Great … Just when you thought you'd finally figured out Google Analytics for your school’s website, the powers-that-be at Google decided to go and switch everything up. Google Analytics 4 (GA4) is now the recommended property type for Google Analytics. And this is supposed to be good news?
Since Google announced its Universal Analytics (UA) will sunset in favor of Google Analytics 4, a few of us are wondering how that impacts schools and what that means for reporting on web traffic, user engagement, and other performance data for their school or district’s website.
While the official switchover to GA4 won’t go into effect until July 2023, UA will stop collecting data on July 1, 2023, which means it’s important to change over to GA4 sooner than later to accrue an entire year’s worth of analytics using the GA4 platform. If you’ve taken a peek into Google Analytics 4, it may seem like a completely different world with a new interface and features, and yes, it will be a learning curve for many. Gulp.
So let’s jump in and cover the basics about what the switch to Google Analytics 4 means for schools, including
- Google Analytics 4 vs. Universal Analytics: What’s changing?
- How does Google Analytics 4 benefit schools?
- Changing metrics
- What should my school track in Google Analytics 4?
- How to setup Google Analytics 4 on a Finalsite Composer site
Be sure to check out Finalsite's Knowledge Base article for the latest updates on making the switch to Google Analytics 4 using Composer.
Google Analytics 4 vs. Universal Analytics: What’s Changing?
At a very high level, GA4 is designed to be more scalable and more focused on privacy and event-based tracking across multiple devices. You could look at the change as Google Analytics 4 being a redesign of Google Analytics, without siloed data from your web and mobile app analytics, brought together in one streamlined interface.
While Universal Analytics is based on sessions and pageviews, the new GA4 model is based on events and parameters. The shift from sessions to an event-based data model in GA4 means that users will lose access to their historical reports and data along with everything else they had in UA. It sounds scary, but there are a lot of benefits of using Google Analytics 4, including,
- More focus on the users’ experiences and journey
- New reporting views and a user-centered design, including predictive capabilities for guidance
- The ability to create complex conversions, tailored to your school’s needs
- Better options for privacy control and cookieless measurement
- Event tracking that is easy to set up
- More accurate cross-device data
- Engagement tracking that’s a better representative of browsing behavior
- More custom dimensions and metrics
- All-in-one device support for mobile and web
- A new, more unified data model
Wait, does this even affect my school?
With all that said, if you created your property after October 14, 2020, you're likely using a Google Analytics 4 property already, and no action is required. Congrats! However, if you created your school’s property before October 14, 2020, you're likely using a UA property and will need to make the change.
How does Google Analytics 4 benefit schools?
There’s a lot that’s changing and a lot to look forward to, so we’d encourage you to take a deep dive into Google’s documentation. But one key change is how it measures, collects, and reports data, and that will change how your school reports on analytics.
Better resources to understand the user journey
Since more than 50% of web traffic is from mobile devices these days, it's been a little tricky to understand how your target audience was engaging and then reengaging with your site through multiple devices. A mobile app produces different data than a website, so Google Analytics 4 will set things straight with a unified data model.
This update will allow for multiple streams of data into Google Analytics 4, which means there'll be more accuracy while tracking and analyzing your students' and parents’ journeys across your website on desktop, tablet, as well as Android and iOS apps. With GA4, you’ll be able to see a more comprehensive and flexible view of a user's journey, all under one property.
Universal Analytics referred to these parameters as dimensions, which you could segment, filter, or search. GA4 says “goodbye” to page views, transactions, social interactions, etc., and organizes them under one term, called events.
The change could seem a bit frustrating at first, but now with GA4, an “event” can be anything you’d like it to be — pageviews, screen view, or app view. With each event that triggers, you can also send additional information that describes the event more accurately with event parameters.
Now called a “Life Cycle” in GA4, if a prospective parent visits your school’s website on their mobile device for a quick look while in line to get coffee, then revisits your site on their laptop at home, Google Analytics 4 will combine those sequences for you, despite the parent switching between devices.
These parameters will tell GA4 that this is one user passing through multiple times, allowing for a more precise recording of a user’s journey and a better overall understanding of how users interact with your school’s website.
Easier custom reporting and visualizations
Universal Analytics had an array of reports to answer the questions you might have about your data. But because event data could be anything, it may be harder for the system to interpret what data is coming into the system.
GA4’s Analysis hub offers advanced data analysis and more flexibility to create custom reports. That can help you reveal insights from the data that comes from different streams into the property and report on your users’ behavior more easily than ever before.
The change is moving away from being less of a reporting interface where you simply view your data and moving toward providing you the resources to build what you need.
What can you do on the Analysis hub:
- Perform quick ad hoc queries
- Apply different visualization styles to your reports
- Easily switch analysis styles to find the right insight format
- Use filters and segments to highlight the data that’s most relevant to you
- Export the reports to use in other tools or share with others
Templates will help you get the ball rolling, and then you can customize and organize reports based on your needs. You can also easily export and share data from G4 to visualize and build reports, which makes it a very valuable tool if you want to effectively present data at your next school board or trustee meeting.
Goals are now conversions
In UA, conversions were measured as either transactions or goals. That usually means a goal completion was triggered with a view of your school's important pages — a thank you or download page, for instance. Defining and setting goals required a manual process. GA4 simplifies this by labeling any events you identify as contributing to your school’s marketing goals as conversions. That has a big potential for your site content and tracking its influence on a parent’s decision to apply, inquire, or complete the desired conversion.
Improved data for your ads
With your precious school marketing plan (and therefore budget) on the line, GA4 has the potential to transform how we can interpret the effectiveness of paid ad campaigns. Paired with other Google products like YouTube, GA4’s artificial intelligence will provide insight into the success of your ads across desktop, mobile, tablets, or various browsers, so you can gauge what’s working, adjust marketing goals, and continue to improve your marketing strategies.
Below are some of the key differences between how metrics are measured, but be sure to read more detail from Google about the comparison of metrics between Universal Analytics properties and Google Analytics 4.
When looking at your website analytics, a “User” refers to a visitor to your site. In UA, there are two User metrics: Total Users and New Users. In GA4, there are three User metrics: Total Users, Active Users, and New Users. Source.
|Total Users||Primary user metric in UA: Total number of users||Total number of users|
|New Users||Number of users who interacted with your site for the first time||
The number of users who interacted with your site or launched your app for the first time.
|Active Users||N/A||Primary user metric in GA4: Number of users that have been active within a 28-day time period|
Pro Tip: GA4 will only keep personal data for two months by default, and that can only be extended to 14 months. That’s not too long, so you’ll want to extend the default to the 14-month max.
In UA, if your conversions are based on URLs — such as the thank-you page URL that someone reaches after filling out your inquiry form — you may notice that conversions are similar in GA4. That said, there are differences between UA and GA4 that may make it difficult to make a 1:1 conversion comparison. Each platform interprets conversions in different ways. See Google’s explanation below: UA counts only one conversion per session (which refers to a single website visit) for each goal. So, if a user submits a form twice during the same session, only one conversion will be counted for the “Form Submit” goal.
GA4 counts every instance of the conversion event, even if the same conversion event is recorded multiple times during the same session. For instance, if a parent submits the form twice during the same session, two conversions will be counted. Source.
|Conversions||You define a goal to indicate that a particular user action is to be considered a conversion. For example, if you define a “Form Submit” goal, a conversion will be registered each time a user submits the form.||You specify a conversion event for each action that you want to count as a conversion.|
Session/Traffic based Acquisition metrics
|Session/Traffic based Acquisition metrics||Channel or Source/Medium is the dimension being analyzed against metrics such as Users and Sessions||The main differences you may see between UA and GA4 for acquisition metrics are aligned with the differences you will see for the metrics of Users or Sessions|
As you can see below, the metrics you have been familiar with in UA haven’t been defined the same way in GA4. Source.
What should my school track in Google Analytics 4?
Getting GA4 up and running will require a bit of a learning curve. For example, a page view event is not automatically labeled as a page view event. It would be an event that users will have to denote as a pageview manually. Before the school year takes hold, invest in becoming comfortable with collecting data and generating reports.
As a starting point, consider what you currently track in Google Analytics, and then research how that translates over to GA4. In some cases, it will be apple-to-apples, but in some situations, you may need to redefine what you measure and what you consider your key performance indicators (KPIs).
In UA, events were designed for tracking actions within a page, sent as a ‘hit’, leaving you somewhat limited in terms of what a hit could report on. In GA4, hits have been replaced by events and you can collect data for anything you’d like. When looking at your site’s data, you'll still want to review the tried and true metrics that provide some insight into how users are engaging with your site.
The important metrics to still consider include:
- Engaged sessions and the average engagement time per session
- Engagement time for “engaged sessions”
- Engagement rate – engaged sessions divided by the number of total sessions
After GA4 is up and running, it will automatically track the number of events when someone views a page. Nice, right? After a user spends at least 10 seconds on your site, automatically tracked events include:
- First visit events, which are used to calculate the ‘New Users’ metric in your reports
- Page view events, which are used to report on the page the user is viewing
- Sessions and user engagement events
You also have the option of using “Enhanced Measurement”, which collects additional data automatically for each data stream. With Enhanced Measurement, you can choose these events ‘on’ or ‘off’ depending on what you want to see in your reports. Enhanced Measurement lets you automatically track one or more of the following actions:
- Scrolls for people scrolling at least 90% of a page
- Outbound clicks from your website to other websites
- Site search for the keywords entered into your website’s search function
- Video engagement and file downloads
If you are looking for a thorough list of data comparisons between UA and GA4 data, review this list of equivalencies from Google.
How to set up Google Analytics 4 on a Finalsite Composer site
If you’re a Finalsite client using our content management system, Composer, and you're thinking about updating to Google Analytics 4, we’ve got you covered …
Create a GA4 Property in Composer
Composer now natively supports GA4 Measurement IDs ("G-XXXXXXX") through the UI.
Follow Google’s instructions on how to add a Google Analytics 4 property (to a site that already has Analytics).
Follow the instructions from Google to set up your account and create a property for your site.
Add GA4 Measurement ID to Composer
You can find the GA4 Measurement ID in the “Property Settings” of your Google Analytics account.
Copy Your GA4 Measurement ID
- Click Admin at the bottom of the left side of your Google Analytics account.
- In the Property column, check that you have your new Google Analytics 4 property selected, then click Data Streams, then Web.
- Click the data stream you created for your website.
- Your Measurement ID "G-" appears in the upper right.
Paste Your GA4 Measurement ID in Composer
- Login to Composer, navigate to “Pages”, click the 3 dots of the website you’re setting up, and select “Settings.”
- Go to “SEO” and paste your “Measurement ID” into the “Google GA4 Field”
Adjusting Your School’s Google Analytics 4 Settings in Composer
We’ve set up automatic event tracking for several features of the website that will allow for more comprehensive reporting and attribution in Google Analytics.
Create Custom Dimensions
To leverage these custom events you’ll need to set up custom dimensions in your GA4 property.
- Select “Configure” in the left navigation of Google Analytics.
- Select “Custom dimensions” and enter these dimensions:
User Data Collection Acknowledgement
Linking Other Google Products to GA4 Property
Follow Google’s instructions below to integrate other Google products with your Google Analytics property.
Interpreting data can sometimes feel overwhelming and a bit intimidating, but knowledge is power. GA4 is a tool that has a whole new outlook on data and how it allows you to be more flexible in the information you collect and report.
The world of analytics is changing on a seemingly daily basis, but these rounds of updates are important fundamental changes in Google’s approach to data. With a little practice and some deeper learning, you’ll discover a better understanding of how your users are using your school’s website and engaging with your content.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Connor has spent the last decade within the field of marketing and communications, working with independent schools and colleges throughout New England. As Finalsite’s Senior Content Marketing Manager, Connor plans and executes marketing strategies and digital content across the web. A former photojournalist, he has a passion for digital media, storytelling, coffee, and creating content that connects.