There’s a new Google Analytics that carries the charming nickname ‘GA4.’ The old ‘Universal Analytics’ was set to stop working July 1.
When I visited the Universal Analytics page for this blog to check my stats, I fully expected to see an error message. After all, July 1 was the date the familiar Universal Analytics was set to stop working. The new Google Analytics, GA4, was set to take over as of that date. Google has been warning website editors to prepare for the change for several months.
So when I actually saw stats on the old UA page, I was a bit surprised. I did see a light red banner across the top of the page:
This property is scheduled to stop processing data very soon. Once this goes into effect, you’ll need a Google Analytics 4 property to measure website performance.
“Soon” seems a little vague to me. But I’m sure Google has a hard cutoff date in mind. I’d guess they don’t want to say out of fear that it would prompt people to wait until the last minute. Procrastinators will always procrastinate, even when it means temporarily risking their web stats.
“This comes in the face of some of the latest privacy laws, such as GDPR and CCPA,” he said. “With privacy-first tracking, cross-channel data measurement, and AI-driven predictive analytics, GA4 is an advanced tool that provides unparalleled insights.”
‘Unparalleled insights’…but not right away
By default, the old Universal Analytics gave you a nice snapshot right on the front page with specific numbers. The new Google Analytics doesn’t do that. You get less specific data — rounded to the nearest thousand — for visitors and page views.
But to get the information that you’re used to getting, you have to set up more detailed reports. You also have to contend with GA4’s new way of handling data.
The biggest change is that GA4 captures all data as “events.” I’m told this is a huge advantage because you can get far more granular about specific actions a reader might take.
But for us mere mortal bloggers, it’s likely far too complicated to fool with.
You can buy access to such reports that do all of this for you with services like Dash This, but with a lowest price of $38 per month for that access, for me, that’s $38 per month too much. Power My Analytics offers reports for as low as about $15 per month. But I’m looking for free.
Fortunately, if you scroll to the very bottom of the GA4 page, you’ll see a “Library” link. There, you’ll find some free reports. They won’t necessarily give you everything you’re looking for right off the bat.
No, that would be too easy.
But you’ll be able to find something close to whatever you used in the old analytics.
A reasonable start
I found enough in the library to begin. I had to make a minor adjustment to add the “bounce rate” metric to one of the reports I prefer.
Yes, I still believe the bounce rate is an important metric for bloggers, but only on one specific page.
A site’s bounce rate refers to the percentage of times someone arrives on the site on one specific page and then leaves from that page without ever clicking to a second page. Unlike most other metrics, the lower the number, the better.
Think about it for a second: Let’s say you have 10 visitors to your website. Five arrive on your home page and five arrive on specific pages (blog posts) from searches. From the five who landed first on your home page, article excepts enticed four of them to click to an article. For the five who arrived on specific articles, all five left after reading that one article.
That means your blog’s overall bounce rate is 60%. For many blogs, including this one, the bounce rate is discouragingly high. Much higher than 60%, in fact.
But that’s not necessarily a bad thing: If someone searches for something and your blog ranks high enough that they find what they’re looking for on your site, read it and then leave, you’ve served your purpose. No, they didn’t go deeper on that visit. But they might have bookmarked the page. They might come back. But in the moment they needed an answer, you may well have been the one to provide it.
I focus on the home page bounce rate. That’s the only page where I care about the bounce rate. In my little example, since four of five visitors clicked links to articles from your home page, that single page’s bounce rate is 20%. (One out of five came and went from that page without going deeper.)
So your home page bounce rate can give you a good idea of how welcoming your viewers see your “front porch.” A good-looking front porch might entice them to come through the front door.
It’s not apples to apples, but you can adjust
I truly wish I could tell you that when you add the code for the new Google Analytics to your site, everything looks the same in your analytics dashboard. It doesn’t.
You won’t see exactly what you saw in Universal Analytics.
It’s close, though. So the level of adjustment you have to make seems not as big as it seemed months ago. (Perhaps Google listened to early concerns and acted on them.) But if you’re like me and there are specific details you look for, you might have to take a few extra steps to find them.
But once you add those to reports in your library, they’re there.
Hopefully, with all the new privacy regulations satisfied, we won’t have to go through any major changes to GA4 for a while.