As of this blog’s publish date, we have officially less than 60 days before the basic version of Universal Analytics stops processing data and Google Analytics 4 becomes your team’s primary source of website data.
But properly using this platform for your reporting needs involves way more than just configuring your GA4 tracking.
Instead, it requires a complete perspective switch — all the way from your C-level team members down to your marketing specialists. Without the right knowledge, you’ll be setting yourself up for unrealistic expectations, confusion, and a whole lot of disappointment.
Here at Inflow, we’ve been at the forefront of Google Analytics 4 over the past year, ensuring our agency team and clients have the education they need to effectively use this analytics platform moving forward.
In today’s guide, we’ll explain how we’re prepping them to make the most out of Google Analytics 4 reporting — and how you can do the same for your teams, too.
Want our experts to create a custom GA4 training session for your marketing and sales teams? Contact us now to get started.
Remember: Google Analytics 4 is Not Universal Analytics
We’ve spent hours and countless blogs discussing this, but it’s worth restating:
Google Analytics 4 is a completely different beast than Universal Analytics.
It cannot be approached with the same assumptions and mindset, and you certainly can’t expect all of your metrics and reports to look the way you’re used to. In other words, the more you know about Google Analytics 4 before diving into reports, the better.
While we truly believe that GA4 is an improvement that will bring loads of new insights and data to eCommerce businesses, it’s not a platform you can use without serious education.
And the time you have left to do so is disappearing.
Even with less than two months until the sunset date, we still see far too many eCommerce marketing leaders who don’t want to learn Google Analytics 4 — instead, mistakenly believing that setting up a one-to-one Google Looker Studio report will help them get by.
That’s not the case.
Not only are several key metrics defined differently in GA4 (more on that below), but current limitations make Looker Studio reports more complicated to set up than with UA. Those who are comfortable navigating within and reporting directly out of Google Analytics 4 will be at an advantage moving forward.
As tempting as it may be, keeping your head in the UA sand is not a long-term solution.
Our Approach to GA4 Education & Reporting
Thanks to our team’s foresight in setting up Google Analytics 4 tracking in early 2022, we’re in no rush to start reporting out of GA4 for our clients just yet. Right now, we’re working with a parallel-tracking system, collecting data in both UA and GA4 to compare and analyze.
That said, with such little time until the UA cutoff date, we’re hard at work getting clients comfortable with Google Analytics 4 — and all that comes with it.
That means explaining:
- What is (and isn’t) currently in the GA4 reporting platform
- Why we’re not comparing GA4 to UA
- What they can expect to see in their GA4 reports
- What’s missing from their current GA4 reports (including our solutions for limitations)
- And much more
The single best thing we’re recommending to our clients?
By explaining how UA and GA4 are different now and illustrating what those differences will look like in reportable data and metrics, we’re giving their teams time to adjust their perspectives and prepare for a reporting future that looks much different than what they’re used to.
That way, they can make appropriate adjustments on their side before it’s too late.
Here’s just one example:
Many of the metrics reported within UA don’t match up one-to-one with their counterparts in GA4. For those client contacts that relied on those data points as benchmarks for staff performance/bonuses/etc., this education gives them the lead time to plan accordingly — and not be caught unaware when Q3 rolls around.
How Your Team Can Prepare
Before your team gets into the nitty-gritty of Google Analytics 4 reporting, you’ll need to make that shift in mindset, too.
Otherwise, you’ll spend much more time down the line trying to undo the damage and get your business strategy back on track.
Below, we’ve shared four important steps to take before you even think about building out your reports.
1. Understand the differences between UA & GA4.
The single most important thing that you can do to prepare for Google Analytics 4 reporting is simply to learn the platform.
Depending on your role, you may not need to know its nuances inside and out. (That’s what an analytics specialist like me is for.) However, you do need to know enough to understand why it’s so different from Universal Analytics — and why your UA reporting perspective simply won’t cut it anymore.
Below, we’ll touch on the bare minimum differences to keep in mind moving forward.
Everything is an Event
In session-based Universal Analytics, website events (like sessions, users, etc.) were tracked as different “hit” types. With GA4, Google has overhauled that process, instead tracking every hit type as an “event” in and of itself.
This means that your GA4 total event counts will be substantially higher than they are in UA, because every pageview, click, scroll, form fill, purchase and more will now be counted as an event.
The result: A data-tracking system that looks and feels very different from Universal Analytics, requiring you to completely rethink your data collection strategy.
In other words, get to toss out everything you think you know about events in Google Analytics. Get comfortable using new GA4 terminology; understand that you will now be referring to every interaction on your website as an event.
Reports May Be Session- or User-Based
Another reason why Universal Analytics and Google Analytics 4 are so different? It’s all about the default data-tracking method found in some reports — session-based for the former and user-based or session-based for the latter.
If you’re used to reporting out of Universal Analytics, your reports and certain metrics (like conversion rate) will look much different in Google Analytics. This doesn’t mean the platform is incorrect; on the contrary, the data in GA4 can often be more accurate to your site’s actual performance (if it’s set up properly, that is).
For this reason (and those differences in metrics listed below), we do not recommend comparing UA and GA4 data for any context other than overall understanding of the platforms and greater seasonal trends.
Otherwise, you’ll get caught in the trap of perceived “declining” performance, when you’re really just viewing your site’s performance through a different lens.
Certain UA Metrics Don’t Compare in GA4
As alluded to above, there are many metrics in GA4 that simply don’t “match up” with their counterparts in Universal Analytics. We could spend paragraphs on paragraphs discussing them (and we have), but here are some of the most important to keep in mind:
- Users: Because GA4 is better at detecting and deduplicating individual users across devices, you can expect your GA4 users to be lower than those in UA.
- Sessions: In GA4, sessions are not restarted at midnight or when new campaign parameters are encountered, so you can expect your GA4 sessions to be lower than those in UA.
- Engagement rate: Engagement rate is GA4’s answer to UA’s bounce rate and has no comparable metric in UA.
- Bounce rate: Bounce rate in UA and GA4 measure two separate things: the first, the percentage of sessions with users who only view one page; and the second, the percentage of sessions that were not engaged sessions (those lasting less than 10 seconds, with no conversion events, or with less than two page views). For this reason, they can’t compare in your reporting.
If you’ve already set up your GA4 property, you can download our Google Analytics Comparison Dashboard to better see the differences in these platforms, side by side.
Reporting Identity Can Skew Results
Google Analytics 4 allows you to set what’s known as your “reporting identity” in three different ways: blended, observed, and device-based.
Which one you choose will have huge implications on the data GA4 tracks — and, by extension, the reports you try to build out.
Anyone with access to your Google Analytics 4 property can change up this reporting identity at any time. While you can switch back and forth between identities easily (and retroactively), any change to your reporting identity will affect existing reports that your team is using, including standard reports, explorations, and Looker Studio reports.
For example, we’ve seen conversion and user data disappear or reappear after a reporting identity switch, thanks to thresholding by Google Signals.
We recommend working with your analytics team to decide which reporting identity is best for your business needs — and setting clear policies on when and how those identities can be changed moving forward.
2. Prepare for GA4’s current limitations.
Google Analytics is changing (and improving!) by the day. However, there are still some bugs and features within the platform that can complicate your business’s reporting, especially in the early stages.
As your team starts to use GA4 on a regular basis, make sure you understand how the following will affect your reports:
Auto-Migrated GA4 Accounts
First and foremost, if you thought that an auto-migrated GA4 account by Google would be all you need, think again.
In its effort to get customers set up before July’s deadline, Google automatically configured GA4 properties for all of its customers (unless you opted out ahead of time). This configuration was as basic as you could get — and is severely lacking, especially for those of you tracking data for eCommerce sites.
If you relied on an auto-migration, your property likely has:
- No custom events (you’ll need to set these up yourself)
- Missing recommended eCommerce events
- Lack of historical (and retroactive) data
The good news: There’s still time to make a fix.
We recommend working with a GA4 professional as soon as possible to get your configuration up to speed. A consultant like Inflow can help you prioritize your tracking to get as much helpful data as possible before July.
Don’t let yourself be among those who wake up on July 1 to find yourself in dire straits!
API Data Pulls & Connectors
Even with the best tracking setup, you’ll still run into some challenges with your actual reports, especially Google’s Looker Studio.
Many of our eCommerce clients rely on Looker Studio reports for top-level overviews of how their marketing efforts are performing. They’ve become a staple here at Inflow — but unfortunately, like with many aspects related to Google Analytics 4, they’re now requiring a bit of an upgrade.
With Universal Analytics, it was simple to pull as much data as possible to your reporting platform whenever you needed it. GA4’s API has put a limitation on those data pulls, which means complicated reports now require an external connector to refresh data without hitting that limit.
Here at Inflow, we’ve been using Supermetrics to get around that limitation. Other paid tools can provide the same assistance. But, like with most things GA4, remember to temper your expectations.
While these connectors can help you pull more data into your Looker Studio reports, they’re not a perfect solution. They’ll still have to work within the confines of the GA4 API.
Google Analytics 4’s native connector is fine for small, simple reports. But, when it comes to more complex reports (like those required by eCommerce sites), you’ll need to experiment with connectors to get the best results for your business needs.
3. Prioritize your reporting needs.
Just as you should make a wishlist of what your GA4 reports include, you also need to understand what your report will not include — either because of differences in metrics, platform limitations, or other complications.
For example, if you have only recently configured your Google Analytics 4 tracking, you won’t be getting year-over-year data in your reports. And, if you haven’t yet set up parallel tracking with UA, your window for understanding the difference in that data is shrinking.
As you start building your reports, we recommend starting with your must-haves, such as:
- Conversion events (eCommerce purchases, form fills, etc.)
- Priority eCommerce events (add_to_cart, view_item)
Then, as you learn more about Google Analytics 4 in the months to come, you and your team can flesh out those reports with lower-priority items, such as:
4. Get a third-party GA4 audit.
Finally, we urge you to remember this: Your GA4 reports will only be as good as your configuration.
Relied on Google’s auto-migration to do it for you? You won’t have nearly as much data as you need to populate your marketing reports. Waited until the last minute to implement your tracking? You won’t have the crucial year-over-year data that many businesses rely on to evaluate trends (and remember that comparing to UA isn’t an option!).
The best way to ensure that your GA4 reports are as detailed and accurate as you need them to be is by employing a professional to audit your configuration.
Here at Inflow, we’ve discovered many errors in DIY client configurations, many of which made it simply impossible to move forward with building reports — for example, purchases not tracking on the item- or category-level, or businesses flat-out missing vital eCommerce or other conversion events.
We’ve had to take valuable time to update that tracking (or, in some cases, completely start from scratch) — time that could have been used to better educate our clients about where their reports stand now in comparison to UA.
Therefore, before you start reporting out of GA4 this July, we highly recommend performing an audit on your GA4 account to ensure your business is set for success.
We’ve performed more than 40 audits/migrations for our eCommerce clients, and we can do the same for you. Request your audit by contacting us today.
The Future of GA4 Reporting
Of one thing we know for sure: Google Analytics 4 is constantly changing, and so will your reports in the months to come.
But, with the sunset of UA right around the corner, your business has to start somewhere.
Remember: Your GA4 reports will be useless without the proper context behind them. Educating yourself and your team today about the nuances of Google Analytics 4 is crucial to understanding your eventual reports — and building an informed business strategy that carries you into the end of 2023 and beyond.
This guide is the first place to start. We highly recommend reading through Google’s (and our own) resources on this topic to get your team caught up to speed.
And, if you’d prefer personalized training for your marketing team, we’re always happy to chat.