GA4 is happening. Here’s our bare minimum gameplan for CMOs including what you need to know, key deadlines, what you might lose and what work needs to be done before July ’23.
Why has Google released Google Analytics 4?
Google Analytics 4 was previously called App+Web and officially launched in October 2020. It essentially makes it easier to track both mobile and web properties in one place. It offers a range of new features, many of which were only available for GA360 customers.
This new model of analytics in GA4 is based on tracking events, while Universal Analytics by default tracked page views or hits. This model allows for greater flexibility in data tracking, as well as sampling meaning more accurate data for you.
Should you upgrade to Google Analytics 4?
Google is still busy with launching new features in Google Analytics 4. If it is not yet fully released, you may be wondering whether it’s worth upgrading at this stage. As the two platforms track data in such different ways, it’ll be challenging to create comparisons between GA4 data and Universal data. It is for this reason that we suggest setting up your GA4 property to track data alongside your Universal Analytics account, so that when July 2023 comes around you have some historical data within GA4 available for comparison-sake.
So, where do you start? We suggest the following 3 steps in order to get started on your GA4 journey:
- Set up your Google Analytics 4 account
- Add Events & Conversions
- Create a game plan
1. Setting up your Google Analytics 4 account
1.1 Create your GA4 account
The simplest way to do this is with Google’s GA4 Setup Assistant. You can find this in your Universal Analytics account under Admin.
Follow the prompts and connect your GA4 web data stream to your website. Google has made this as simple as possible by allowing you to use your current Universal Analytics (gtag.js) or Google Tag Manager (gtm.js) script that is already installed on your website, to collect GA4 data. You can choose this option by selecting ‘Use existing on-page tag.’ If you are using Tag Manager don’t forget the additional step of creating a ‘GA4 Configuration’ tag in GTM itself. You’ll likely use this to set up events in Tag Manager for your new GA4 account too.
If you are struggling with Google’s setup assistant, here’s Google’s step by step guide. There are also some extremely helpful guides on YouTube to talk you through the set up.
1.2 Check your property is collecting data
In order to check your property is fully set up and collecting data, you’ll need to check the Realtime report in your GA4 property. Find your way to Reports – Realtime and check that data is pulling through.
Congrats, you are now collecting data in GA4! The biggest hurdle is done and you can relax knowing you’ll have year on year data on hand for the complete move over to GA4 in July 2023.
2. Add Events and Conversions
Now that your GA4 account is collecting data, some year on year conversion data would be very useful to have on your hands too when 1 July 2023 rolls around. So while you are still getting to grips with the new GA4 features, we suggest the first place to start is with events and conversions.
The good news is Google has kept this quite simple and, one of the main reasons for the new platform, more flexible. There are events, and you can mark some of these events as conversions. This will be good to keep in mind when having a look at what’s currently set up in Universal Analytics as goals are no longer used. We’ll touch on ecommerce tracking separately.
What GA4 Already Tracks
When setting up additional events, it’s good to know what events GA4 is already tracking. There’s a few automatically collected events such as page_title, language & session_start.
If you enabled Enhanced Measurements (you can toggle this on and off in Admin – Datastreams – Web Stream Details), there are a few more events that are automatically tracked. You can switch these individual events on and off in the Enhanced Measurements settings too:
- Page view (event name: page_view)
- Scroll (event name: scroll)
- Outbound link click (event name: click with the parameter outbound: true)
- Site search (event name: view_search_results)
- Video Engagement (events: video_start, video_progress, video_complete)
- File Download (event name: file_download)
GA4 Recommended Events vs Custom Events
Google has published a list of recommended events which may or may not be relevant to your site. When setting up additional events it’s a good idea to view this documentation in order to see if Google has already provided prescribed parameters to use when setting up these events.
If the event you would like to set up is not already tracking through automatically collected events or enhanced measurements, and is not included in the recommended events documentation, then you would go ahead and create a custom event.
2.1 Review your current events and goals
Before adding events and conversions to GA4, now is a great time to review your website and a list of current goals that are set up in your Universal Analytics account. We’ll touch on ecommerce tracking separately.
- In your Universal Analytics Admin section, go to your Goals and make a list of what goals you currently have in a Google Sheet, as well as the type of goal it is.
- Run through your website and decide if there are any additional goals you would like to be tracking and add these to your current list
- Review your list and removing any goals that you do not think are worth continuing to track, or at the very least create a list of the bare minimum ‘crucial’ goals you’ll need in the future
- Decide which of your goals are events and which ones can be considered conversions, mark this in your Google Sheet
2.2 Add Events to GA4
You can add events directly in GA4 by navigating to the ‘Configure’ section. Here you’ll find a list of the current events your GA4 property is already tracking. You may have some events already added through the Setup Assistant process. This is where you can very easily mark an event as a conversion with the toggle on the right hand side.
The new change to wrap your head around with GA4 events is the parameters (Parameters are additional pieces of metadata about your events). This is similar to ‘event conditions’ when creating a custom goal in Universal Analytics, however GA4 provides a lot more flexibility with parameters. You can send up to 25 parameters with a single event. This could include parameters such as adding a monetary value to your event or only firing that event on a specific URL, etc.
Click the ‘create event’ button in your GA4 property and have a look at what parameters are already within GA4. ‘Event-name’ parameter will be there already and is the only required parameter. You can add more conditions to your event by adding additional parameters.
Pro tip: GA4 has a Debug View to check whether your events are being tracked correctly.
Similar to Universal Analytics, the events you can create here are a bit more limited to what you are able to set up in Google Tag Manager. Setting up events in GTM for GA4 is very similar to setting one up in Universal Analytics. The biggest difference here once again is parameters; you’ll find a drop down section for Event Parameters when creating a ‘Google Analytics: GA4 Event’ tag. Another difference is you’ll use your ‘GA4 Configuration’ tag instead of your Universal Google variable when setting up your GA4 event tag.
Go ahead and add in your top priority events and conversions into your GA4 property and check they are tracking correctly through GA4 or GTM’s debug modes.
2.3 Ecommerce Tracking (if applicable)
Ecommerce tracking/online sales events are listed in Google’s Recommended events documentation which can be used to set up your ecommerce tracking. However, we know by now that if you are using a popular platform, someone has likely already come up with a simple solution to implementing ecommerce tracking for your website’s platform. We recommend finding resources on how to set up ecommerce tracking according to your CMS platform and your ecommerce requirements. If you already have an ecommerce data layer implemented on your site, you can use this to send data to your GA4 property alongside using Google’s ecommerce recommended events documentation for setting this up.
Shopify and WooCommerce GA4 Ecommerce Tracking
Neither of these properties fully support ecommerce tracking for GA4 the way they currently do with Universal Analytics at the time of writing this article. There are some workarounds and scripts developed by others which you can take a look at and see if these will be the right option for your store. Otherwise I would keep an eye out for any news from Shopify and WooCommerce on GA4 and ecommerce tracking integrations as they are bound to offer this any day now.
3. Game Plan
You should now be ready with the latest version of Google Analytics and have bought yourself a few more months to get to grips with the differences and updates while still collecting the most important data for your website. It’s now time to create a game plan over the next few months to tackle GA4 one step at a time. Here’s a list of things you can consider adding to your plan to get you started:
- Start connecting your additional Google Products to GA4 in the Admin section: Google Search Console, Google Ads, Merchant Centre, etc.
- Look for any custom settings in your Universal Google account which should be implemented on GA4 too, for example, are you currently filtering out internal traffic or bot traffic?
- Create a custom audience – there are templates to get you started
- Find a ready made GA4 Data Studio Template, link your GA4 account to it and familiarise yourself with finding certain data