7 min read
If you’ve heard talk of Google Analytics 4 (GA4) but still aren’t sure what it is or why you might need to switch to it, then you are not alone. Charity website owners, digital professionals, and marketers across the country are scratching their heads over this new platform. It’s a tricky topic, but we’ve tried to explain it in basic terms, so if you want to better understand how GA4 will impact your charity and what actions you need to take, then read on.
GA4, or Google Analytics 4, is Google’s latest version of its analytics tool. Released in October 2021, it offers a powerful new means of analysing the data from your website using AI and machine learning to bring new, more holistic insights.
With greater ability to personalise website tracking, users often disable the collection of cookies as they browse websites, which limits the amount of data that can be collected and analysed. In addition to this, some browsers now block websites that don’t offer the ability to opt in or out of cookie collection.
GA4 prioritises privacy and is designed to work in a cookie-less future. It uses AI technology to plug the gaps that are left thanks to the reduction in available cookie data.
GA4’s machine learning functionality is thought to bring a new level of analysis and understanding to website data. It can help identify trends and make predictions based on the data it analyses. For example, it can help build an understanding of how beneficiaries or donors interact with your website and what channels are driving traffic to your digital platform, without such dependence on individual user data.
The short answer is yes if you wish to continue tracking activity on your website. In July 2023, Google will be sunsetting the existing tracking tool, Universal Analytics (UA), meaning that it will no longer collect data from your website.
GA4 will replace UA, but the important point to note is that GA4 is a completely separate system, meaning that the data you have gathered through UA in the past, cannot be transferred into GA4.
It is highly recommended to set up GA4 tracking as soon as you can. The sooner you can get started on GA4, the more data you will have in the system before UA is retired. Also, the longer you can run the two tracking systems alongside each other, the greater chance you will have to identify any major discrepancies between the two sets of results. This should help ensure GA4 is running as it should, and tracking data accurately, in line with your existing UA set-up. Having several months for comparison will help iron out any issues before UA stops tracking data.
The biggest difference between UA and GA4 is the measurement model that they use. Universal Analytics uses a measurement model based on sessions and pageviews – for example a session could be hits on a website over a given time, that might also include actions such as conversions or transactions.
GA4 on the other hand uses a measurement model based on events and parameters. This model means that any interaction can be captured as an event – including the hit types usually recorded in Universal Analytics. Whilst UA has a category or label for each type of interaction, GA4 has event parameters. So for example, within the ‘page view’ event, there are the ‘page location’ (URL), ‘page referrer’ (previous page URL) and ‘page title’ parameters.
There are 4 categories of event in GA4:
1. Automatically collected events – these are the events automatically tracked such as page view, when you install GA4
2. Enhanced measurement events – these are also automatically tracked but you can enable or disable them depending on your website functionality, for example outbound clicks or video engagement.
3. Recommended events – these are categorised by industry and are the events Google recommends that you track.
4. Custom events - these are events and parameters that you can design yourself based on your own website analysis requirements
GA4 includes a feature called BigQuery. BigQuery provides access to raw data, which is important for charities and businesses that handle large volumes of data. The benefits of raw data include improved reporting and analytics.
So, whether you’re a charity digital professional or non-profit website manager, GA4 has much to offer. However, it’s important to remember that Google Analytics 4 is still in a primary state with Google promising newer features soon.
If you rely on Google Analytics for your charity website (or plan to in the future), now is the time to get set up on GA4. When Google’s Universal Analytics platform is retired in July 2023, GA4 will replace it, and the longer you can run both systems alongside each other, the more opportunity there will be to identify and correct any tracking discrepancies. This will help ensure your new analytics platform is running correctly when the switch is made.
Existing analytics gathered from the Universal Analytics platform cannot be transferred over to GA4, but careful planning will help minimise disruption to your website tracking and ensure you are able to continue receiving the reports you need in order to make informed decisions about your charity’s digital assets.