4 Tips to Get Ahead with Your New Google Analytics 4 (GA4) Implementation
In the classic Christmas movie Santa Claus is Coming to Town, Kris Kringle (years before becoming Santa Claus) sings the perfect song for starting any new project or learning any skill: Put One Foot In Front of the Other.
It’s a simple song with lyrics like “You never will get where you’re going / if you never get up on your feet.” Rather than wait for the perfect moment or until every single thing is known, Kris sang you’ll never get anywhere until you start taking steps.
As Google rolled out New Google Analytics (aka Google Analytics 4, aka GA4, aka App + Web), the product has been constantly updating and making changes — there hasn’t been a finalized product with which to start implementations. Likely there won’t be a perfect and complete product for a few many months. Since we know it’s the future of the Google Marketing Platform, at Blast we took Kris’ advice and just put one foot in front of the other to start figuring out the best way to start using the platform and helping clients.
Our goal is to maintain the older Universal Analytics product and begin to set up Google Analytics 4 (GA4) in parallel with a dual-tagging approach. We want to build up historical data in clients’ Google Analytics 4 accounts before making the shift to the platform. Starting now lets us make that leap in 2022 or 2023 while iterating and improving along the way.
Our goal is to maintain the older Universal Analytics product and begin to introduce New Google Analytics in parallel with a dual-tagging approach Click & Tweet!
Waiting too long will just delay the timing for the inevitable cutover.
Along our journey, we learned a few lessons about the platform that you could apply to your own Google Analytics 4 implementation. Rather than stick just with Kris Kringle as our main teacher, though, we thought we’d borrow some lessons from Disney, Vegas casino heists, and Marvel superheroes to help get us “walking out the door.” British royals will help, too.
Here are my favorite movie and television muses for our four lessons learned implementing New Google Analytics:
#1) Let the GUI Be Your Guide
The Blue Fairy gives Pinnochio some heart-touching advice with: “Let your conscience be your guide.” It’s one of those moments of Disney magic that warms the heart. The fairy’s intention — which is put into song by Jiminy Cricket — is to make sure the wooden-puppet-turned-boy learns how to make the right choices.
A slight modification to “Let the GUI be your guide” is our Lesson No. 1 for Google Analytics 4 setup work.
Before you set up GA4, you need to define your dimensions and event names as you do in any analytics project. Universal Analytics was pretty opinionated on what you could name items — think Category, Action, and Label — and how to measure actions. Google Analytics 4 breaks that model entirely and lets you be as unique as a Geppetto creation.
In a way, GA4’s flexibility may feel overwhelming while deciding what to name your events and how they should be defined with dimensions and metrics. To get past that initial panic, we turn to the graphical user interface (GUI) to be our guide. Google Analytics 4 sets up two areas to see Events and then a template for viewing the dimensions and metrics on those events.
The GUI favors giving explicit names to events that will make sense in those events screens. Rather than making vague events with a lot of specifics hidden in dimensions (such as button_click), the GUI guides us to making several specific events for quick and easy analysis (such as registration_signup_button_click). In the image below, a clear event like “begin_checkout,” will allow easy analysis on the number of users who did that action.
Then when you click into each event, we have a screen that shows specific dimensions for those events. Each dimension shows up as a box with counts and users. In the image below, the dimensions include “PAGE_TITLE,” “PAYMENT_TYPE,” and “SHIPPING_TIER.”
Within those specific events, what dimensions are needed? Picturing the GUI and how data will be framed helps outline our data capture.
So as you set up GA4 reporting “let the GUI be your guide” with these tips:
- Start with Google’s recommended events. Google has put together a list of key events and dimensions for tracking broken down by industry type.
- Move to using a series of specific events with clear names rather than focusing on generic events with names that could be for many events.
- Picture the Events page when in doubt: What are the actions you’d want easy access to for analysis?
- For each Event, picture the dimensions you’d want for each and how they’d display on the Event’s page. This will help you know what your dimensions should look like.
#2) Learn from Bridgerton and The Crown: Titles Are Everything
With Bridgerton and The Crown, Netflix is championing the world’s need for British aristocratic drama after Downton Abbey’s retirement. Even though they are essentially soap operas, the character’s accents and use of the word “vacation” as a verb leave Americans feeling a little smarter for having watched.
The shows give masterclasses on British titles, ranks, and how to address people in each. From “Your Grace” to “Your Lordship,” each character has a special time to enter a room and a special way they are talked about.
Building on that for New Google Analytics 4 setups is our Lesson No. 2: Titles are of utmost importance. Page Titles are the default in most views — not the URLs that Universal Analytics led with.
In Universal Analytics, titles were a secondary measurement. URLs were paramount. To even find a page title, you had to do some extra clicking in standard reports. Standard reports in Google Analytics 4 put Titles at the forefront so you need to make sure they make sense and won’t confuse measurement if they are changed.
Because of the shift of titles, we are recommending pulling a technique from setups of Adobe Analytics and adding a special naming variable to every page that is meant just for analytics.
For example, Blast’s About page has a default page title of “About Blast Analytics & Marketing – Google Certified Partner.” If the title is changed for search-engine optimization or for any other reason, reports in New Google Analytics will treat it as a new entity. For measurement, we recommend an analytics-specific page name such as “company:about” that follows a hierarchy and won’t be tied to another workstream.
As you plan your move, think about how to improve your tracking by giving shape to your data with this kind of page title variable. If Downton Abbey taught us anything, it’s that titles are everything. Our main lessons learned were:
- Define analytics-specific titles for each page.
- Track the analytics-specific title as the page title in the GUI (this will likely need coordination with your tag management system), rather than reporting on the page’s title tag.
- In your analytics titles, focus on creating a hierarchy to better understand your content.
- Focus on titles more than URLs, since Titles are the default in most reports.
#3) Plan Your URLs Ahead Like Danny Ocean Would
Danny Ocean had a definite plan in Ocean’s 11 (either the original or the remake). With 10 carefully chosen associates he manages a costly Las Vegas casino heist. From his partners, to when the heist would happen, to each step, Ocean methodically mapped and planned out the options.
You might not need that level of life-or-death planning for your URLs in what was once GA4, but taking some lessons from Ocean might not be a bad idea. Our Lesson No. 3 for a Google Analytics 4 setup: Focus early on your URLs within your tag management system.
In Universal Analytics, the platform did a lot for you. You could clean query parameters in your view, UTM markers were automatically dealt with, and you could solve most any problem with a filter. New Google Analytics 4 takes away those options (or currently lacks these options). That type of work needs to be planned and executed in your tag management system.
As we’ve set up GA4 implementations, we’ve found the best option is to do the following:
- Strip your UTM parameters from your URLs and add them to add the values as dimensions with your page_view event. For example, if a URL has utm_source value, map the value to the source dimension.
- Review URL query parameters being tracked and determine which can be removed outright from your page_location and which should have the values as dimensions. In almost every instance, Blast recommends removing query parameters particularly to save yourself from dirty data or data that could be personally identifiable or be categorized as personal health information.
- Create a dimension to capture the raw URL as it is in the navigation bar so you have a backup. Make sure to strip personally identifiable information.
The URLs are very much secondary, but there’s no reason to leave it unmanageable. Much like your title work, this step will take a fair amount of planning and work. But, much like meticulous planning paid off for Danny Ocean, it will for your URLs.
#4) Plan Each Event Like an Avenger
Marvel spent more than a decade building to Avengers: Endgame, which became the highest grossing movie of all time in 2019. The movie picks up after Avengers: Infinity War when half of all living beings were wiped from existence by the franchise’s antagonist.
To undo the antagonist’s work, the remaining Avengers must go back to key points in time, capture specific items, and then come back to modern time to save the universe. Later on, they need to return all the items to where they found them (but that’s a faster sequence).
Each stop that the Avengers make needs to be carefully chosen and planned out so they don’t inadvertently destroy the timeline. The characters couldn’t just willy-nilly pop around the timeline — there needed to be specific spots chosen to stop alternate realities forming. There was a lot of planning.
In our last blockbuster lesson learned for a Google Analytics 4 setup, you need to think like an Avenger and carefully plan out the stops on your users’ journey to plan out measurement. If you don’t, you’ll run into the problem of alternate worlds of measurement and understanding building.
Universal Analytics gave a lot of deference to pages and page paths and these came easily by just adding the Google tag to the page. Events were a key part of measurement for sure, but pages were really the bread-and-butter of measurement. Google Analytics 4 is based on events, with pageviews being just one example. Instead of being minor characters, the events become our protagonists.
To be successful, think about what is the actual action/event being measured. Sure, a submission could be tracked by saying a user then landed on a particular URL, but a better measurement would be a server response saying “Yup! That was a successful submission.” You can then give a specific name to that form submission and action and create easy reporting for event flows.
Each “stop” in the journey should have a unique name given to it with necessary dimensions to support. Some key lessons were:
- Provide unique start and stop events for bookends of the journey. This will allow easier reporting in flow reports and easier math in figuring out conversion rates. Think about direct naming of events like funnel_start and funnel_completion where all stakeholders are on the same page about what these events actually mean (it’s always interesting to hear the different ways people frame the same idea).
- Pretend the page_view doesn’t exist. Would you be able to measure the actions and journey appropriately? Pages — particularly if they are not given a strong naming convention — will provide less direct analysis than well named events that understand each step/stop in the journey
Google Analytics 4 will need more updates before it becomes a suitable sequel to Universal Analytics — a product that Google has been iterating on since 2012. But, waiting for the perfect time to begin collecting data will delay having data necessary for doing comparisons over time.
Investing now in building your data with New Google Analytics 4, analysts and product managers will learn how to best leverage the tool to better understand usage on sites and apps.
As Kris Kringle sang: “Just put one foot in front of the other and soon you’ll be walking across the floor.”