• Campaign tracking in GA4: How to ensure your links are properly tagged

    Campaign tracking in GA4: How to ensure your links are properly tagged

    By July 1, 2023, Universal Analytics, the older version of Google Analytics, will cease to collect data. To get ahead, marketers should be well on the way to migrating to the preferred version, Google Analytics 4. After completing numerous UA to GA4 migrations, one issue that appears in almost all instances relates to categorizing existing marketing links into Google’s newly defined channels. Old online marketing links with UTM parameters are no longer being categorized the same way. But why?  In this article, we’ll discuss the common reasons for miscategorization in GA4 and tips to make sure your marketing campaign links are properly tagged and tracked. Miscategorized links in GA4: Common reasons While there are several reasons for miscategorization, sometimes it is caused by using a “custom channel” that GA4 no longer supports. Other times, it is due to invalid values entered into the marketing link’s source or medium UTM parameters. While GA4 hasn’t changed or added new UTM parameters, they have become stricter about the values they accept. Failure to meet these specific settings will cause traffic generated from your marketing efforts to be categorized as “Unassigned.” Formatting campaign URLs: What marketers need to know To understand the problem and the solution, let’s review the proper format (as per Google’s requirements) for a marketing/campaign link. The URL format must be (in all lowercase):  https://www.ourcompanysite.com/?utm_source=source&utm_medium=medium&utm_campaign=campaing_name&utm_id=optional_campaign_id&utm_term=optioanl_term&utm_content=optional_content In the above example, optional parameters are indicated. When the values of the required utm_source or utm_medium parameters do not match specific values, the traffic is recorded in the “Unassigned” channel.   To view the values assigned to that traffic within GA4 simply add the second dimension “source / medium” to your channel report. Dealing with ‘unassigned’ traffic In the report below, someone on the marketing team defined the medium as a “post,” which is not one of Google’s defined values for utm_medium and hence the traffic is categorized as “Unassigned.” Below are examples of where someone on the marketing team just wanted to define the source but not the medium for various marketing efforts or incorrectly assigned an invalid medium. You may notice that Google discourages using spaces in the parameter values and even hyphens (“-“) as an alternative. Instead, an underscore “_” is the preferred replacement.  While failing to follow these new recommendations won’t impact GA4 reports today, with the constant changes taking place, it may in the future.  The new format will become more critical when your organization starts using Google’s BigQuery data warehouse to store your analytics data beyond the 14-month maximum online availability — an inevitable undertaking. Defining source and medium parameters The two parameters that GA4 focuses on to categorize traffic correctly are: utm_source: The traffic referrer (i.e., google, newsletter4, billboard). utm_medium: The marketing medium (i.e., cpc, banner, email). So, if you set the utm_source to equal “My Email List” and the utm_medium to equal “EMail,” GA4 may categorize it as “Unassigned” instead of “EMail.” If you’re scratching your head about this, here’s the reason.  According to GA4 documentation, the following criteria must be met for the traffic to be considered from the email channel: Source (utm_source) = email|e-mail|e_mail|e mail Medium (utm_medium) = email|e-mail|e_mail|e mail For those not familiar with regular expressions (or regex), let’s break this down. Note there are no capitalizations allowed. Either the utm_source or utm_medium must contain one of the values provided where the “|” indicates “or.” In the example provided, while the utm_medium contains “EMail,” having both an uppercase “E” and “M” means it does not equal “email” as per the GA4 specification. (While Google may convert all parameters to lowercase, you can not rely on them to fix your errors 100% of the time.)  Having the name of an email list as the value for the utm_source parameter is still permissible, provided that the utm_medium equals “email.” (This is not ideal, though. The email list name is better assigned to one of the optional parameters or, at a minimum, made all lowercase with the spaces removed.) Also, while in the example of acceptable values from Google, it is permissible to use “e mail” (with a space), it is not recommended and should be avoided. Similar specifications are available for all 19 GA4 channels. A complete list of each channel and the acceptable values can be found here. Pay attention to paid channels While we don’t have to worry about the non-advertising channels (i.e., organic search, organic social, direct, referral, etc.), we need to concentrate on all the other ones.  Paid channels require special attention. The new ones include:  Paid Social. Paid Shopping. Cross-network.  All paid channels with “Traffic is Google Ads” in the requirements imply that the utm_medium value is either set to “cpc”, “ppc” or “paid.”  The value of the utm_source must match the site value that Google has determined as a search/social/video site vs. something else based on Google’s defined list.  (Here is an Excel spreadsheet you can download with the complete list of the utm_source values Google uses and how they are categorized.)For example, if your URL has utm_source=blogger and utm_medium=cpc, it will appear as “Paid Social” in GA4.  If any other value is used for utm_medium beyond “cpc”, “ppc” or “paid” it will appear as simply “Organic Social.” The spreadsheet from Google is constantly being updated, so be sure to download the latest before assuming how any new advertising partner will be categorized. What happens to ‘unassigned’ campaign data? While we need to be proactive in aligning all our marketing links to the new Google Analytics requirements, what can be done with the data that has already been captured and reported as “Unassigned” or perhaps it was a custom channel you defined for Universal Analytics? This can be addressed when data is extracted from GA4 or BigQuery via Google’s Looker Studio (formerly Data Studio) or any other business intelligence tool.  Within these, you can define your own logic where utm_source and utm_medium equal the values you defined in your UA custom channel and assign it to its own channel. (Hence, a custom channel.)  Dig deeper: MarTech’s in-depth GA4 coverage Adapting to GA4’s campaign tracking standards Universal Analytics and Google Analytics 4 differ in many ways. There are technical reasons behind these differences, all with good intent. Different isn’t always a good thing for marketers who are used to the traditional approach of tracking marketing campaigns. But one thing we can easily address is how our online marketing efforts are tagged to ensure they get classified into our preferred channels.  Addressing this before your migration from UA to GA4 will help lessen the headache of the transition and the efforts required to fix them after you have made the inevitable move.

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  • Q&A with the director of Google Analytics: Getting Started with Google Analytics 4

    Q&A with the director of Google Analytics: Getting Started with Google Analytics 4

    We’re wrapping up our series on getting started with Google Analytics 4, with a Q&A with Russ Ketchum, director of Google Analytics. Here he talks about migrating from Universal Analytics and shares some GA4 power user moves. MarTech: What is the most important thing to know about migrating from UA to GA4? Russ Ketchum: GA4 is truly different from Universal Analytics at its core — and that’s intentional. Before Google Analytics, page views and sessions were unfamiliar concepts. And, even so, they worked great for website analytics. But the world has evolved. “The internet” isn’t a synonym for a desktop website. The internet is all around us and that’s the world that we’ve built GA4 to measure. Streams, events, partial data, behavioral modeling, and so on are the “page views and sessions” of today’s connected world. We know that this is a big leap for many of our customers. With migration tools, educational content, videos, and more, we are working to be as helpful as possible for our customers during this transition.  Dig deeper: Using Google Analytics 4 integrations for insights and media activations MT: Power user moves for GA4? RK: It’s a great question. I’ll highlight two; one that helps customers migrate a little easier and another which highlights a big improvement we made to GA4 based on customer feedback about Universal Analytics.  When a customer is migrating to GA4, one of the first things they need to consider is how to get the data they care about the most into the system. In Universal Analytics, the ability to measure events is somewhat limited with just a Category, Action, and Label to indicate a particular interaction. In GA4, customers can create as many events as they want and use parameters to be very descriptive.  We get a lot of questions about what’s the easiest way to go from the old world to the new. In our experience, “easiest” usually means “without writing new code for your site.” In GA4, there’s an easy way to do this thanks to Google tag. If you look under your tag settings for a given stream, you’ll find an option “Collect Universal Analytics events” in GA4. This will create a single GA4 event type that records Category/Action/Label as parameters. You can confirm this is working by looking at the Events section under Configure.  Now, the Pro move is to click the “Create Event” button. This lets you write rules to break-out the legacy event into as many native GA4 events as you want. For example, you can make “Category” the GA4 event name and “Action” and “Label” some of the parameters. Now businesses can analyze what their users are doing with all the power of GA4. Now that you have the data they care about in GA4, here’s another pro tip to help focus on what matters to them the most: customize reports. Report customization is something entirely new and different in GA4 and a feature that has long been requested in Universal Analytics. All of the default reports can be customized and customers can even replace the entire standard set of reports with something completely custom to meet the specific needs of their business.  MT: What topics are you seeing the most questions about? RK: Honestly, it’s a pretty wide range at this point. As you might expect, we have customers who are in the setup process so they’re asking lots of questions about the best way to structure their properties, their events, etc.. This is why we’ve made such a big investment in our Setup Assistant to make it as easy as possible to move from UA to Google Analytics 4.  We also have customers who were experts in Universal Analytics and are now learning how to apply that expertise to GA4. We’ve already launched a lot of educational content aimed exactly towards this audience, but in 2023, we’re excited to add even more.  MT: Will GA4 do anything to comply with EU privacy laws?  RK: One of the reasons that Google Analytics is so unique is because our customers own their data — not Google. Because of this, we have an obligation to provide our customers with the controls and tools they need to comply with regulations wherever they operate, not just in the EU. Over the course of the past few months, we’ve introduced more granular privacy controls and we’ll continue to evolve as necessary. Dig deeper: 3 ways to do segmentation in Google Analytics 4 While these concerns are something we’re actively addressing in GA4, we don’t have the same flexibility with Universal Analytics. That makes it more important than ever that customers move to GA4 as quickly as possible.  MT: Will the sunset date for Universal Analytics get changed from July of next year?  RK: We appreciate the fact that the migration to GA4 is a heavylift for many of our customers. That’s why we recently made two announcements to make things a little easier. First, we announced an update to our Setup Assistant which will effectively “Jumpstart” our customers on the path to GA4 by creating a GA4 property and carrying over the settings from their Universal Analytics properties automatically. Additionally, due to the scale and complexity of many of our Analytics 360 accounts, we announced that we will be extending their sunset date to July 1, 2024.  Our goal with both updates is to help customers be best positioned for the migration to GA4, with as much historical data and customization possible. MT: What areas can we expect new features and/or updates in? RK: Customers can expect even more out of the customization features I mentioned earlier, especially for SMB customers. We have some pretty big plans for the Advertiser Workspace, so what you see there now really only scratches the surface. 

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  • Channel groups: Getting started with Google Analytics 4

    Channel groups: Getting started with Google Analytics 4

    Working with Colleen Harris, head of business intelligence and reporting strategy at Sincro, we’ve put together a guide to getting started with Google Analytics 4 (GA4). There are links to all the articles at the end of the post. Channel groups are rule-based definitions of your website’s traffic sources that let you monitor the performance of all of the channels sending traffic to your website. “Default channel grouping is one of those reports that everybody loves and kind of becomes that first individualized report to use.” says Harris. “Because it wouldn’t be Google without making new things available in these metrics, there are now going to be both user related reports and traffic related reports.” This is an important distinction and one you have to keep in mind. This is really and truly about using the same type of metric throughout your entire report analysis work that you’re doing. Dig deeper: Google rolls out new features for GA4 Before we get further into how they’re used in GA4, there is one other thing to know. New terms to keep in mind There are several new terms you should familiarize yourself with because you’re going to see them on all tables by default.  Users: users who visited the website. A user can visit the website multiple times. Users are defined by the device ID.New User: people who visited the website first the first time. User is defined by the Google Analytics browser cookie, so someone who deletes their cookies would show up as a new user.Engaged Session: when a session either lasts longer than 10 seconds, includes at least one conversion or includes more than 2 page views.Engagement Rate: calculated by dividing the number of engaged sessions by the number of total sessions.Engaged Session per User: total number of sessions per user averaged by the total user count. Engage session, engagement rate and engage session per user are the new metrics meant to replace Universal Analytics’ (UA) bounce rate. This is a big improvement. No more telling you how quickly people leave your site. Instead you get to find out about the ones who stuck around.  “To me it doesn’t matter if 20,000 people visited the site,” says Harris. “I care about the 2000 engaged sessions and that my paid search had an engagement rate of 60% compared to non-paid search engagement rate of 20%.” Default channel grouping This picture shows what your default channel grouping looks like. It starts with user medium and doesn’t have the default channel grouping report anymore. Under “first medium” there’s a drop box where you can change that to session, medium, session, source, campaign, all of those things.  Pro tip: “Anytime you see one of these carrots right here,” says Harris, “that’s going to mean that there are multiple parts of this report that live in one screen.”  In UA, source/medium is in one screen, content group is in another and campaign in yet another. In GA4 they’ve combined them all into one screen. This turns a flat report into one where you can see interactions and activity in real time. The same thing happens with browser and technology. “What used to live in five or six reports now can all live within the same report,” says Harris. “I think it’s very helpful and a more streamlined process.”  This is also where you’re going to be able to add in a secondary dimension as shown in this picture. Remember, reports in GA4 use two different attribution models for data. User Traffic Source —  gives credit to the first source of traffic that first caused the user to visit your website.Session Traffic Source -– gives credit to the last source of traffic that first caused the user to visit your website. Be sure you’re using the same sources when compiling your reports, otherwise you’ll wind up comparing oranges to antelopes.

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  • Tools and resources: Getting started with Google Analytics 4

    Tools and resources: Getting started with Google Analytics 4

    Here’s a collection of all the tools and resources we’ve mentioned so far in our GA4 series, plus a few extra. Key articles by Google support Universal Tag Manager tools Google Tag Manager help For WordPress Using GTM with other CMS  Data Layer Building — Tracking the right clicks Tag analysis — what’s firing on my site? Google Tag Assistant is a Chrome extension that ensures Google tags such as Google Analytics, Google Tag Manager, Adwords Conversion Tracking and more are working correctly. Data Slayer is a Chrome extension for debugging and testing tag management (Google Tag Manager, DTM, Tealium) and analytics implementations. Templates to use to map commerce to GA4 Consent Management Platforms with resources about Google’s Consent Mode ‘How to’ helpers

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  • Google rolls out new features for GA4

    Google rolls out new features for GA4

    Google announced a bunch of updates for Google Analytics 4 (GA4) today. They include a big improvement for the Setup Assistant, real-time behavioral modeling reports, more customization features and a new homepage design. Setup Assistant: Currently the user has to create a new property in GA4 for each Universal Analytics (UA) property and then configure the data collection and privacy settings. The updated version of Setup Assistant — expected early next year — will automatically do this and enable Goals and Google Ad links. Behavioral modeling: This is designed to fill in the gaps in understanding customer behavior when/if cookies go away. Expected to go live soon, this feature will provide real-time info on customer behavior while respecting privacy.Data-driven attribution: DDA will add custom channel grouping which enables cross-channel comparisons of cost-per-acquisition and return-on-ad-spend. Dig deeper: GA4: What marketers need to know for a successful transition New homepage design: This went live today. According to Google’s marketing blog, it “is personalized for customers, highlighting key top line trends, real-time behavior and their most viewed reports.” The company has also added a feature that uses machine learning “to look for trends and insights and surfaces them directly to advertisers on the home page.Campaign Manager 360 integration: Expected soon, this will provide marketers with a more complete picture of their advertising performance alongside web / app behavioral metrics. And speaking of Campaign Manager, Google is delaying its phaseout until July 2024 to give enterprise customers more time to migrate to GA4. UA’s phaseout in July 2023 is unchanged.

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