Ads and Tag Manager, you can set the same consent settings across everything.
Q. Do you recommend continuing to use Looker Studio for reports, or switching completely to Explorations?
Looker Studio is still a great tool for data visualisation, especially if you want to create easily shareable dashboards to give external stakeholders an overview. But the Exploration views are really useful for people within your team who are doing the reporting and getting into the details. Digging into campaign data can take a lot of time, and Exploration views can make it much easier.
Q. When it comes to reporting tools and conversion events, what are the most useful journeys to track?
It really depends on your organisational goals and KPIs, and what kind of data you’re interested in. It can even vary on a campaign basis depending on your goals for each one. If you have specific questions for how to set up your reporting, we’d be really happy to talk to you about that. We’d send you a template set of questions regarding what you’re hoping to achieve, then we could talk you through what that would look like.
Q. Can you still segment your users in GA4, like you can in Events in GA360?
Yes, you can segment users and create audiences based on that. GA4 allows you to manually create new audiences, as well as pulling in existing audiences from Universal Analytics.
Q. How should a team that doesn’t currently use Google Analytics get started?
Firstly, if you’re not using any analytics at the moment, you definitely should be. GA4 is very accessible and it’s free, so you can easily try it out. Start by creating an account, adding the code to your page and seeing how it works. Make sure that you have the correct cookies and privacy consent from users too. Once the data is coming in, play around with GA4 and see if it’s useful to you. Then set up conversion events and reporting, so you don’t have to figure everything out each time you go in. There are lots of tutorials online for beginners, or just drop us an email at email@example.com so we can help you figure out what the best approach for your team is.
Q. How can Forward Action help organisations get the most out of GA4?
There are loads of ways we can help! First of all, we can support you to configure GA4 successfully, including:
- Making sure all the enhancements you want are turned on, such as machine learning and data modelling
- Connecting GA4 up to your other accounts, such as Google ads
- Looking at what your goals and KPIs are, adding relevant conversion events to your pages and making sure they’re showing up correctly in the analytics
- Setting up custom reports to save you time.
We can also help you with specific needs for particular campaigns, such as setting up new conversion events and reporting. And we also offer general training to talk your team through the platform and how to use different features.
If you have more questions about GA4, or you’d like to set up a chat to find out more about how we can help your organisation, just drop us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.