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Preparing for Google Analytics 4.

In March, Google dropped a data bombshell by announcing it will be removing all previous analytic formats such as Universal Analytics (UA). From June 2023, for most organisations, the new Google Analytics 4 (GA4) will be the only viable interface with which to continue collecting data.

To rub salt into the wound, Google then followed up by announcing it will be deleting all data predating GA4 from Google Analytics in January 2024. 

Focusing on the more immediate issue, we’re now less than 12 months away from when Universal Analytics will stop recording data. The clock is ticking.

At this stage we are advising to get GA4 up and running asap and also keep it running in parallel with Universal Analytics. This way there will be plenty of comparable data between the two, before UA is turned off.

Have you started preparing for the move? Is Google Analytics 4 still fairly new to you? In this blog, we’re unpacking exactly what GA4 is, how it differs from previous interfaces, and our tips to successfully make the move without jeopardising any data during the migration process.

A little side note: this article covers setting up from a more advanced, technical perspective. This will most likely beneficial for those in roles that involve managing websites, analytics such as analysts and web managers.

What is Google Analytics 4?

Interestingly, GA4 isn’t a completely new interface but a newer iteration of what was initially called ‘Google Analytics web+app’. The drive behind this new interface originated from the need for Data Analysts and Digital Marketers to view data in one central port.

Users typically move between apps and websites as they interact with various brand touchpoints, meaning data is created across many different mediums which can be difficult to capture in its entirety, hence the need for a more holistic interface.

With a growing focus on privacy in the industry, Google sought to develop more complex systems for ‘cookieless’ measurement, and behavioural and conversion modelling. 

In Google’s own words, “GA4 is designed for the future of measurement”.

 

How is this different from previous versions?

  • Events 

This ‘app data’ focus really separates the way GA4 works from ‘Universal Analytics’ (UA). At its core Google Analytics collected data through sessions and pageviews. But apps don’t have pages, and people use them in very different ways to a typical ‘session’ on a website. 

So this is where the key difference comes in, GA4 records everything as an event. Event-based tracking allows for greater insights to be derived about users and their interactions. Admittedly, as experienced users of Universal Analytics, we’ve found this to be the hardest part to adjust to due to familiarity. 

The move to event-based tracking allows GA to automatically track the majority of engagement events marketers have been used to manually setting up themselves. Now with the click of a button, marketers can automatically track ‘automatic enhancements’ such as: scroll tracking, outbound links, site search tracking, video engagements and file downloads.

  • Goals are No More 

In what feels like a move to better align language, ‘Goals’ are no more in GA4, ‘Conversions’ will  replace them. The process for making conversions has also been simplified in comparison to how you would have previously setup a ‘Goal’. Now you will easily be able to turn an event into a conversion, without having to remember the exact ‘event label’ and ‘event category’ you have used! The move to event-based tracking does mean that destination url goals will be confined to history, and not make the port into conversions. These goals will need to be switched over to events when ported across into your new property. 

  • A New Interface 

The new analytics format also brings with it a new User Interface (UI). This replaces the old interface  more visually inline with some of Google’s other products. This feels like an underlying theme in the more ‘front-end’ heavy changes you will experience with GA4, bringing one of Google’s old products inline with its growing product range.

There are changes to the default data retention period, shortening from effectively infinite retention to 2 months by default. This only affects user-level data (associated with cookies and advertising identifiers) so won’t impact basic reports, but will limit data reporting for any custom reports in the ‘Explore’ section. This change will likely see a reasonable difference when comparing repeat visitor reports between the two analytics types. Something to keep an eye out for.

GA4 also sees the ‘views’ function being removed. At a property level, you now add each website and app as a data stream. All settings that you would previously have set at a view level are now either property-level (IP filtering, conversions etc.) or view report-level filtering (domains etc.).

How to make the move:

Over time you will want to develop your use of more specific GA4 features but in the meantime the priority should be getting data collected, and in a way which is readily usable for fellow members of the marketing team and your organisation.

Here we detail our process that we have been using with our clients. But it is worth noting that our process includes two assumptions:

  • You have an existing Google Analytics account (using Google Analytics Universal Analytics).
  • You are using Google Tag Manager on your website to trigger your Google Analytics.

On this basis we have a 5 step process:

  1. Audit your existing Google Analytics data and goal setup
    1. You have the opportunity to start from scratch without any legacy issues. So this means you can leave old views and goals behind.
    2. When auditing the goals our checks cover 4 key elements:
      1. Is it still relevant to you?
      2. Is it working correctly?
      3. Is it recording data?
      4. Is it transferable to GA4?
    3. Get a second opinion. Before you decide to leave a goal behind, just make sure no one else is currently using this in their reporting.

This gives you a thorough understanding of what your data recording situation is and the scale of work needed for your migration to GA4.

  1. Now you can create your new GA4 property
    1. Google Analytics has a great wizard to help you (at a top-level) create a new GA4 property from your existing Universal Analytics property.
    2. Create new data streams for each website or app that you will be using the new property for. You will find, for each data stream you get a new set of pretty useful settings, as well as extra reporting uses.
    3. Make sure you match up some key settings for each data stream such as IP filters, with your corresponding settings in UA. So you can keep the data as actionable as possible without diluting with internal traffic sources (like employee site visits). 
    4. This is also the place to enable automatic enhancements. Which we would definitely recommend doing (for beneficial reasons mentioned above in the events section)
  2. Then head on over to Google Tag Manager, and enable your new GA4 configuration tag.
    1. Copy across your new measurement ID and enable this tag to fire a pageview.
    2. Then utilise the same triggers as you currently use on your existing Universal Analytics pageview tag.
      1. Do make sure to use the exact same triggers as you currently use, including any connected to your cookie control management.
    3. Data streams can take 24 hours to start showing data coming in so you will need to wait a day (or two) to check the data is coming in accurately.
  3. Now that data is coming into the property, head over to the events report and check how many of your old goals are being automatically reported by GA4’s new events report.
    1. For any events which are not yet being pulled through, you will need to create new GA4 Event tag in Google Tag Manager.
    2. For the new GA4 tags, you just need to mirror the existing UA tags, but with the new GA4 Events tags. This means, utilising the same triggers (including any cookie consent requirements).
    3. We always recommend previewing and testing those events before publishing the tags on site – just in case.
    4. Then as before, wait around a day to see if that date is now pulling into the event report.

Once your old goals are pulling into the event report it’s time to ‘upgrade’ some of those organisationally important ones into conversions.

If you are currently using ecommerce tracking through Google Tag Manager then you may be able to port across to GA4 with limited technical support. GA4 ecommerce utilises events too, in specific, any event which is named ‘purchase’ GA4 will deem as Ecommerce and pull that data into its ecommerce report.

GA4 does come with more sophisticated ecommerce tracking, as standard it is similar to UA’s enhanced ecommerce. Currently you can’t utilise GA4 ecommerce (fully) and UA ecommerce, at the same time and we definitely wouldn’t suggest binning your UA ecommerce yet. As a compromise, you can gain the same data as standard GA4 ecommerce into GA4 through a couple of custom variables. Truthfully this will be enough for most people, for now.

  1. GA4 in tag manager utilises the ‘data layer’s’ “purchase event” push. So you will need to adjust your trigger to utilise a ‘purchase’ event.
  2. You then need to create some new custom variables in order to translate your existing datalayer into the relevant information for GA4. Then pull them into a new GA4 tag, so they look like this:

 

A snapshot of configuration on Google Analytics 4

  • In our experience the currency code is necessary to feed that data into the GA4, although (at the time of writing) this is currently missing from Google’s own support pages. In our tests, without it the value data fails to push to GA4.
  • As always, you should then go into preview mode and run a test donation to check that the new ‘parameter names’ contain the relevant information. 

This should cover the essentials for you right now. As you go about the port to GA4 we recommend utilising preview mode on Google Tag Manager as much as possible, to ensure that you can see any issues prior to publishing.

If you do encounter any issues or want to talk through getting some support on your migration to GA4 drop us a message, we’d be happy to answer any questions, chat through the process, or see how else we can help.

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    Google Core Algorithm Updates: The ‘Need to Knows’

    person holding a smart phone with Google on the home screen

    With Google announcing at the end of May that it will be rolling out its first broad core algorithm update in 2022, we thought it would be a timely opportunity to give our fellow marketers a heads up on exactly what core updates are and what to do if you’re impacted.

    For now, it appears as though the impact of this specific update has been minimal and Google hasn’t released too much further insight in terms of what was targeted specifically.  

    First things first, what exactly are broad core algorithm updates?

    In short a broad core algorithm update is a change to Google’s ‘core’, or overall, search ranking algorithm and systems. 

    Core updates are global, they target all types of content and affect all countries and languages. 

    The important thing to note is that core updates exist to reward or promote great web pages, they do not exist to penalise. In theory, this is a positive, but it doesn’t totally rule out experiencing a dip in search ranking.

    The silver lining is that we know the user experience is at the heart of Google’s decision-making, so we can assume that regardless of the priorities, the outcomes will likely be related to improving the content users are served.

    The SEO impact of Core Updates

    Like all Google core algorithm updates, there will be sites that benefit in ranking and those that unfortunately see a fall. During the rollout of the update, there will be ranking fluctuations and this is totally normal. As a rule of thumb, It is best to wait it out and receive confirmation that the update has finished rolling out before taking action. 

    If you have seen a ranking increase for your target keywords then congrats, Google has rewarded your site. 

    If your rankings have dropped, then the first place to look is at your content. 

    In some cases, Google may give pointers as to what the update consisted of with some tips on what to do to improve. 

    Initial advice directly from Google for the May update can be visited here.

    What you should do if you’re impacted by a Core Update

    If the update negatively impacted your site, we recommend taking stock of your current content and asking yourselves a few key questions:

    • What is the purpose of the content on this page? 
    • What target keyword do you want it to rank for?
    • What is the search intent behind this keyword?
    • Does the content meet this intent?
    • Is the content optimised as best as it can be?
    • What is the readability like? Is it one block of content or are you using headings and subheadings to break it up so it’s more digestible?
    • Has your content been written by a credible thought leader or author? We would advise citing sources where possible.
    • Are other websites likely to want to reference your content from their website?

    Once you have audited your content and have made updates using the guidelines above we would also advise that you remember to submit the page URLs you have updated to Google Search Console for indexing. 

    This should hopefully speed up the process of Google crawling these pages and allow the content to start being tested more in the search results.

    If you are worried about a significant drop in traffic, it’s best to speak to an SEO expert who can give some further insights into what could have caused this drop. But remember, the first place to look is always your content!  

    Feel free to drop us a message if you’d like to talk about the update in more detail, or get some advice on improving your search ranking.

     If you’d like exclusive access to our digital media tips sign up for our newsletter, where we debrief the most pressing digital developments monthly. 

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      SEO Updates for April and May 2022

      April started spectacularly with Brighton SEO bringing together SEO enthusiasts from across the globe. We witnessed a great range of talks at the biannual beachside conference, covering everything from the fundamentals of search right through to the future of SEO in the ‘metaverse’. The weeks to follow have continued to offer several other interesting developments which we’re unpacking below. 

      Google Released Annual Search Spam Report

      In response to a world searching for ‘how to heal’, Google highlighted how they kept 99% of searches spam-free with significant improvements in fighting link spam, scam results, and ranking manipulation in their annual search spam report. 

      Google also focussed on reducing low-quality content through identifying behaviours that manipulated search rankings. These behaviours would narrowly avoid violation of the quality guidelines but negatively impact user experience. With the help of their AI-based system SpamBrain, Google stated they were able to keep 99% of searches spam-free in 2021.

      As ever, websites should follow best practice guidance and steer clear of ‘black hat’ SEO techniques, such as keyword stuffing and product review manipulation, to avoid being penalised by Google’s spam algorithms. Producing high-quality, relevant content for your customers will always be the best way to help improve your search rankings. 

      Google Search Parameter Tool Officially Offline

      Back in March, Google announced it was going to retire the URL parameters tool, and this is the first month we can see it coming into effect. Google has now turned off support for the tool in Google Search Console. The decision was made by Google to turn off the tool due to the advancement in Google’s capabilities to decipher which parameters are useful on a site. With only a minute number of parameter configurations specified in the parameter tool deemed useful for crawling purposes, the tool was deemed unnecessary. 

      Google has stated that ‘Google’s crawlers will learn how to deal with URL parameters automatically’ in the near future. We would suggest making a note of this update on your reports and keeping an eye on your analytics over the coming weeks just in case any issues arise from this change. 

       

      Significant Changes to Featured Snippets being Tested

      Google has started some testing that may provide a major shake-up of the featured snippets section on SERPs. Our SEO Team certainly has a lot to say about these two new features:

      ‘From the Web’: Traditionally, the featured snippet shown at the top is a table, a list, or a snippet of text with a link to the webpage the content comes from. For text snippets, Google is now testing short excerpts from two to three other websites in the same section, with links to the sites added after the sites’ favicons. 

       

      ‘Other Sites Say’: Google is planning to group at least three different sites under a new ‘Other Sites Say’ section, which shares some resemblance with the established ‘People also ask’ section. Again, this will provide more exposure for brands, but equally will create more competition in the top-ranking results. 

        

      What could this mean for search?

      Sites that currently hold the featured snippet position for certain keywords could face a substantial loss of traffic as more competition enters position zero in SERPs. On the flip side, if you’re not currently featuring in any snippets, this update could increase your chances and improve traffic volume to your site. 

      It will be very interesting to see the impact of these tests on clickthrough rate (CTR) and visibility in the search results, and whether these updates are rolled out temporarily or permanently. One to keep an eye on!

      Google PaLM: The Future of Next Generation Search

      This month Google revealed a breakthrough in its efforts to create an AI architecture that can handle millions of different tasks by itself. Enter PaLM.

      What is PaLM?

      Google’s Pathways Language Model research (PaLM) is an AI architecture Google has been developing. PaLM can produce answers reflective of fluctuating contexts by learning how to efficiently solve millions of different tasks, including complex learning and reasoning. 

      What makes PaLM special?

      PaLM is a system worth recognising as it’s striving to combine the efforts of multiple existing AI systems, into a singular architecture. To achieve this, recent developments of the PaLM system have involved the scaling of the few-shot learning (FSL) process. This is a type of machine learning method that works with a limited training dataset, as opposed to deep machine learning, where an extensive amount of data needs to be manually input for the AI to learn each new ability. Essentially, FSL has the AI learning so it can make predictions based on a smaller dataset.

      Recently completed was the BIG-bench benchmark, where several tasks were designed to see how large language models, such as PaLM, responded. Of the 150 strong BIG-bench tasks (relating to reasoning, translation, and question answering), PaLM outperformed many of the current state-of-the-art models. There were many notable achievements on hundreds of language understanding and generation benchmarks, including: 

       

      • Enhanced reasoning abilities 
      • Explanation generation 
      • Inference Chaining

       

      This recent research shows PaLM delivers significant improvements compared to current AI systems and can even ‘outperform human benchmarks’ for certain elements of language processing and reasoning. However, humans still outperformed the new algorithm on 35% of tasks. So, whilst breakthroughs are being made, PaLM is not quite there yet. 

      What could this mean for search?

      Machine learning has a big impact on how search results are created, tailoring results more and more to the needs of the user. As PaLM seeks to consolidate all this machine learning into one AI system, the change to search may not be great. However, with capabilities in one place, it may mean Google can get an even greater understanding of the intent and needs of users when they use search engines. Either way, this is an update to keep an eye on.

      Did we miss any SEO news?

      Think we may have missed something worth exploring or if you have some thoughts you’d like to share on SEO developments? We’d love to hear from you! 

      Join the conversation and tweet us @upriseUPSEM, email us at [email protected], or simply send us a message through our contact page.

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        Micro Moments & Other Uprise Up Events

        Micro Moments with Google

         

        Last week we hosted the first of many (hopefully!) digital marketing talks. The evening was created to start developing a community of people involved in Digital Marketing where we can share useful findings, thoughts and content.

        Delegates from 30 companies attended across a variety of sectors. The night provided a great opportunity for learning and networking, with a more than healthy supply of food and drink to keep everyone going.

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        To ensure that everyone could get the most out of the evening, there were a number of topics up for discussion; a very brief introduction to SEO, Paid Search and Analytics. We were also fortunate enough to host two fantastic guest speakers; Phil Nairn, Agency Development Manager at Google, and Anthony O’Sullivan, Managing Director at Web-Clubs. With the help of Phil and Anthony we were also treated to a look into the world of email marketing strategy and the future of internet marketing with ‘Micro Moments’.

        Micro Moments are defined as A ‘Mobile moment that requires only a glance to identify and delivers quick information that you can either consume, or act on immediately’. People unlock and check their phones over 150x a day, and by utilising these ‘micro moments’ marketers have an immense opportunity to make an impression and create impact.

        The talks also highlighted the importance of mobile, both in terms of the current market and where consumers will be heading in the not too distant future.

        If you’re interested in Micro Moments and would like to know more, you can find more details and information here. We will also be detailing our thoughts and reaction to Micro Moments in a more detailed blog next week.

        Feedback from the night was very positive and has given us a lot to draw from for future events. We hope to use these events as a platform and as an opportunity to connect with other businesses, and between us grow our collective understanding of digital marketing.

        We have several ideas for future talks and discussions – So much so that our next event ‘Ecommerce’ is already planned for January 30th 2017. But if there are any topics you think we should discuss, please let us know!

        For more in depth discussion about the talks and more general conversation on digital marketing, join our Uprise Up Digital Marketing Talks LinkedIn group.

        If you are interested in attending or speaking at one of our future events, you can find more information here. Alternatively, please get in touch at [email protected].

        We hope to see you soon!

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