How the New Platform Changes Looker Studio Dashboards
GA4 is launching on July 1, 2023. What does this mean for you and Schaefer? What does this mean for the industry? With consistent updates and new rules, GA4 has presented a lot of obstacles – and opportunities – to how digital marketers leverage Google Analytics to ensure consistent digital success.
One of the many advantages of using Google Analytics is its connection to other Google products, specifically Looker Studio. As Schaefer’s primary analytics reporting platform, your Looker Studio report will be impacted by this massive industry shift to GA4. Being proactive in learning not just about GA4, but how GA4 will change analytics reporting, is key to long-term success for you and Schaefer.
So, how exactly does GA4 affect Looker Studio Dashboards created by Schaefer for you and what is Schaefer doing to stay ahead of the looming date of July 1, 2023?
What is GA4?
The current iteration, Universal Analytics, utilizes a “Session-based” reporting method and contains dozens of pre-built reports that contain data ranging from website user demographics to campaign activity to eCommerce performance.
GA4 is, as the name suggests, the fourth iteration of Google Analytics. This iteration utilizes an “Event-based” reporting method.
The difference between Session-based and Event-based:
- Session-based reporting records traffic based on individual sessions (website visits) and attributes any action, such as a button click or form fill, to that individual session.
- Event-based reporting is centered around “events.” An Event is any interaction with a website. Events are predetermined by GA4 and additional custom events can be created through Google Tag Manager. GA4 still tracks sessions, but it treats sessions as individual events! This allows for a more flexible reporting platform that can be customized to a user’s liking.
To find data in a format similar to Universal Analytics’ many pre-built reports, GA4 provides “Exploration Reports” which are fully custom reports that can be saved for future use. Additionally, unlike Universal Analytics, GA4 tracks users across site visits.
There is much more about the ins and outs of GA4 and the changes it made.
GA4 and Looker Studio
GA4, due to its Event-based reporting, loses many metrics that we have become accustomed to in Universal Analytics in Looker Studio reports, as metrics are no longer tied to sessions, but rather events:
- Demographic Data: As customers become more protective of their privacy, and Google adhering to stricter privacy policies, GA4 is collecting less demographic data. This includes age, gender, and location. These data points will likely be phased out of reporting due to such a small volume of data being available due to Google’s stricter privacy settings.
- Site Activity: Because events are no longer attributed to sessions, metrics like bounce rate, average session duration, load time, and conversion rate are no longer available in Looker Studio.
However, GA4’s Event-based reporting provides new metrics that will reshape how Schaefer reports on your marketing successes:
- Engaged Sessions: The number of sessions where users stayed on the site for more than 10 seconds OR engaged with the site, such as scrolling, clicking on a button, or clicking on an outbound link.
- Engagement Rate: The percentage of total sessions that experienced some form of engagement. This replaces the bounce rate metric.
- Average Engagement Time: The average amount of time a user has the site open in the foreground of their device.
What about conversion?
GA4 is all about events so not having conversion rate, or the number of conversions divided by the number of sessions, is somewhat backwards. There is a solution to capture conversions thanks to how flexible GA4’s event customization is.
GA4’s events are built using “parameters.” Parameters are attributes that distinguish an individual event from another. For example, one of the events tracked in GA4 are Outbound Link Clicks. Each time a user clicks an outbound link, an Event is tracked with the parameters that contain the specific link, the page a user was on when they clicked the link, and more!
Google Tag Manager allows us to create custom events with parameters that allow us to fully track all key events.
In GA4’s Admin settings, Custom Dimensions and Custom Metrics will be created using an event’s parameters. These customization options will create filterable dimensions and metrics that can be used in your Looker Studio report to calculate a conversion rate!
How this looks in action:
- Form Fill tracking is often a key KPI tracked in reports.
- Using Google’s list of recommended events, a tag in Google Tag Manager is created to track when a form is submitted.
- The event will be named “generate_lead.” The parameters of this event will be “lead_count” set equal to 1, “lead_type” set equal to “Form,” and “lead_details” set equal to the page the tag was fired on.
- In GA4, a Custom Metrics using the “lead_count” parameter will be created to sum the number of form submissions. Custom Dimensions set equal to “lead_type” and “lead_details” will be created to track the attributes of leads generated. These custom fields can be used in Looker Studio to track conversion by blending data sources to create a custom calculation.
Schaefer is committed to proper event tracking and KPI reporting using our expertise in Google Tag Manager!
Drawbacks of GA4 Reporting
Not everything with GA4 will be a smooth transition, as there are many technical limitations that will impact reporting. However, Schaefer is fully versed on GA4 and ready to assist you through this change.
Google issued a policy update in late 2022 that limited the number of API connections that can be utilized in any one Looker Studio report.
Schaefer currently has a subscription to a third-party data connection service called Supermetrics. Through this service, Looker Studio can connect to GA4, Google Ads, Facebook Ads, LinkedIn Ads, and more. Each of these connections only uses ONE API, effectively bypassing this quota.
However, Google has implemented restrictions on which dimensions and metrics can be used together in Looker Studio.
Because of this restriction, some Looker Studio customizability will be unavailable. However, all data is still available in GA4 and through different filtering options in Looker Studio and leveraging Google Data Sheets, Schaefer will include all necessary data in your Looker Studio report.
GA4, unlike Universal Analytics, automatically classifies traffic sources into predefined channels. These are determined by a set of UTM rules that Schaefer already strictly adheres to.
However, this is not a full-proof guarantee that all media will be classified correctly. In the early stages of using GA4, it has been noted multiple times that, despite proper UTM naming, traffic can still be misclassified. The Schaefer team will be proactive in noticing these discrepancies and clarifying them in Looker Studio reports.
GA4 has multiple options for attribution:
- First-User: GA4, unlike Universal Analytics, tracks users across sessions, meaning that if a user visits a site multiple times from the same device, every activity taken by that user is attributed to the same user. Universal analytics would have treated these multiple visits as separate entities.
- Using first-user metrics, events can be attributed to the channel, source, medium, and campaign that first drove the user to the site.
- Session: Similar to the current Universal Analytics model, session-based attribution denotes events and session activity to the channel, source, medium, and campaign that directly drove that specific session.
- Event: Event-based attribution only displays the sources that drove events attributable to that specific source, channel, medium, and campaign.
Understanding the difference between the models can be incorporated in media planning and the strategic reporting done in your Looker Studio report!
eCommerce data will flow seamlessly into GA4 if the new GA4 property was created from the existing Universal Analytics property. eCommerce data will flow seamlessly into GA4 if the new GA4 property was created from the existing Universal Analytics property. The only chief change is that SKUs are no longer available. Additional configuration is needed to set up “Item List Names” to classify your products in a similar level of granularity.
What is Schaefer Doing to Ensure a Smooth Transition?
- Schaefer is committed to having the smoothest transition to this new platform that will provide us with a high level of industry-knowledge and leadership.
- Your Looker Studio report will be transitioned to GA4 and will be completed months before the July sunset, allowing for full understanding and comprehension of this new, bright, and promising industry territory!
- Additionally, Schaefer, if requested, has fully transitioned your Universal Analytics account to a GA4 account and, using Google Tag Manager, created the necessary events to accurately track KPIs.
- Schaefer, in an effort to preserve all historical data, will back up your Universal Analytics data and export it to a Google Sheet for storage. This sheet can be connected to Looker Studio and other data visualization tools.
- Schaefer will be conducting agency-wide training on GA4 and the changes it brings to digital marketing to allow our team to have the capability to answer any questions you may have.
- Schaefer is also compiling resources to answer Frequently Asked Questions to be available if any question can be answered using our proactive guide to GA4.
GA4 is not “Plug and Play.” Unlike Universal Analytics, GA4’s malleability results in a platform that isn’t “apples-to-apples” with Looker Studio. However, through Schaefer’s expertise, our team will work tirelessly to ensure that all necessary data is included in our detailed dashboards to tell the best story about your marketing success.
GA4’s emphasis on events and engagement will provide a much more holistic picture of how users are behaving on the site and how they are converting. With this emphasis comes patience. GA4 is constantly changing and requires more attention to detail to ensure reports are as strong as they are with Universal Analytics.
Google is actively changing how GA4 works both internally and externally. Nearly everything is subject to change, hopefully for the better. But, in the meantime, understanding the complexities, changes, and opportunities GA4 brings to analytics reporting is a priority of the Schaefer team. In this exciting future, we hope our industry expertise continues to provide utmost value to you and our community!