Simpleview’s newly-released State of SEO digs deep into industry-specific keyword opportunities, content creation, the SERP features, and so much more — all from a travel and tourism industry perspective.

And, yes, there is a fulsome discussion on Google Analytics 4 (GA4) and what steps to take to ensure you’re ready. 

To give you a taste of just how informative the report is, we’ve pulled the info about preparing for the switch to GA4 to share with you in this article.

Site Analytic Tools for DMOs

The big news in web analytics for the coming year is the mandatory shift from Universal Analytics (UA) to Google Analytics 4 (GA4). At this time, both platforms are up and currently installed on all Simpleview CMS sites. At the end of June 2023, though, UA will stop processing new data (it should still be available for historical record-keeping for a while).

That means all sites using the current version of Google Analytics (UA) will need to transition to GA4 by that date. Ideally, you will get GA4 installed as soon as possible so that you have continuous year-over-year comparisons available on one platform. For this reason, all clients with Simpleview CMS were set up with basic tracking in GA4 by June 30, 2022. 

Everything from the tracking code to the structure of the site data that GA stores to the user interface is changing. This is unquestionably the biggest revolution in website analytics since GA launched in the first place over fifteen years ago. It’s outside the scope of this report to give a full tour and tutorial on the differences, but we’ll cover the important points, provide context on how some common metrics will change, and leave you with a few recommendations for action.

Here are some major changes.

  • New User Interface: If you’re used to the existing tool, everything about GA4 looks and feels different. It’ll take some time to get used to all the changes, but the tools available for filtering metrics and slicing them up are quite a bit more flexible and powerful once you know how to use them.
  • Users favored over Sessions: Google had already been pushing Users as the primary bulk reach metric for sites in the UA interface, but in GA4, they’re going further, with Sessions still tracked but not even shown in the default home view. While you could still use Sessions as your primary reach metric in GA4, it will be cumbersome to dig that number out. We recommend shifting to Users, which has been the standard metric for publishers in other industries for some time.
  • More built-in tracking for on-page events: Many site interactions, such as scrolling and link clicks, that require custom tracking in UA will happen automatically in GA4. That doesn’t mean everything will be tracked or tracked how you’d like, so speak with your web vendor or digital marketing agency about ensuring that all custom tracking is carried over (and enhanced where possible) to GA4.
  • More powerful custom tracking: UA’s event tracking system has been completely blown up. Event tracking in GA4 is much more powerful and flexible than the old Category > Action > Label > Value system. If you have advanced tracking needs, you can do things much more flexibly in GA4.
  • Reduced sampling: If you get frustrated by the small changes in numbers that can result from how UA samples data, you’ll be happier in the new system. Sampling is greatly reduced, and if you’re a real power user, you can even export the underlying GA4 records to Google BigQuery for advanced analysis.
  • More privacy compliance … at a cost: GA4 is designed from the ground up to be more compliant with the user privacy laws becoming ever more stringent worldwide. This is both good and necessary, but it comes at a cost. Many dimensions related to user identity (geographical location, for instance) will now be wiped out after fourteen months, making historical research on your site much harder to complete. After that time, metrics such as session duration will also be removed from the records.

How Measurements Will Shift

Thanks to the industry averages we maintain of DMO website metrics, we can get a grip on how things will change from UA to GA4 with data from hundreds of sites. In particular, we have a dataset of 151 DMO GA4 accounts going back to March 1, 2021 (five months after GA4 became available). Let’s look at some comparisons between metrics across the platforms.

As mentioned above, GA4 makes it much more convenient to employ Users as your default metric of audience size rather than Sessions. For DMOs, the difference from an analytical standpoint is nil. On virtually any DMO site, only about 15-20% of users ever come back for a second session, so Users and Sessions move almost in lockstep. You can make the same business decisions about success or failure with Users as with Sessions. The only thing to do is prepare your stakeholders for your top-line reach number to be about 20-30% lower than it used to be.

If we compare measurements of user time on site across the platforms, we see differences in average level but similarities in larger trends. Because GA4 captures more user interactions, it can measure nearly 50% more time on the page/site, creating a much higher average duration. However, GA4 is pushing for a new metric to supplant Average Session Duration, namely Average User Engagement Time. This number measures the amount of time users have your site in their active window or screen, not merely in the background. The extra restriction reduces the time to less than half of Session Duration. Here again, you can make useful business decisions with Engagement Time, but you will want to prepare any stakeholders for the decline in the headline number if you decide to switch.

With Bounce Rate, the story is similar to Session Duration. GA4’s ability to track more user interactions means fewer users escape your site without tracking a second interaction, and Bounce Rate declines by about a third. If you already have custom tracking that prevents users who scroll or read for a certain period from bouncing, you may not see the same level of change after switching to GA4.

Here are some things to do as you prepare your site for the shift to GA4:

  • Install GA4: The time is now. If you can place tags on your site (via GTM or WordPress plugin), it only takes a few minutes. If you’re on Simpleview CMS, you’re covered for this step. While doing this, find the setting for Data Retention and make sure it’s set to 14 months so you can make year-over-year comparisons.
  • Audit your existing UA configuration: Check out your existing analytics for goals, custom event tracking, custom metrics, custom dimensions, and e-commerce tracking. These will likely require manual configuration if you want to keep continuous data flowing.
  • Implement custom tracking: Anything that doesn’t track out of the box needs a custom setup. Consult with your agency or web provider if you’re not sure what your needs are.
  • Prepare your stakeholders: Some metrics will change after the switch, and some will be lower. Use the charts above to prepare any stakeholders monitoring these metrics before everything happens, not after.
  • Audit your reporting: While we’re changing all the data that goes into your reports, it’s a good time to review your web and digital marketing reporting to ensure that everything is still relevant. Most reports gather bloat over time; this is a chance to get rid of it.

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