16 min read
GA4 is Here...It's Time to Bid UA Farewell Forever
By: Wendy Covey 4/6/23 10:00 AM
Learn the differences between Google Analytics 4 (GA4) and Universal Analytics and find out how to transition to GA4.
If you've logged into your Google Universal Analytics (UA) account on or after March 1, 2023, you've realized that you have a new tool: Google Analytics (GA4). In this episode, Kasey Tyring, Senior Inbound Marketing Specialist at TREW Marketing, walks through the major differences between the two tools and how to get up-to-speed on GA4.
A few key points you'll hear during the episode:
- Web visits (and a few other key metrics) are counted differently in GA4, so don't try to compare with UA data
- Greater emphasis and deeper data are provided on-site engagement
- Bounces and clicks take on a different meaning in GA4
- One of the most insightful tools is events - check this out first and get excited about this new way to view the buyer's journey!
- After you have a handle on the changes, be sure to educate leadership about the change
If you have a busy spring schedule and/or not super excited about learning a new Google Analytics tool, well, tough. In July 2023 UA will go away forever. So let's all embrace the change and give GA4 a big welcome hug. Happy measuring!
- Webinar on April 12th: Measuring Marketing Success with GA4
- Blog Post: Preparing for GA4 -- The Next Generation of Analytics
- CME Podcast Episode from July 2022: Moving to GA4 with Keith Mooring
- Kasey Tyring on LinkedIn
When is the last time you've cracked open Universal Analytics? Well, if it's after March 1, then you have probably noticed something new in your portal, which is GA4. GA4 is the replacement for Universal Analytics. It's been around since last July. But come this July of 2023, Universal Analytics will cease to exist and you will be forced into using GA4 whether you like it or not. So let's all embrace GA4, feel happy about it, and understand how it changes how we measure web performance. So I've brought on a member of the TREW crew to do just that. And don't worry if you're behind. If you don't know anything about it. We're here to explain all of that in today's episode. Let's do this.
Welcome to Content Marketing, Engineered. Your source for building trust and generating demand with technical content.
Here is your host, Wendy Covey.
Hi and welcome to Content Marketing, Engineered. On each episode, I'll break down an industry trend, challenge or best practice in reaching technical audiences. You'll meet colleagues, friends, and clients of mine who will stop by to share their stories. And I hope that you leave each episode feeling inspired and ready to take action. Before we jump in, I'd like to give a brief shout out to my agency, TREW Marketing. TREW is a full service agency located in beautiful Austin, Texas, serving highly technical companies. For more information, visit trewmarketing.com. And now on with our podcast.
Hey everyone, and welcome to another episode of Content Marketing, Engineered. I'm joined today by Kasey Tyring. She's a Senior Inbound Marketing Specialist for TREW Marketing, and she is our agency expert on Google Analytics. Welcome to the program.
Hello, Wendy. Thanks for having me.
I don't know why I called it a program. Podcast, program. Anyway, welcome here. I'm so glad to have you on today because this is such a timely topic and we'll explain why, but I've learned a lot from you on this subject and I'm eager to share it to our listeners and viewers. So this is going to be an interesting podcast. Well, Kasey, let's start back in time. So when digital marketing first became a thing and we needed to measure stuff, we marketers back in the day used to measure web and search performance in Google Analytics. So starting with the way back then, dime, walk me through what's happened to get us where we are now.
So Google Analytics has had four versions of Google Analytics since it started back in the early. I think 2005 or 2008 was the first one. You can imagine that was kind of a pretty archaic analytics system. Since then, as the times change, Google Analytics has kind of moved on with the time. So what I think we're going to focus on today is the latest two version, which is Universal Analytics and GA4, which is Google Analytics Four.
You mean they're not the same thing?
No, they're two different tools. And I think marketers who rely heavily on Google Analytics, they've been really used to Universal Analytics, which started in 2016, but now in July, Universal Analytics is going away. So we all have to get used to GA4.
Now here we are. Okay, sometimes Google does things that we're excited about. Other times, Google does things that really just rock our world and maybe a not so positive way before we get into the what. I mean, how are you feeling about this? Is this a good change?
Yeah. For people who are used to Universal Analytics, it is a learning curve. I know you can use both. Like right now, I think GA4 started in 2020, and you can have both simultaneously to kind of get used to it. But if you're really used to Universal Analytics, it can be challenging to transition. I know I still rely on Universal Analytics to double check my data. So if you haven't started yet, definitely start looking into GA4 so you can get used to it before you really have to start using it.
Okay, so it'll be an interesting transition, but it sounds like it's a positive in the way that marketers get new insights. So maybe you could walk me through some of the differences between the two and what's changing with GA4.
So I always like to say there's three main things that GA4 kind of answers in today's world. So, Universal Analytics started in 2016, so it's kind of outdated. So in 2020, when GA4 came out, they were answering a couple of big themes in the world. So first theme is the privacy. Users are really trying to manage their privacy more than ever. They don't want to be tracked across the Internet governments. They don't want their citizens to have all kinds of data being out on the Internet. So there's been a lot of privacy restrictions, and Google can't track users as much as they were before. So that's one big thing that they're answering with GA4. And then the second thing is everyone's favorite buzzword, AI and machine learning. So as that technology advances, they're putting that more into their analytics as well. So there's a lot of AI tools, a lot of machine learning, modeling that's going on. And you'll see that in GA4. The third difference, that third theme is the missing information that Universal Analytics didn't really help marketers with, and that has to do with engagement. So engagement and actions on the page is something that GA4 is prioritizing over anything else.
So in Universal Analytics, it was a lot of hit based data. So how many people are on your site? How long are they on? When do they leave? You still get that information from GA4, but you get to know more about what they're doing on the site. If they're clicking, if they're scrolling, if they're jumping to other pages or converting, whether they're downloading or making a purchase or anything like that, that is more in the forefront for GA4.
Okay, so we used to look at time on site, right? And it would be like, oh, someone's been on the site for, I don't know, four minutes and 30 seconds. And that was a total session right from I enter the website to I leave. Is that still a thing? Or when you talk about engagement, is this really a page level?
Yeah, it's still on there. And then so you still have time and then you have engagement as well. So basically everything in Universal Analytics can be found in GA4. So that's good. It's a little tricky. That's one thing I struggle with sometimes is finding that information again, but you get to know how many people or how long they're staying on the site, but you get to know more granularly what they're doing on the site, which is better for marketers.
Okay, so instead of just trying to dig your way into old analytics that you used to use Embrace. Okay, why is GA4 serving it up like this in this different way? So we're able to go one layer deeper to what they're doing, where they're scrolling, how long they're on each individual site, how navigation affects their actions on the page. But that's another one.
Yeah, that is a good point. They have a new feature called Explorations, and this is kind of where the AI modeling comes in and just more easy to use. Reporting and dashboards, visual dashboards. So they do a lot of user journey charts. So you can see if someone's purchasing something. You can start at the very end of their journey and then map out going backwards, reverse engineering, what pages got them there, what kind of actions got them there, where did people get stuck? And that way you can take that information and re optimize your site.
Interesting. And then what journey is most common? I'm sure that comes up too. Okay, cool. What are some other metrics that marketers might find surprising?
Well, I really like the events tracking that they have. And you'll see that as soon as you enter the page, it's front and center on that first reporting overview page. And that's just tracking all events that we didn't normally have. So it's an engagement rate, which is any of these events that occur will count positively towards your engagement rate. So if you're scrolling, if you're clicking, if you're downloading, I know that's important for some of our clients. Or if you're purchasing, all that is right in the first page of GA4.
Great. So most important MVP metrics right up front. How hard is it to create customer reports in GA4 compared to Universal Analytics?
That's the exploration section. I'm visualizing it in my head. So it's the overview section, and then you'll have Explore tab right next door, right underneath it, and it's pretty user friendly if you have a data analytics mind, you'll love it because you can really go deep and granular with your data. And then if you don't, like, say, for me, for example, I'm very creative and I like writing and I like graphic design. So it takes me a little bit longer to do the data analytics side. But Google has so many help articles that will tell you step by step how to create those reports.
Yeah. When you presented GA4 to the TREW marketing team a few weeks back, I know one of the things that stuck out to me was going back to engagement, it seemed like bounce rate was more of a focus, and now it's really shifted to engagement and how deeply engaged someone is with your site. So just a lot more emphasis there, right?
Yeah. So bounce rate was a huge factor in Universal Analytics, and you can still find it in GA4, but they actually measure it completely differently. So even though it's the same word, it's not the same thing that they're measuring. So bounce rate before used to be just if the person, if the user arrived at your website, did not take any action and then left. So that was kind of unclear because what if someone was reading for five minutes on your amazing blog and then they left because they got the information that still counts negatively and your bounce rate will go up. So now the new bounce rate is also inversely tied to engagement rate, where if you're on the page for longer than 10 seconds, or if you have two page views, you're automatically good for your bounce rate and engagement rate. So that counts as an engaged user, and it's better information for marketers and data analysts to have.
Okay, I think that also please, if I'm wrong, set me straight here. But when you see some of the top level metrics in GA4, it seems to me to be hinting at what Google is looking for in a site that's performing well. And we've heard engagement is a big thing. So you see the trend of long scrolling pages, like pillar pages, long scrolling home pages, for example, and you see then the campaign to that this engagement score or metric helping people figure that out and how to improve it.
Yeah. Google wants to know if your site is valuable to users, and that you're saying what you're providing is what actually you're writing about on your site. So if they bounce really quickly and it's not exactly what you promised on the Google search page, then Google will push you down on search. So if they're entering your site, they're finding what they're looking for and they're engaging, google will reward you for that.
Okay, so we should start using that word a lot more, start measuring that more closely, and I'm looking forward to benchmarking data on it so we can all talk about what a healthy score is and what that should look like over time. Well, for those listening who haven't yet moved onto the GA4 platform, how can they do that and how can they get ramped up and learn the tool?
So as of March 1, actually, if you have a Universal Analytics account or any Google Analytics account, you already have GA4. So, March 1, everyone got pushed to GA4. So now you'll have both. You could have both for a lot longer, but if you waited, you actually do already have GA4. And as soon as you log into Google Analytics, you'll see a bunch of banners. They're doing a really good job of transitioning everyone. So it'll be a couple more steps. But yeah, if you have a universal account, then you have two A four. Now if you don't have Google Analytics at all, it's really easy to set up. You're putting some code on your website. They have tons of help articles about it that make it really easy. But yeah, so I would just refer to Google Help articles on that.
Okay, so if I'm a marketer and I've opened up my portal recently and been, oh my gosh, there's this new thing, what are some of the first customizations you would make or reports you would set up to just get some good baseline metrics going?
Yeah. So the events, thankfully, are all right there in the very first page. So that's nothing that you have to set up. If you have any other conversion events that you want to track that aren't the default, that's some kind of manual additions that you have to make. And then everyone talks about engagement rate as the newest thing that you're supposed to track. That is something that you actually have to manually set up. So you set it up in one of the reporting pages. Again, I learned from the Google Help reports, it was super easy, but that's something that you'll really want to track, and that's something you have to do manually.
Okay, so sounds like Start there, build new dashboards. And if someone didn't preload GA4 when it was first available back in, what was it, July of 2022, what can they do to get a baseline going? Is that something that's done? Would you suggest monthly or quarterly, or how do we know what we're comparing against?
Well, as of March 1, it'll grab that data from GA4, so you can compare Start. That'll be your baseline. If you didn't have any information before that. And I say that because if you've been tracking using Universal Analytics, which I have first hand experience with, if you're tracking, let's say, users on your site every day or every month, and then you want to track users on your site every day or every month on GA4, those data points are a little bit different. So you can use that as a baseline, but it's either going to be a little bit higher than normal or a little bit lower than normal. And it's just the way that Google is now using the data, which hopefully is more accurate than it was on Universal Analytics.
Oh boy. So I think that is a really important point. I want to repeat it, make sure I got you. So a bad trap would be to compare last year's Universal Analytics to your right now GA4 data because it's apples and oranges, even for basic things like number of visitors to your site.
Just don't do it. We have some clients like me who really loved Universal Analytics, who are like, well, let's just keep tracking Universal Analytics until the very end, the bitter end in July. So I've been doing both and it's crazy how every month it's still like a little bit off from each other. So it's just a different way. They're trying to not have as many duplicate users. That can be an issue or count sessions twice, that kind of thing. So GA4 should be more accurate.
Okay, right, so that situation where I'm looking at something on my phone because I'm in the car waiting, whatever, and then I get home and I continue that session online on my computer, I'm one person instead of two, right?
Yeah, exactly. Different devices, different apps, they are all supposed to be one user, and GA4 is really trying to figure that out.
Yeah. So how is it that they're able to tell that it's one user and not two or three based on different devices that me as a person am using?
There are a couple of different user domains. I forgot the technical term for it, but sometimes they will use your Google account. So Wendy Covey has an account logged on to her desktop. You're also using it on your phone. So that way, from device to device, if you're logged in on your Google account, which most people have, they will track it that way. There's also a couple of other user domains that they're following to mitigate that. And then this goes back to the AI and machine learning, they're filling in those gaps with AI modeling.
Okay, so a little all kinds of different reasons. So Engagement, how do I use that in my marketing strategy? Like, I have a lot more information on who's actually coming to my site from different devices. All this now I have this deeper engagement information. So what would you do with those metrics? Like, say, even for the TREW marketing website, you can see engagement. Tell me about a real world scenario of what you would go in see and how you might make changes just theoretically.
Yeah, I think I'm used to writing content and blog articles and that kind of thing. So if I see a high traffic blog and I dive into those analytics, you're probably going to be able to see that they're scrolling a lot, they're clicking a lot, they're staying on that page for a long time, not necessarily jumping to any other pages. If that page is super valuable, they do go to a different page, then that's good. Conversely, if you're looking at a blog article that's not getting a lot of engagement at all, it's not getting a lot of traffic, then you can take some steps to optimize that page. If they're not scrolling a lot, that could be an indicator that the content is not strong or that even just the visual page is not good. You don't have photos or you don't have bullet points or anything that's a little more engaging to get people to keep scrolling. If it's a huge block of text no one wants to read, that sure, that's something that you could adjust. And then another thing that I used to do in ecommerce is a lot of times people can get stuck in these, like, click loops where they can't get to where they want to go.
That's something you'll be able to tell in GA4 to see, hey, they're trying to get to this page, but they're getting lost along the way, there's too many options, or the buttons don't work or anything like that.
Great. Okay, gosh. That was helpful. Kasey, is there anything else we haven't covered today? Any other features of it or advice you'd give to marketers when they're getting started?
Yeah, I'm not sure if there's any other features. We talked about explorations, which is a really nice tool to have to visualize data, and then of course, the events dashboards are amazing too. I guess I would highlight that anything that's in Universal Analytics, even though it's slightly different, can be found in GA4 with enough digging and researching, but they'll be slightly different than what you're used to in Universal Analytics. And then on that point, you just have to get started digging into GA4. Like, me and some coworkers were already talking about how we'll rely on Universal Analytics just to get the answer quickly, and we have to stop ourselves from doing that because we need to learn GA4 as fast as possible until July, which is when Universal Analytics stops accepting data at all.
Got it. So you might as well embrace it, because come in July, you won't have a choice. In the meantime, it sounds to me like between now and July, it's critical that you educate your leadership, whoever you're reporting data to, that this is changing. I'm not going to be able to tell you the apples to apples comparison on things like web visits, and here's why, but it'll be more accurate, so don't get upset if it looks like lower. It doesn't mean that we're doing poorly, and just do that. Education. Don't let your leadership be blindsided by this because it may make lots of credibility for that marketer if they're not on top of this, like, ahead of it.
Yeah, I remember when I was first trying to figure out the differences. And when you're first looking at it, you're like, what are the enhancements of Universal Analytics? What's like the next version of Universal Analytics? And I was getting so confused because the data wasn't matching and it clicked that it's a new tool. If you think about it like that, it's not a new version of Universal Analytics. It's a completely different tool, completely different data model. Then it starts making a little more sense.
Yeah, and Google's telling you, hey, you shouldn't care about that stuff you used to measure over there. And by the way, and I'm reading into this, our algorithm isn't caring about that stuff either. We all care about the Google algorithm. So that's important. Well, good. Well, Kasey, where can people connect with you and learn more about GA4?
Sure. So I'm on LinkedIn. You can find me on LinkedIn and also on the TREW website. I have a bio up there with all my contact information, and I'd be happy to help.
All right, well, thank you so much for sharing your wisdom with us today.
Wendy, thanks for joining me today on Content Marketing, Engineered. for show notes, including links to resources, visit trewmarketing.com podcast. While there, you can subscribe to our blog and our newsletter, and order a copy of my book, Content Marketing, Engineered. Also, I would love your reviews on this podcast. So please, when you get a chance, subscribe and leave me your review on your favorite podcast subscription platform. Thanks and have a great day.
Wendy Covey is a CEO, a technical marketing leader, author of Content Marketing, Engineered, one of The Wall Street Journal’s 10 Most Innovative Entrepreneurs in America, and she holds a Texas fishing record. She resides in a small Hill Country town southwest of Austin, Texas, where she enjoys outdoor adventures with her family.
About TREW Marketing
TREW Marketing is a strategy-first content marketing agency serving B2B companies that target highly technical buyers. With deep experience in the design, embedded, measurement and automation, and software industries, TREW Marketing provides branding, marketing strategy, content development, and digital marketing services to help customers efficiently and effectively achieve business goals.