In this podcast, Kate talks to Alison Bechdol, all about the upcoming switch to Google Analytics 4 (GA4). Alison is a Senior Digital Strategy Consultant and owns Digital-ade, a business that specializes in all things digital growth marketing, analytics, and tracking.
If you own a website or online business, you hopefully have seen that Google’s Universal Analytics is going away on July 1, 2023. All data will be processed using something called GA4, or Google Analytics 4.
The on-ramp for GA4 has been LONG, a few years in fact. The range of emotions about the switch is wild – doom, gloom, apathy, confusion.
However, Alison thinks about GA4 differently. Instead of being hair on fire about the change, she brings a sense of calm and open-mindedness to the conversation.
**Want to learn more about GA4 with Alison & Kate? Join us for our Google Analytics 4 for Pinterest workshop on 8/8/23! Sign up now HERE!**
WHY are we switching to ga4?
It’s important to dive into the history a little bit. When we can’t identify with a problem or don’t understand why a change is happening, we can definitely freak out more or find ourselves more fearful.
Alison says the history speaks to why the on-ramp has been so long.
GA4 used to be called the “Google Analytics Web and App Property”. It was really for users that had an app as well as a website, so they could track engagement with the app and the site promoting the app. It made a lot of sense for app owners, but for those that didn’t own an app, they didn’t see a need to add another tracking tool.
When Google decided to rebrand the property into GA4, it built on to what was already there. So if you’re clicking around any of the reports in GA4 and see anything referencing “screens” or similar verbiage, it’s because it was originally built for app owners. And the GA4 property still does support those apps.
The main reason that Google is making this transition is all about the data collection model.
If you’re familiar with Universal Analytics (UA), the reports were broken out into three chunks, if you will,
- User-based data – Who’s coming to my site? Where are they located? What’s their language? What device are they using?
- Acquisition (session based) – Where did they come from? Did they come from a social platform, organic Google search, etc?
- Behavior (page based) – What did the user do on the site? For example – the user landed on the home page, moved to x page, left on y page.
These are all different “hit” types. We had session-based “hits” and page-based “hits”, and that’s essentially how Google collected the data. While this is interesting and helpful from an organizational standpoint, it was hard for us to understand the actual journey of the user.
EXAMPLE – They landed on x page, clicked on y, downloaded z, and then left from page z.
This just wasn’t available to us based on how the data was collecting.
With GA4, everything has been transitioned from different “hit” types to an “event-based hit”. An event is essentially a term for any engagement point. In the above example – landing on x page is an event, clicking on y is an event, downloading z is an event.
We’re now able to track the user’s journey much more seamlessly, because it’s all tracked the same way. It’s all tracked as an event.
This is really why Google is pushing us towards GA4, because of the actual tracking. It’s much better, more scalable, and more concise when it comes to answering questions about what users are doing on our websites.
The numbers aren’t worse, just different.
using google analytics 4 (ga4)
If you’re still using Google Universal Analytics and you see that your sessions for last week are 1000, GA4 might see your sessions for the same week as 700. So how do you know which is right? There really isn’t a right or wrong answer because of how that data is collected. It’s just different.
Without understanding how it works or the reasoning behind it, this may feel concerning! But again, because of the “events” in GA4 instead of “hits” in UA, it just tracks differently.
Think of this journey that we’ve all been on at one point or another.
We start on a website looking at something and realize it’s too much or too involved to look at on mobile, so we switch to our computer to really dive in. We’re continuing that search journey, just on a different device.
GA4 can take this into consideration!
So you might have fewer users or “new” users because of that, because Universal Analytics used to track those “hits” as separate, even though they were the same person.
This will really help us answer questions about what our users are doing – what’s working and not working, and that’s where this event-based model is going to be really helpful.
PINTEREST AND GA4
Out of all the social channels, Pinterest is still the one that drives the most traffic. Tracking analytics and data from Pinterest users to our website is super important, so what does this look like for Pinterest marketers?
Out of the box with GA4, there are two acquisition reports:
- User acquisition – This report is going to be specific to the FIRST time the user comes to your site (ie how did they first find you?)
- Traffic acquisition – This report will show any other time the user comes to your site
NOTE: GA4 is coming out with almost weekly updates at the time of this podcast recording. Find information on all updates here.
Alison says UTM parameters are still going to be super helpful in identifying the source, medium, campaign term, and all of those different kinds of points. She recommends putting a UTM parameter on every type of inbound traffic – for example, a Pin on Pinterest or an email that links out to your site.
UTM parameters will help us understand our user behavior even better, instead of relying on Google completely. If there isn’t a specific referral source, it will just be recorded as “referral traffic”. This isn’t a problem, but from a marketing standpoint, it can be really helpful to know when people are engaging with your content, what Pins they’re clicking on, etc.
If you have a UTM attached, you can say with 100% confidence that “20 users clicked on that specific Pin”.
WHAT IS A UTM?
UTM stands for Urchin Tracking Module, and is essentially just a snippet of code attached to the end of a URL. Urchin was one of the first analytics products that Google purchased, and that’s why these code snippets are still supported.
LOOKS LIKE – ?
This snippet of code is essentially telling the analytics platform that if somebody clicks that particular link, this is where they’re coming from. For example: This specific Pin for our spring ads campaign brought x amount of clicks.
Google has free UTM and URL builders available. For more information, check out this post on UTM codes on Alison’s website.
This may sound confusing and overwhelming, and we totally understand! The key takeaway here is that clear data always tells the best story about what is working or not working in our business. Many of us tend to go with our gut instinct around what to promote or what’s bringing in the most dollars, but then when we evaluate the data, we find it’s a piece of our business we didn’t even think about!
Data helps bring clarity to your decisions, especially when you’re feeling exhausted and overwhelmed by marketing and everything that goes into running a business.
With Universal Analytics, we were kind of forced into three different types of reports. With GA4, we don’t have that limitation.
So essentially, we’re able to make GA4 reflect OUR business and goals, instead of trying to make our business fit the analytics available to us.
This means we can scale it to what we want and make our business grow with what we’re learning and finding from GA4. We’re able to, over time, get better and understand more about how people are consuming our content. We’re not stuck trying to fit into a box that was built for us.
a FEW ADDITIONAL THINGS COVERED
- Search bar functionality of GA4 and how it’s going to be more user-friendly
- Google Tag Manager and why it’s still SO important
- Why hiring a developer or tech expert can be a great use of your dollars
- Google Data Studio (or Looker Studio) and what that looks like now with GA4
On a really important note, the earlier you can install GA4, the better. You can still maintain Universal Analytics at the same time (through July 1st), but GA4 won’t retain any information prior to when it’s installed. So if you wait until July 1, 2023, you won’t have any analytics prior to that date.
We are also going to see a lot of fancy dashboards and other paid tools that make big promises around GA4. Alison recommends taking a step back and really thinking about your goals and key performance indicators (KPIs) before you invest in a new tool. With the advent of GA4, this presents an excellent opportunity to evaluate where you’re headed with your business.
Think through your main goals or focus, and then think about the metrics associated with these goals. This will help you create a “user journey” or figure out what path the user needs to take on your website to accomplish that goal. This will help you narrow down what’s important, and what’s not.
There’s going to be a lot of new stuff to learn, look at, and figure out with GA4. Deciding what’s most important for YOU will help you feel less overwhelmed.
Make sure you know what you’re looking at, that what you’re looking at is important, and then be able to identify how you want to look at that data moving forward. Leading with what YOU want and need for your business is something that GA4 can uniquely offer.
Using Google Analytics – WHAT NOW?
It’s truly going to be so helpful to reframe our mindset around this and embrace the new change. In the digital marketing world, everything seems to be changing all the time and it can feel exhausting. So looking at it from the lens of – How can this benefit me? – is a game changer.
Before July 1, 2023, Alison says it’s really important to get a GA4 account created and installed on your site. You can find a GA4 set-up assistant here.
After that, start looking at your goals and KPIs. Make sure you know what you should be looking at, what you should be tracking. That doesn’t have to be done by July 1st, but it can help you moving forward.
Last, Alison mentions that the user interface for GA4 is just different. If you’re using to clicking around and using Google Universal Analytics, it’s going to be a shock to the system. She recommends going in after you get it set up, messing around, and see what you can do.
There are different reports, different functionality, but the more you’re in there, the more familiar it will feel. And this will make it easier in the long run. It might feel good to ignore it until you absolutely HAVE to switch, but then you won’t have anything to fall back on.
short on time?
If you’re in a spot where you can hire someone to do this for you, or really just don’t feel like you have the time, Alison and her team can make the switch for you. She even has some pre-built GA4 packages available.
Your business HAS to have GA4 installed by July 1st, so don’t ignore it and hope the problem will go away. 😉
If you’re just reading this blog post, we highly recommend listening to the podcast episode! Alison brings a sense of confident calm to this upcoming switch, and we hope it will help you feel better about the transition.
To learn more about Alison and her services, check out her website Digital-ade. Make sure to mention this podcast when you complete the contact form for a special discount.
We’d love to hear what you thought of this episode! This is a big topic, and can feel overwhelming and data-driven. We hope it was helpful!
If you’d like to share your thoughts, leave a comment on this blog post or send us a DM on Instagram.
Additional Resources Covered in Podcast:
Simple Pin Products and Resources:
- Simple Pin Media’s Pinterest Marketing Services
- How to Read Your Pinterest Analytics (YouTube video)
- Track Pinterest Analytics with the Simple Pin Planner (Simple Pin Shop)