GA4 for WordPress: Everything you need to know
Time is ticking on the GA4 Countdown clock and many of us are still scratching our heads as to what it all means and more importantly how it will impact our websites and our businesses.
Our recent survey showed that around 70% of users have not yet installed Google's new reporting platform in preparation for the big switch over this July.
With this in mind and such a large portion of the online world using WordPress, we wanted to dedicate a GA4 webinar with a special focus on the CMS (Content Management Systems) powerhouse as a great starting point.
We were lucky enough to gather an impressive panel of experts to share their knowledge and answer your ‘pressing’ questions. Jeremy LaDuque and John Murcott from WooRank join our special guests Justin Seibert and Steve D'Angelo from Direct Online Marketing to discuss all things GA4 and WordPress.
If you missed the webinar, here is a rundown of the key topics, takeaways and questions covered by our experts, as well as a list of invaluable GA4 resources right at the end.
GA4 and SEO reporting
What is GA4?
Universal Analytics originally dates back to 2005 when Google acquired, software analytics company Urchin. Reporting needs, device technology, privacy requirements and online user behaviors have all significantly evolved and GA4 is Google's latest response to this.
This is a completely new application that addresses modern requirements in fast-changing times:
- Privacy - not relying on cookies for customer insights
- Better understanding audiences with AI and machine learning
- More reporting customization and flexibity
GA4, SEO and Core Web Vitals
GA4 is shifting us beyond tracking pageviews and more towards a focus on the whole customer journey. A much deeper level of granularity helps users understand audiences, and with this knowledge, effectively target SEO (Search Engine Optimization) strategies.
It is Important to note:
- GA4 doesn't update ranking algorithms
- GA4 isn't about SEO best practice
- GA4 helps gain deeper audience insights that will improve SEO strategies
- Core Web Vitals are more important than ever as we track user experience
Getting started with GA4 implementation
The key to success with GA4 is getting setup correctly from the start. This new application doesn't come neatly packaged up like UA and will NOT pick up data retrospectively, so a well-planned measurement strategy at the start is critical to make sure that all the insights needed are captured correctly.
This is a perfect chance to redefine analytics, specifically for current business needs instead of just simply attempting to recreate the UA model.
Measurement strategy - 3 main components:
- Identify Business Goals
- Identify Website Goals & Align to Business Goals
- Define Your KPIs
Tag Implementation Plan with GTM (Google Tag Manager)
Once the measurement strategy has been clearly defined, the tag implementation plan is the next step to make sure that everything required is included in the setup.
GA4 Configuration Settings
This is where certain customizable features can be added, such as setting additional fields for tracking user IDs, or user properties. But there is a significant warning to heed at this point, the basic default for settings, will only yield the last two months of data.
Key takeaway - Don't default!
- Default setting is set to capture just the last 2 months
- Expand to the 14-month option for year-on-year data
Once the events to be tracked have been identified, they need to be communicated to GA4.
Purchase events will be marked as conversions by default, but every other event must be manually marked as a conversion in the GA4 interface.
- Reporting on conversions - see the actions that actually matter most to your business using acquisition engagement and the advertising reports.
- Bidding on conversions - GA4 works very effectively with Google ads, to import conversion data into the ads account and fuel bidding strategies.
- Attribution of credit to conversions - data can be combined with data from other advertising sources.
- Advertising to unconverted users - more retargeting opportunities can be leveraged.
Event parameters are the most powerful feature of the GA4 event-based model. These are additional pieces of metadata that add context to each event. So, while in Universal Analytics, we only had an event category, event action and event label to actually provide us additional information, we can now set up to 25 separate parameters per event. That's a total limit of 50 per property - a huge amount of potential information.
GA4 and CMS Platforms: WordPress
Over 40% of websites today are built using WordPress. It has seen the evolution of UX from PC to laptop to tablet to phone. WordPress runs on these platforms in the same way that GA4 can be used as one interface consolidating analytics across all these devices.
WordPress also is a multi-location framework and GA4 supports analytic reporting across all the potential environments in use.
Moving away from the traditional use of pages with the WYSIWYG editor, WordPress now favors block editors such as Elementor and more recently Gutenberg. As opposed to tracking just pages, these collections of blocks or experiences fit into the GA4 customizable reporting model, with 25 parameters around each of up to 50 events. The configuration possibilities are vast!
Leverage Plugins to smooth transitions
The plugin framework within WordPress is extremely powerful and presents an alternative way for users to capture and view Google Tags.
Whilst it is usually recommended to use GTM, for businesses needing less reporting sophistication, it is a choice to install a plugin tool inside of WordPress such as MonsterInsights.
This allows tracking of both tags simultaneously until of course UA disappears. And because the interface is inside of WordPress, it can be a compelling option for some users.
Bounce rates vs engagement
One of the big reporting mindset shifts that comes with GA4 is thinking less about bounce rates and more about engagement - what are people actually doing on your site? The good news is that GA4 is more sophisticated around its understanding of true engagement and will track how much time people are interacting with your content as opposed to leaving the tab open and reading their email!
Consider other analytics tools
Another approach is to spread your risk in terms of reporting. John gave the example of parse.ly, owned by WordPress VIP, a very content-centric analysis tool. There is less functionality than with GA4, but it could be a great complimentary service for users who are familiar with WordPress and more content aligned.
GA4: Your Questions answered
1. Can you talk a little about Goal Tracking
Goals are now technically referred to as conversions in GA4. A few key factors to bear in mind with goal/conversion tracking:
- An issue seen by our experts from DOM is in implementation - in some cases, even though the event data is being sent through it doesn't actually go into the designated GA4 UI as a conversion. So, although the event tracking data is there, it can't be optimized and used with all the advantages of a conversion
- Understanding the setup is critical and again this goes back to the tag implementation plan and the measurement strategy actually unifying goals at the start and making the most of the goal limit.
2. What about GTM and how it integrates with Google ads and GA4?
There was some discussion amongst our experts on this topic.
Steve answered first: For a really robust implementation, GTM is recommended because of how it integrates and functions.
GTM ultimately is a middleman that works like an Airtraffic controller, sending the data to the desired location, acting on the preset triggers.
If users are running other ads such as Facebook or Microsoft, they want to be able to ensure that they're tracking them the same way under the same conditions. This is where GTM can come into play.
Justin warned against using a hybrid or ‘Frankenstein’ mash up of GTM and coding that he has seen with some clients. To make life a lot easier he stressed the importance of a high-level general understanding with everybody using things in the same way consistently to collect data.
John talked about how plugins such as MonsterInsights can be used effectively and easily with GA4 depending on the user needs for data insights. In this case it would suit a more lightweight requirement and the user could manage everything from WordPress without having to leave the site and use the GA4 interface.
3. What about eCommerce tracking?
Our experts agreed that this is a massive topic and a chance for another webinar in its own right!
Many WordPress users favor WooCommerce and in this case, there is a recommended plugin, GTM4WP. It will push all the events, item information, and the variables needed for ecommerce tracking to the data layer, so then it can be captured within GTM. It is a relatively easy solution for ecommerce tracking, not just for GA4 but also for advertising.
Unfortunately, depending on the ecommerce platform used, there will be a different solution and recommendation for each. But regardless of which platform, if GTM needs to be configured and used, Google has excellent resource documentation on the topic.
Another expert resource highly recommended by our panel is Simo Ahava for a robust guide to GA4 and eCommerce.
4. Is it worth trying to build custom reports explorations in GA4, or would “push everything to Data Studio and customize the reports” be a better approach?
Both approaches will work and have their place depending on requirements:
UA has many canned reports but GA4 is different, requiring more configuration. You can use just GA4 to create a structure similar to UA, but, as Steve suggested, this is an opportunity to start again from the ground up and determine accurate measurement goals for your business to strongly improve the quality of data reporting.
So, what is the benefit of pushing this data out?
GA4 very easily integrates with:
- BigQuery so users can send data out to a data repository
- Google Data Studio, a BI (Business Intelligence) tool, which allows users to better visualise their data.
Many businesses want to and need to go deeper with their data analysis. They require reporting from other platforms, to visualize how their website is performing and where it could improve. An example of this, suggested by Jeremy, is WooRank for SEO metrics.
In this situation, Google Data Studio is ideal - GA4 data can be channelled there as well as any other data such as CRM and POS. Businesses can start building reports that layer all these different datasets and go to a deeper level of analysis.
5. SEO and what will change?
GA4 is not directly affecting SEO as it is a measurement tool. However, Google is keenly interested in user experience and wants to see how people are using their websites. This is factored into rankings.
Because GA4 measures things in a different way than Universal Analytics Google will gain some extra insights, however major SEO changes aren't anticipated in the near future.
6. Data capture disruptions for instance, a subdomain change, along with events, changes third party integrations and cannot capture ecommerce transactions.
Our experts agreed that a strategy of running both UA and GA4 simultaneously until the switch was a great way of making sure that everything is setup correctly and allows for errors to be captured. It also gives users a chance to become familiar with the new reporting and what the information will look like.
The option of using another reporting tool in tandem with GA4 was also suggested as a safety backup, these may not be affected in the same way by the data disruption, for example, Elevar was recommended for Shopify sites.
Some invaluable resources
Whilst there is a lot of anticipation around the era of GA4, the good news is that there is also so much expert support and great advice to help smooth the transition.
We have put together this list of useful resources to help you on your GA4 journey.
As mentioned in the Webinar:
From Direct Online Marketing
Visit www.directom.com/WooRank for:
- GA4 Migration Checklist
- Bot traffic exclusion & other blogs
- More webinars
- Sign up for a free GA4 Measurement Strategy Consultation
Stay tuned for future GA4 webinars!