Everything nonprofits need to know about Google Analytics 4

Sep 6, 2022
Lucas Spinelli
Marketing & Fundraising Coordinator @ hjc

Google is sunsetting Universal Analytics on July 1, 2023, which means it’s the time to learn about what will take its place: Google Analytics 4.

GA4 uses an event-based data model, offers more privacy protection, doesn't rely exclusively on cookies, and can operate across multiple platforms.

What’s new with GA4?

GA4 has many changes, but let’s dive deeper into the three most important updates that all organizations should know about:

  • Event-based conversions
  • Enhanced reporting
  • AI and machine learning

These features need time to work effectively and efficiently. To take full advantage of GA4's measurement continuity, automated insights about the customer journey, and easy activation to improve marketing ROI, organizations should start their GA4 transition as soon as possible and simultaneously run both Analytics versions to obtain the best results.

Events-based tracking

GA4 has remodeled the tracking systems to no longer focus on sessions. With its event-based model, GA4 now treats each user interaction as a separate event to give you information about what's occurring on your website or app, such as first visits, page views, button clicks, user actions, or system events.

Events can gather and communicate data that further explains the user's action and provides additional context. This data may include specifics like the donation amount, the URL of the page the user visited, or their precise location. An event allows you to measure distinct user interaction on a website or app and learn more about your supporters than ever before.

Enhanced reporting

By design, explorations and reports display your data differently. Explorations query raw event and user-level data while reports rely on daily aggregated tables.

  • The "Explore" area offers advanced techniques that go beyond standard reports to help you uncover deeper insights into your supporters' behavior.
  • Overview reports are a dashboard containing a set of cards that summarizes the detailed reports on a chosen topic. A topic can have only one overview report, such as "What are your user demographics?"
  • The Realtime report allows you to keep an eye on the activity as it happens (5 seconds to 30 minutes prior). Based on the most accurate user identifiers available, Analytics can track a single user's trip across many devices.
  • The enhanced measurement feature automatically collects additional events without requiring you to modify the code of your website. You can measure a variety of typical web events, including page views, scrolls, file downloads, and video views.

Users will also be able to edit the Analytics interface to better fit their needs. Allowing users to customize what their reports look like — not just for custom reports but for the default reports.

Data and reports can be tricky, especially when learning the ins and outs of a new Analytics platform. hjc’s team of Google Analytics professionals is ready to make reporting easy for you.

Analytics intelligence: How does this work?

Both reports and explorations in GA4 leverage machine learning to make your data more meaningful, accessible, and actionable.

We already know that Google Analytics will track users who come to your website and agree to be tracked. Now, GA4 will leverage artificial intelligence and machine learning so that when cookies are blocked, GA4 will backfill the missing data based on prior learnings — this is called behavioral consent.

To achieve the best results, artificial intelligence and machine learning need time to begin learning and should be set up as soon as possible.

GA4 in a cookieless world

GA4 no longer uses third-party cookies, which are set up by domain(s) other than the one being visited. GA4 now leverages first-party cookies, which are directly set up by the website domain, to improve the user experience — like remembering your password, keeping your cart contents active, or sharing a reminder to complete your donation.

Google Analytics is also designed for a future with or without cookies or other identifiers. In the future, GA4 will utilize machine learning to fill in data gaps. For instance, there could be cookies missing when measuring conversions across devices.

In this instance, you won't be able to link some of your conversions to the appropriate users who engaged with an ad. This will leave gaps in the customer journey if modeling techniques are not used. With a modeling foundation, observable data can feed algorithms that also use previous trends to validate and inform measurement.

How is data collected and stored?

Event-based model

Using an event-based model means each user interaction is processed as a standalone event, allowing you to measure specific user interactions on your website or app.

For Example:

  • First click: What brought them to the website?
  • Last click: What was the final interaction on the website?
  • Data-driven: Did they come in through the web app, did they donate, etc.?

Anonymizing IP

By default, all users' IP addresses are anonymous.

Server location

GA4 doesn’t give you the option to control where data is stored.

Consent Mode

GA4 offers Consent Mode, which ensures your tracking responds accurately to users’ opt-in/out decisions.

Data storage

GA4 simplifies data retention to either timeframe: two months or 14 months.

Data sharing between Google products

Google allows you to share GA4 data with other tools in the Google ecosystem, specifically Google Signals and Ad Personalization.

Does GA4 adhere to new data privacy laws and regulations?

GA4 relies on first-party cookies, which keeps it compliant with new privacy laws like General Data Protection Regulation and the California Consumer Privacy Act.

Additionally, Analytics offers settings to:

  • Block the acquisition of data from Google Signals on a per-regional basis.
  • Block the per-regional collection of precise location and device data.

User data deletion

GA4 allows you to segment your users and delete individual user data if needed. This is an important feature as granting users the right to request their data be deleted adheres to most privacy regulations.

Personally Identifiable Information

GA4 doesn’t allow the capture of PII (Personally Identifiable Information) and if identified, the data will be flagged for deletion

Cookie banner

GA4 requires you to provide a cookie consent banner only in cases where the account has disabled IP anonymization (which is enabled by default) and if the account has connected its GA4 account to Google Ads or Signals and opted to share GA data with these apps. Even then, GA4 doesn’t facilitate the actual cookie banner itself. This must be done by a third party.

The switch: When is it happening & what do nonprofits need to do?

The clock is ticking and now is the time to start discussing your switch to GA4.

To get the best out of GA4, you must allow your organization a transition period where Universal Analytics and Google Analytics 4 can be executed simultaneously.

At hjc, we urge that you look into how your organization can get started today to ensure a brighter future! hjc is prepared to thoroughly audit your Google Analytics account and recommend/help you with your next steps on how to make your transition to GA4.

Our Promise: Expert staff who get the job done right the first time.

This is a guest blog post from our partner at hjc.

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