Best practices when transitioning to GA4

During office hours recently, we’ve been struggling with GA4 a lot. Not only is it confusing, but it doesn’t seem to work consistently. Based on what we learned, here are my suggestions for best practices.

For new accounts, make sure you install Universal Analytics

If you are creating a new Google Analytics account, Google will trick you into GA4. I don’t recommend moving to GA4 yet. Instead, take a couple of extra steps to make sure you install Universal Google Analytics (the prior version) for now.

If you want to start with GA4, install the new code

While GA4 isn’t ready for full use now, it’s okay to start collecting data. If you take the time to install GA4 alongside Universal Analytics, you will have the advantage of a good history of data in your GA4 account. However, I don’t recommend you use the GA4 Setup Assistant in Google Analytics to do this.

I’ve tried (and many members of Office Hours have) to use the setup assistant. Sometimes it works. Sometimes it doesn’t. This might be due to the version of Google Analytics code you have on your website- or some other factor. Regardless, I’d suggest you take the time to install the GA4 code on your website. There are a couple of reasons for this.

First of all, because of the inconsistency of the Setup Assistant working, rather than waste your time trying to figure out whether or not it’s working or why it’s not, go ahead and install the new code. Trust me. This is a real-time waste to troubleshoot when installing the new code and being done with it.

Second, eventually, you’ll have to move to the new GA4 code anyway. Now, that might be years from now, but at least you won’t have to do it then. It won’t sneak up on you and suddenly break your Analytics- whenever Google decides to make this transition. This is the future. Like a good Boy Scout: be prepared.

I always recommend you use Google Tag Manager to install any analytics code. You can think of tag manager as a bucket that holds all your analytics tracking codes (and much more). If you use tag manager to add your analytics codes, you only have to change the code on your website once- when you add tag manager- rather than every time you want to add or remove a code. 

If you’re using WordPress, I recommend using the Google Site Kit plugin to do this. Although you can use the Site Kit plugin to add Google Analytics to your website, I’d use it to add Tag Manager and then log in to Tag Manager to add your Google Analytics code. You’ll be glad you did this when you start to track your website’s conversions! Trust me here.

Start Tracking conversions in GA4 as soon as you can

Along with adding GA4 to measure traffic and visitors, be sure you can track conversions as well. Frankly, the documentation on this is disappointing, but it’s still worth the effort. Conversion measurement is the key to marketing success!

Conversion tracking (goals) work very differently in GA4 than in Universal Analytics. The most straightforward goals to measure in GA4 are those that end on a confirmation page. I know some people hate forms that submit to a confirmation page. I don’t see it this way. I think it’s reassuring to your customers to end on a confirmation page after submitting a form. Whatever you think of them, it will be a lot easier to measure goals if you use destination pages in GA4.

You can track click events in GA4. It will involve coding and modifying your GA4 code on your website. That is one reason I recommend using Google Tag Manager- you won’t have to “open up” your website to make those changes. You can do this, but the documentation is thin, and it’s confusing. That’s why I prefer destination page tracking.

GA4 is the future and will get better

I’m pretty down on GA4. I think Google is pushing it too much before it’s ready. The biggest victims are the small businesses who are trying to do the right thing but get frustrated and confused. They give up. Google could have handled this transition much better than they did.

However, when GA4 is ready to everyone, it will offer several advantages over Universal Analytics. In the meantime, we just have to wait- rather than become an early adopter.

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