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How to Prepare for the Google Analytics 4 (GA4) Integration

How to Prepare for the Google Analytics 4 (GA4) Integration

Danny Shepherd, Co-CEO • Intero Digital • November 27, 2021

What is Google Analytics 4? It’s a question still burning in many marketers’ minds — and for good reason. Google Analytics 4 (GA4) isn’t just an update; it’s a ground-up redesign that completely reimagines tracking and collecting data across websites and apps. The move is due to stricter data privacy laws, which will inevitably usher in a cookieless future. However, GA4 also offers businesses more actionable insights, as you can now get a clearer view of user behavior and a more holistic understanding of the entire customer journey.

Should a user visit your website or app, new functionalities now combine data into a single source and allow you to analyze the gathered information together. There’s also a bevy of new event-tracking capabilities and machine learning processing, opening the door for you to collect data in more meaningful ways for your business. Even if consumers opt out of data collection, AI will fill in the gaps to provide greater insights into your customer base.

Yet for all its benefits, the GA4 migration isn’t without its drawbacks. The inability to migrate Universal Analytics (UA) information into the new platform can be especially problematic. It’s like activating Google Analytics for the first time. You won’t have any historical event data to look back on, as nothing has been captured yet. This alone should be reason enough to commence with GA4 integration as soon as possible. In fact, you’re only guaranteed access to historical data for the six months following the end of UA’s data collection, which is slated for July 2023. Besides, GA4 is already considered the new standard. With no true alternative, now is an excellent time to familiarize yourself with the new system.

Getting to Know the New Features of GA4

Because it’s a ground-up redesign, GA4 includes a brand-new interface, which can seem daunting initially, especially if you’ve grown accustomed to UA. However, it’s important to note that in many respects, it’s also a much more powerful tool with just a few changes.

Behavior metrics, for one, have changed due to GA4 being action-based instead of session-based. Instead of seeing average session duration or bounce rate, you’ll be tracking engaged sessions or engagement rates instead. Views are also a thing of the past. Accounts and properties are still present, but data streams (e.g., websites, apps, and so on) are now available and can be configured at the property level.

Beyond that, you’ll find new event categories — many of which are automatically collected — but you can also use several enhanced measurement and custom events. Each one unlocks new reporting capabilities that you can precisely tailor to your business needs. However, the GA4 migration does bring fewer standard reports. From those reports, you can export your data into Google Data Studio or go into the “Explore” section to build your custom explorations, like funnel reports, path explorations, and so on.

How to Commence With the GA4 Integration

Although there’s a slight learning curve, the GA4 integration is a straightforward update. To get the most out of it, just a few instances of preparation are necessary. Here’s where to focus your attention first:

1. Update your data streams.
With the GA4 migration, data is now collected at the stream level. That means you must set up data streams for all platforms across your business to capture information and pull reports at a later time. If, for example, your organization has a website, Android app, and iOS app, you’ll want to set up each of these platforms as a separate data stream within the same GA4 property. This allows you to follow the entire customer life cycle and provide a more comprehensive marketing campaign analysis.

2. Update your events for essential goals.
As you go through the GA4 integration, you’ll notice that events are similar to those in UA. However, you might need to customize any associated goals — now referred to as conversions — to ensure you track what matters to your business. Take something like a destination-type goal. You can’t just create a page view goal. The data model is very different in Google Analytics 4 vs. Universal Analytics. Because of this, you could set up a form-submit goal by creating an event in GTM that’s triggered when the page view event occurs on the desired page.

3. Monitor new engagement metrics for your campaigns.
One significant change is that your website’s bounce rate might no longer be available after the GA4 integration. Other engagement-based metrics, however, can now be found through Analytics. Engagement rate, which is the inverse of bounce rate, is the most obvious and allows you to determine how users interact with your content. If the engagement rate is low, you can dig deeper into different reports and explorations to see whether it’s consistently low or whether it’s the result of a specific channel, page, source, and so on.

Let’s say a few pages have a low engagement rate. You can then assess whether the content correlates well with your marketing to drive users to those pages. Perhaps one of those pages doesn’t offer an easy or logical path to the next step you want them to take. You can then make corrections thanks to insights provided by the GA4 update.

No one worked to become a digital marketer just for things to stay the same. GA4 is just another powerful new tool that offers a variety of functions to improve customer profiles, monitor trends further, and enable remarketing in new and exciting ways. By taking the time to learn it now while you still have the safety net of UA to fall back on, you’ll be one step ahead when GA4 takes over as the big kid on the block.