We are all creatures of habit. Change presents challenges and we often struggle to accept it.
I think that this is especially true for Google Analytics 4 (GA4), which has been proving to be a real headache amongst loyal Universal Analytics (UA) users. I suspect that the enforced use of the new kid on the block has increased levels of resentment and there are some inexcusable omissions from GA4 (e.g. not having ‘last month’ as one of the date selections – this must surely be one of the most used time periods?) but there can be no doubt that a lot of digital marketers are not fully embracing GA4.
The more that I use it, the more that I can see a more positive future. The journey will be frustrating and we must all throw away some fundamental understandings of how web analytics works, but there is a distant light in the future and I am sure that some of GA4’s shortcomings will be addressed before UA is put out to pasture. I therefore wanted to share some of my learnings in the hope that it will speed up your learning curve and reduce some of the inevitable frustrations that occur as you migrate from UA to GA4.
I am starting this (sporadic) series with a very easy one – how do you tell where your traffic is coming from?
Looking at traffic sources is a fundamental need for a digital marketer. Being able to see traffic levels from different sources and, crucially, being able to measure the quality of various sources will allow you to be much, much more intelligent about your marketing efforts.
In UA world, it is as easy as clicking on the ‘Acquisition’ tab and browsing the readily available reports that give you a really good snapshot of where your web traffic is coming from:
The ‘Source/Medium’ report is a particular favourite of mine as it gives a bit more detail about traffic sources than the default ‘Channels’ summary. For example, it makes it much easier to see which sites are driving the most referral traffic or you can quickly see a break down between Google, Bing and Ecosia rather than just a total figure for organic search traffic.
I am sure that I am preaching to the converted and the ‘Acquistion’ tab will be a very regular port of call for UA users. Whilst there is still an ‘Acquisition’ tab in GA4, the sub menu options are limited to overview / user acquisition / traffic acquisition:
At first glance, this report does not appear to be wildly different to the tried and tested UA report. It obviously looks different but the data is fundamentally similar, although the new default channel groups are different and I have various question marks about how these groups are built up (this can be the focus of another blog post).
Where you may find your self running into problems is when you want to look at any of the channels in more detail. In UA, you can simply click on any of the channels to drill down into more detail. For example, clicking on ‘Organic Search’ in UA takes you to a break down of traffic, with keyword analysis as the default primary dimension:
It may well just be familiarity on my part, but I find it very intuitive and can easily drill down into different dimensions to explore all aspects of organic search traffic. Even the web analytics novice is likely to find this a straightforward process.
Step back to GA4 and I am sure that I am not the only one who’s blood pressure increases when trying to drill down into more detail. Clicking on any of the traffic channels does not do anything at all. In what feels like a user interface design facepalm, it feels as though you have hit a brick wall and cannot really extract anything especially meaningful without heading over to the ‘Explore’ section of GA4, which is the stuff of nightmares and definitely the focus of future GA4 tips…
The good news is that it is possible to drill down. It is just not very obvious. There is actually a drop down on the ‘Session default channel group’ heading, highlighted in red below:
I accept that there is a little arrow indicating that it is a drop down, but it really is not very obvious and I am sure that many will simply not notice it is there and go slightly mad trying to find the data that positively leaps out of a trusted UA page. Clicking on the drop down gives you access to a variety of extra detail, including the mighty source/medium data that I discussed above. Just don’t expect to see any keyword data unless you have connected your Search Console account…
Why the drop down is so elusive or why there is no option to click on each traffic channel is a mystery to me, but I hope that this helps you avoid some GA4 hair pulling. I will share similar titbits in the future, so watch this space.
Top Tip : Keep an eye out for drop down options in all reports – they may be hidden, but they are likely to unlock the data that you are looking for.