Intro to Google Analytics 4 for property marketing (overview & quick start tips)

Jan 25, 2023

Hands taking slices of data from a pie chart

If you do any sort of online marketing, you’ve probably heard about the impending mandatory switch to Google Analytics 4. And, depending on your current use of marketing analytics, you might be dreading it.

But this doesn’t have to be the case!

In this article, we’re going to talk about Google Analytics 4 for property marketers: what it is, when the switch is happening, advantages and best practices.

By the time you’re done reading, you might even be excited about GA4.

Let’s dive right in!

What is Google Analytics 4?

Google Analytics 4 is the next generation of Google’s well-known analytics platform. GA4 (as it’s often referred to) focuses on providing more data throughout the entire customer lifecycle.

It will replace Universal Analytics and become the default this year. A key difference between GA4 and Universal Analytics is that GA4 tracks every click and scroll as an event, giving you more data that can be reported on and analyzed.

When is the switch to GA4 happening?

Google will sunset standard Universal Analytics on July 1, 2023. At that time, you will be forced to switch if you haven’t yet. (Previous Universal Analytics data will be stored for at least six months after the switch.)

The good news is that you can start using GA4 now while your Universal Analytics environment is still up. Starting early and toggling between the two will help you become familiar in advance — much easier than starting from scratch in July.

What are some advantages of Google Analytics 4 vs. Universal Analytics?

There are some solid advantages that come with moving into this new phase of analytics:

  • The Google Analytics 4 platform is more flexible and so is the reporting. Support your advertising efforts with configurable events and conversion modeling, as well as custom conversions and segments.
  • The Home, Reports and Advertising dashboards use a card-based layout. These areas will automatically surface insights and recommendations if there’s enough data.
  • GA4 uses an event-based reporting model. This more fully specifies the actions the user took and adds more context around user interaction. Remember when we said every click and scroll could potentially be reported and analyzed? This is the exciting stuff.

It’s also important to note that, per Google, GA4 is “designed with privacy at its core” to provide a better experience for everyone. It provides more comprehensive and granular data collection options but does not store IP addresses. This helps you stay future-focused and secure in an increasingly complex data privacy landscape.

GA4 menu options

In addition to the main menu, GA4 provides three other menu options in the left sidebar: Reports, Explore and Advertising. Let’s learn a little more about what you can find in each one.

Reports

  • This section includes Life cycle and Realtime reports. GA4 has fewer default reports, but you can create more custom reports than Universal Analytics.
  • You can add comparisons to further filter the data, but comparisons are not sticky. You’ll need to update them each time you visit the page.
  • There are four Life cycle reports: Acquisition, Engagement, Monetization and Retention.
    • Note: Google has the concept of Unassigned in the Acquisition report. It’s important for marketers to recognize this because, even with our best efforts at lead attribution, there are some occasions and browser settings that simply prevent gathering acquisition data. Google is using the Unassigned category when there are no channel rules that match the event data. This is likely to be a small, subset of your data.
  • An important feature of the Reports dashboard is the Library. It’s worth spending some time here. The Library allows you to create a collection, or set, of reports so you can build your own custom dashboards.
    • Topics are a subset of reports within a collection. For example, you could create an SEO topic. It would contain an overview report and up to 10 detailed reports. Once you’ve defined the reports you want to see in a collection, you can publish that collection and share it with others that also have access to the GA4 property.
    • Google provides several templates for you to use.

Explore

  • Explorations allow you to analyze data combinations in your own way. These are your custom reports, and they are custom to you only. This is where the flexibility, customization and creativity come together to provide marketers with serious muscle.
  • Explorations are private by default. Only the creator can view and edit them. You can share the report’s output and insights with others, but recipients won’t have access to the report template. The share is view only.
  • Multiple users looking at the same GA4 property won’t see each other’s explorations.
  • Start with a blank slate or use one of several provided templates.
  • Each exploration is built around the concepts of dimensions and metrics.
    • Dimensions describe the data. They tell you who, what and where.
    • Metrics measure the data. They provide the measurement of the dimensions you’ve selected and tell you how many.
  • For example, you can choose to create a custom user segment. Perhaps you want to understand how much (the metric) of your paid traffic (dimension 1) is interested in availability of your two-bedroom apartments (dimension 2). As you add conditions, your data becomes more and more narrow. Your questions are being answered on the screen in the bottom right corner as you add your conditions. If you see 0 for your metrics, then your segment is too narrow and doesn’t have enough data.
  • The above exploration allows you to create and save an audience that you can now use in Google Ads. You can remarket to this audience that’s already shown an interest in your two-bedroom apartments.

Advertising

  • The Advertising dashboard includes three default summary cards plus Insights from Google.
  • Remember that conversion data can take up to seven days to register, therefore it’s a best practice to look at least seven days back when reviewing your campaigns. Don’t analyze yesterday because you’ll be looking at an incomplete picture.
  • Insights are designed to notify you of significant changes or emerging trends. Insights can be automated or custom. If you’re not seeing any Insights, then your property doesn’t have enough data.
  • Google is also using machine learning to provide more robust conversion modeling. This can help fill in gaps in data where, if conversion patterns from one browser are similar to another browser, the machine learning will predict overall attribution. The modeling can include observed and modeled conversions. Again, if there’s not enough data, you won’t see this option for review.

Important! Don’t forget to review the Admin menu item at the bottom of the left sidebar. Admin tools put you in the driver’s seat. You can create or modify event names, enable and disable conversion events, and create custom audiences, among other things. Make necessary updates to improve marketing tracking without changing the code of the website.

GA4 best practices for property marketers

When you start using GA4, you’ll notice that Google is providing a lot of guided steps to help you get up and running. Get started more quickly using these best practices for property marketing:

  1. You’ll need to create a new “property” in Google Analytics, then add the Google tag snippet to your website and/or app. (If you’re a REACH SEO client, we’ve already done that for you.)
  2. Update the “user and event data retention” setting to 14 months. By default, the setting will be two months. This impacts the cool, new Exploration section of GA4. This is the where the muscle of GA4 will give marketers a better way to analyze their data.
    • You can find this setting by going to Admin > Data settings > Data Retention, and you can also pull it up using the search bar at the top.
    • Data retention does not impact the standard aggregated reports. This data will go back further than 14 months.
  3. Next, go to Admin > Data Streams > Web to enable enhanced measurement. Enhanced measurement allows Google to collect some basic interactions from your visitors and automates some events, including pageviews, scrolls, outbound clicks, video engagement, file downloads and form interactions. Enabling this feature gives you the power to choose how to analyze the data. If you don’t collect the data, you can’t analyze.
  4. Go to Admin > Data Settings > Data Collection to enable Google signals. This is an advertising reporting feature. Even if you’re not running Google Ads today, it’s ideal to enable this feature so you can use the data in the future. Google signals allows the collection of more information from people that are signed into to their Google accounts and have turned on ads personalization. It also allows the collection of demographic and interests.

    Remember, GA4 is a privacy-first platform so even though demographics and interests are collected, there must be a large enough sample group for Google to report on the data. Perhaps most importantly, Google signals allow you to remarket across devices.
  1. Lastly, remember to connect your other Google products to GA4, specifically Google Ads and Google Search Console.

Updates for properties with RentCafe websites

RentCafe and RentCaffeine websites have always allowed and supported the GA4 Google tag snippet. Excitingly, in the upcoming months, we’re enhancing the parameters that will be shared to Google as people navigate your website.

We’re expanding both the number and types of parameters that will be sent with each event, providing more data for you to slice, dice and explore in GA4. The additional parameters will help you further understand how users interact with your website. They will allow you to create custom audiences, custom events and custom conversions more easily.

Cross-domain tracking will continue to be managed in our platform when you add the Google tag snippet directly to your RentCaffeine website. This is one less step you’ll need to configure in the GA4 interface.

GA4 for property websites: Making the most of your data

We’re excited and ready for GA4, are you?

Not an SEO customer but still have questions? Schedule a free consultation.

Catriona Orosco

Catriona Orosco is the director of REACH and a search marketing expert with more than a decade of experience in real estate-related marketing. She has played a prominent role in developing the search services for REACH clients, along with our Marketing IQ analytics platform. When she’s not in the office, she can often be found riding a tandem bicycle around Santa Barbara, CA.

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