November 15, 2023
Google Analytics 4 – what’s different?

Did you know the version of Google Analytics (Universal Analytics) you’re familiar with has gone away? It stopped processing data from websites on 1 July 2023. You can still access your old historical data but, to check new data, you need to swap to the all-new Google Analytics 4 (GA4).

Those of you who have done Melissa’s Building a WordPress Website course with FDSA, will be getting an updated lesson on the new GA4. However, for those of you who haven’t, here’s a brief video of how to upgrade your current GA-UA account to the new GA4:

This blog will give you an overview of what’s different in the new version. Brace yourself because there are a LOT of changes!

Before we dive into what’s different, we’ll give a quick recap of the most useful things to explore to inform our marketing efforts.  Because if something’s not working, you want to know!

*Reminder: Before looking at data in either analytics version, always check your date range.

GA-UA

GA4

Time spent on your site

The time a visitor spends on your site is a great way to gauge whether your website is working or not. Generally, if people are leaving within about 45 seconds, you can assume your site isn’t meeting their needs. They arrived expecting one thing but found another. Or they just couldn’t find what they wanted fast enough. If this is what you’re seeing there could be problems with your website design. (Checkout Melissa’s Building a WordPress Website course to find and correct your website’s sticky points.)

Ideally, you’d be expecting to see a duration of 5-6 minutes. Any longer, and people might be getting lost. Of course, if you have lots of blogs or long form content, you’d expect this number to be higher.

GA-UA

In GA-UA you can find this information under AUDIENCE > OVERVIEW.

GA4

In GA4, you’ll find it under REPORTS > REPORTS SNAPSHOT

New vs recurring traffic

Next, you’ll want to know how many people are new visitors and how many are revisiting.

New vs returning visitor data indicates whether your marketing efforts are working – if you’re getting an ever-increasing number of new visitors, then whatever you’re doing to get people to your site is working. So, keep doing it!

GA-UA

It’s worth noting that in GA-UA, the accuracy of the new vs. returning isn’t perfect.

If a user is accessing your site from multiple devices or using a platform that blocks cookies, Google may not know whether they’re a new or returning visitor. If this happens, it might throw your data off a bit. (they show as a returning user, but they’re actually a returning one and visa versa).

In GA-UA you can find this info under AUDIENCE > OVERVIEW

GA4

The data in GA4 is more accurate because it tracks ‘events’ (actions someone takes while visiting your site) regardless of the type of device they used. However, devices that block cookies will still throw your numbers a bit out of whack.

Unfortunately, you can’t have a nice little pie chart with the percentage values in GA4. But you could do it manually in Excel if you’d like.

In GA4 it’s hidden all the way down in its own menu option RETENTION. 

Traffic source

Once you know that you have new visitors and they’re staying around for an appropriate amount of time, you’ll want to know where they’re coming from.

GA-UA

In GA-UA, you can find this under ACQUISITION > ALL TRAFFIC > CHANNELS.

If you want to dig a bit deeper into a channel, i.e. social, click the blue link under the ‘default channel grouping’ column in the table. That will show you which platforms your social traffic is coming from.

GA4

In GA4 you can find your channel data under REPORTS > LIFECYCLE > ACQUISITION > TRAFFIC ACQUISITION

If you want to dig further into your social data, you’ll need to do it through EXPLORE to create a custom report. If you want to give this a go, Orbit Media have a nice article on exploring your social data.

Caveat 1 – Instagram bio link

There are a couple of exceptions to what will be included in your SOCIAL data, depending on how you have some things set up.  If you use Instagram and have a link in your bio to an external ‘link-tree’ type site, then the traffic from there will show up in REFERRALS instead. 

GA-UA 

ACQUISITION > ALL TRAFFIC > REFERRALS

GA4

In GA4, CHANNELS and REFERRALS are under the same tab: REPORTS > LIFECYCLE > ACQUISITION > TRAFFIC ACQUISITION

Why is some Instagram data in one place, and some in another? 

Because even though the visitor found your post on Instagram and then clicked on a link in your Instagram Bio, it took them to an intermediary site rather than direct to your website. 

Caveat 2 – Not everything under ‘social’ is coming directly from YOUR social

Another thing to be aware of is that neither version of GA differentiates between the traffic you send to your website (with marketing) and the traffic somebody else sends to your website via social media. 

For example, if Dorothy reads a blog post on your site and then shares it to a social platform, anyone in her audience who visits your site via that link will register as coming from social media. But your social channel didn’t send them to your site. Dorothy’s did.  

So, the figures you see in GA for social may not be a true indication of whether your social media marketing efforts are working or not. The numbers could be inflated by what visitors are doing on your site.

What’s yours? What’s not?

To differentiate between what YOU share on social media and what others might share, use a URL builder. Not sure what that is? We have a post all about the power of URL builders – and why you should use them.

Once you start using unique URLs for your social posts, you can track their success by going to your campaign data. 

GA-UA

ACQUISITION > CAMPAIGNS > ALL CAMPAIGNS

GA4

REPORTS > LIFECYCLE > ACQUISITION > USER ACQUISITION

Then select FIRST USER CAMPAIGN to will bring up all the campaigns you have set.

The main differences between GA-UA and GA4

So now you know how to get the most useful bits of information out of GA4. And if you’ve had a go at this you’ll have noticed things look very different! Orbit Media, in their tech-laden side-by-side comparison, describes GA-UA as a templates-based tool with reports to pick and choose from while in GA4 you build your own reports depending on what you need. 

Which explains why learning GA4 is a little tough if you’re not a data analytics geek.

What you need to know

Firstly – and this is a biggie – some of the more advanced data in GA4 is only retained for TWO months unless you change the default setting to keep data for 14 months instead. The maximum you can set is 14 months. That 2 (or 14 months) of data retention applies only to custom reports, a.k.a. Explorations. Standard reports in GA4 (found under the Reports section) are not affected. 

I recommend updating this to set it to 14 months. To do this go to:

ADMIN (bottom left in the slide out panel) > DATA SETTINGS > DATA RETENTION

In addition to data retention changes, some of the terms GA4 uses have changed from what is seen in GA-UA  – and are not directly comparable. You can read more about how the terms and metrics differ in this Google support article but here is one of the most applicable:

Bounce rate vs engagement rate

GA4 measures ‘engaged events’ – which are basically anything a visitor does on your site, including scrolling past the 90% point of a page. This is the metric it uses to calculate many of the reports, and it directly impacts bounce rate vs engagement rate.

In GA-UA you saw metrics for ‘bounce rate’ and that was defined as someone visiting your site but not clicking on anything. So, if someone just dropped by to read a blog post and then left, it was considered a bounce.

In GA4 it would be classed as an ‘engaged’ session because the visitor remained on your page for more than 10 seconds and scrolled to the end. For a visit to be classed as a ‘bounce’ In GA4, the visitor must click away from your site within 10 seconds without doing anything else first.

So, if you have an active blog, you should see a much lower bounce rate in GA4 than in GA-UA.

And there you have it: what’s different about GA4 — the good and the not so good. If data analysis is your thing, you’ll be very happy.  If it’s not, you’ll definitely be going through a bit of a learning curve to answer some basic marketing questions. 

If this feels a bit overwhelming and you want some help with setup, or with your marketing efforts in general, don’t hesitate to reach out! You can schedule a free call with Melissa here.

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