Google Analytics GA4 - What You Need to Know

Google Analytics is Changing to GA4 from Universal Analytics

Let’s take a deeper look at GA4 – Google’s newest analytics platform. This post answers the questions: What is GA4? Why do we care? When will GA4 be the only analytics platform? When will Universal Analytics stop collecting website traffic data?  Google is specifically telling us that only GA4 will collect your website traffic data, and only going forward.

“The GA4 Setup Assistant wizard does not backfill your new GA4 property with historical data. Your GA4 property only collects data going forward. To see historical data, use the reports in your Universal Analytics property.”

This is why we are encouraging all adventure tourism and recreation brands to set up their new GA4 account now, so you will have comps to compare to in July of 2023. Let’s dive in!

What is GA4?

Google’s new analytics reporting platform. It is still in Beta – but it’s the only analytic reporting Google is going to support as of July 1, 2023, for collecting traffic data. Google Analytics is the free analytics reporting tool that is essential to use for understanding your digital traffic, marketing effectiveness, and ROI. There is plenty of other great analytics tools out there, but they are not free. It’s crazy to pass up a great free tool for a great paid tool – all things being equal.

Why do we care about this GA4 version of Google Analytics?

Because Google has changed its platform totally and will ONLY support GA4 data collection. GA4 isn’t an upgrade to universal analytics, such that you’ll get all the benefits without making any changes to your existing analytics configuration. It’s an entirely new ball field. If Google builds it, they can “force” us to come. (unless you want to pay for analytics somewhere else, of course).

When will GA4 be the only Google analytics platform available to collect new website data?

July 1, 2023.

When will Universal Analytics stop collecting website traffic data?

June 30, 2023.

Google Analytics GA4: What You Need to Know

Google is forcing the move to its new GA4 Analytics platform effective July 1, 2023. Google is giving users over a year of advance notice to encourage early adoption NOW, for two very important reasons for users, and one powerful reason for Google:

  1. To set up the new GA4 account and start to learn how it works. It’s very different from the UA view.
  2. To start tracking current analytics data on the GA4 account in parallel to our existing universal analytics account. Because the GA4 account will NOT backfill any historical data, in order to see 2023 vs 2022 comps, we need to run GA4 in 2022.
    • From Google: “The GA4 Setup Assistant wizard does not backfill your new GA4 property with historical data. Your GA4 property only collects data going forward. To see historical data, use the reports in your Universal Analytics property.”
    • Don’t be alarmed, you will still have access to your historical Universal Analytics account data, but you won’t be able to easily compare it in one place without manual reporting.
  3. I suspect there is another reason – GA4 is still in iteration mode, and getting a lot more websites on it will certainly help Google find bugs to fix!

Prepare now: How to Set up your new dual GA4 Google Analytics account

Google has a lot of how-to support pages on this techie stuff. If you’re like me, it’s an easy way to get lost pretty fast and feel frustrated in their technical jargon. We did the practice runs on how to set up a new GA4 account (also called a property) with your existing Universal Analytics account/property, and how to configure it to your Google Tag Manager account.

Follow this step-by-step process:

Step 1: Create your new GA4 Google analytics account or property:

You’ll see this when you log into your analytics account:
Jump in with the ‘Let’s Go’ button.

How to Update to G4

Typically, you will want to set up a new GA4 property that is connected to your existing Universal Analytics Account:

Google Support Links:
How to set up a GA4 Analytics property to your account

Step 2: Connect your new GA4 account to your website to start collecting data:

There are a few ways to do this, the 2 most common are through configuring your GA4 analytics tag in GTM, or by adding your GA4 global site tag directly to your website pages. We are going to walk you through the GTM configuration.

Google Support Links:

  • See this Google Support page for how to add your global site tag to either your existing UA global site tag code or separately.
  • How to configure your GA4 Analytics property to collect website data through Google Tag Manager – GTM: follow the Google Tag Manager help center instructions to add the Google Analytics: GA4 Configuration tag.

Other Helpful Resources: How to Configure your GA4 property in Google Tag Manager:

  • Follow our short how to video on how to configure your GA4 analytics property in GTM.
  • Also, this link is pretty stellar for walking you through the steps, too.

Step 3: Test Your GA4 Setup to Be Sure it is Working:

Be sure to test that your GA4 setup is collecting website traffic data immediately after you create the new property/account and configure it on your website to collect data through GTM or on your website pages directly.

To do this:

  1. Go to your GA4 analytics account
  2. Add GA4 in analytics, using existing GTAG setup per GA steps
  3. Go to GTM – set up a new GA4 configuration tag and trigger. Be sure it’s set to “all pages” for the trigger
  4. Save > Name Version >Publish
  5. Go to the website and click on a few pages live in real-time
  6. Go to your GA4 analytics property and check the real-time report that is tracking YOU on the site
  7. Voila – if YOU show up on the site, your GA4 setup is tracking correctly!

Do Google UA Events in GTM Automatically Migrate to GA4?

Short answer, no.

How to setup Events in GTM for your new GA4 platform

You may have heard already that Events do not automatically carry over from your UA events setup in GTM to your new GA4 setup in GTM. You will need to go into your GTM account and re-create each event that you want to track if it’s not already included in the automatic events GA4 tracks. So when you see “Migrate your events from UA to GA4” – that’s really a bit of a misnomer. You will re-create each event with new naming conventions, in GA4. You cannot simply “connect” from UA to GA4. While that is inconvenient at best, it really does provide an important opportunity to assess and improve your event tracking for your GA4 setup.

For GA4 – Review Your GTM Event Strategy

Event configuration is similar in strategy and process, but because GA4 is a totally different system, it’s worth taking the time to really review your current UA events configuration and see what you want to keep, change, or toss in the new GA4 setup. Because ‘Events’ can be converted into, or designated as ‘Goals’, and ‘Goals” are what is used in Optimizing Google Adwords AI bidding, it’s important to get this right. We find many customers have old ‘Events’ that are no longer relevant or used at all. Now, is a good time to dig into what you want to measure as ‘Customer Goals’ for both Adwords and overall site performance and user experience. GA4 gives you a lot more flexibility in your event naming conventions, whereas UA had 3 set configuration names: Event Category, Event Action, and Event Label. In GA4, you can have an event name and 3 customer parameters associated with it. You have a total of 50 custom parameters you can create in GA4 – so that’s a lot more flexibility than the 3 types from UA.

Here is a very detailed and excellent video on how to set up GA4 Events.

Pro Tip: Set up and Use Google Tag Manager

If you are not using Google Tag Manager (GTM) now, then you definitely want to start. We can help. It’s the best way to track your website traffic behavior and most importantly, your sales funnel steps. It’s an important way to measure if your marketing campaigns are effective.

Google Search Console: Why You Need This Connected to GA4 & How to Connect It

In setting up your new GA4 account, it’s the perfect time to make sure you also have Google Search Console linked to this new analytics account, and to your existing UA account. This does not automatically happen when you create your GA4 property. The Google Search Console gives you important information about the health of your property from the perspective of the Google Index, not just statistics from your site. So you can see for example, information on search queries you get impressions for even if you do not get clicks, (an important way to tell how users ask questions and in what volume.)

Google Support Links:

How to link your GSC account to GA4:

Here is a step by step walk through of how to connect your new GA4 property to GSC:

  • Go to Admin for your GA4 property – go to Product Links > then Search Console Links. Click on that and it will walk you through connecting your GSC account to analytics.
    See the step-by-step screenshots below:
  1. step 1 - Google Search Console
  2. step 2 - Google Search Console
  3. step 3 - Google Search Console
  4. step 4 - Google Search Console
  5. step 5 - Google Search Console

How to See GSC Data in GA4

After you have GSC and GA4 connected, you still need to go back to your GA4 account and find your search console reports widget and publish it, in order to see the data flow through. Here is how to make GSC data to visible in your account under Reports. Go to Reports > Library > Search Console. Click on the 3 dots to the far right of the widget, and select Publish.

How to See GSC Data in GA4

Google Search Console: What Does It Tell Us?

GSC records all the global organic search impressions, by keyword and keyword phrase, that your website shows up for, no matter what your site ranking is. It’s a very helpful tool to see what queries (search terms) your site is showing up for and the volume of impressions (searches) for those queries. You know if you see thousands of queries for specific terms but no clicks to your website, then you are largely invisible to those search visitors. Maybe you are on page 3 or 300.

We like to use GSC to get a sense of search volume for specific keywords, which we use for SEO on-page optimization and for PPC Google and Bing ads.

What does GSC Position Really Mean and Is It Useful?

So this is an important question! GSC position data is helpful for trends – upward, downward, and steady-state. Because this position ranking is pulling search query results from anywhere in the globe, it may not be as helpful as a location-based search position result. For example: white water rafting. If you are in position 20, it means on average your site is showing up in position 20 for this term, no matter where the search occurred. Yes, that means it’s a worldwide result. Sometimes, that is really what you are going for. For example, if you are a Peru tour operator and your customers come from all over the world.

Contrast that with a ranking position of 3, for example, in the Atlanta, GA, USA market. If that market is where a high % of your customers come from, optimizing your search results to win in that market, is much more likely to convert than optimizing to show up for the term anywhere in the USA. Ranking well in Seattle, WA isn’t helpful if your customers are mostly coming from within driving distance locations of Atlanta, GA!

We see clients get a bit wrapped up in global search positions. We focus on the trend – are we improving in position and clicks relative to impression volume, or not? For location-based search, we focus very much on top 3 position rankings for our client’s target market locations – those we want to win and can pull more SEO levers to get success.

Here are 2 very different trend views of organic search activity in GSC for 2 very different businesses. Can you tell what might be going on?

views of organic search activity in GSC - 2


views of organic search activity in GSC - 1

Pro Tip: Pull Your GSC Data Every Season!

GSC will only hold onto 16 months of historic data at any given time. It’s important to pull your peak season data each year so that you can compare year over year easily and not lose the data after each year. This was especially helpful to our clients when assessing multiple years of data during the peak of the covid pandemic – when the prior year wasn’t relevant.

For help with setting up or understanding your Google Search Console account, reach out. We’re here for your success.

HOW TO DO BASIC SEARCH ENGINE OPTIMIZATION (SEO) FOR YOUR BRAND

For an in-depth blog post on Basic SEO – what it is and how it works, see our How To Do Search Engine Optimization SEO For Your Brand blog.

 

Marketing Audit - Liquid Spark

 

To get help with an SEO Audit, visit our Audit and Roadmap Services.

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