There’s a big change on the horizon for any company that’s invested in data acquisition and analytics. Web giant Google is about to fundamentally shift the way it collects information and aggregates reporting in its Analytics platform. And when Google Analytics 4 launches in 2023, cannabis companies should be prepared.
In the age of digital media, data is one of the most important investments a cannabis company can make. Understanding who is coming into contact with your brand online, from your website to search results to social media platforms, and why they are there, is invaluable for informing marketing, advertising and PR strategies. Increasingly, business development is also informed by lead tracking as a potential customer or client traverses your digital landscape, including earned, owned and paid media.
Google Analytics 4 is designed to improve that lead generation and data acquisition process. This new property addresses some of the most significant changes to the web of the past few years, including shifts in privacy protections for consumers that have affected how companies like Google can track users as they navigate various sites.
However, data from previous iterations of Google Analytics cannot be directly imported into the new Google Analytics 4 property, except for some cookie customization and ads personalization settings. That’s why it’s important to set up GA4 on your website as soon as possible in the new year, before Google permanently shutters Universal Analytics in favor of GA4 in July, 2023.
What will be different about Google Analytics 4
GA4 is taking a bold new approach to tracking your potential customers as they move around the web. Universal Analytics tracked occurrences and user actions like page, event, eCommerce and social interaction hits using tools like cookies–small data packets that are downloaded to a user’s desktop computer or mobile device when they go to a website and can be used to track data about how long they stay on that site before moving on to others, including where they go next.
Google describes GA4, however, as “a new property designed for the future of measurement” that “collects both website and app data,” and utilizes “event-based data instead of session-based.” Instead of using cookies–which gather personal information like your username, e-commerce shopping cart contents and browsing history–GA4 instead uses machine learning to predict user behavior without gathering sensitive data.
Event-based digital data collection
This also means that Google Analytics 4 takes an event-based approach to digital data. As with Universal Analytics, GA4 tracks interactions like a user clicking on a link, landing on a new page or making an online purchase. However, the way it categorizes these interactions is quite different. In Universal Analytics, user interactions fall into certain categories that are collectively referred to as “hits.” GA4 greatly expands the types of interactions it can detect and categorizes them differently—these interactions are collectively referred to as events.
In GA4, an event might be “automatically collected,” “enhanced measurement,” “recommended” or “custom.” The former two event types are recorded by the tag Google requires you to install on your site for the property to work. The latter two can be manually activated to give you even more granular data collection and insights.
For example, automatically collected events might include ad clicks, in-app refunds, file downloads, or if a push notification was received. Enhanced event measurements revolve around actions such as how far a user scrolls down a given page, if a user plays an embedded video, or if they fill out a form. Recommended events can be triggered when a user fills out a form with their shipping or payment information or sees a promotion or discount. Custom events are created by the site administrator themselves for interactions not already included in GA4’s standard offerings–unique to your organization’s lead generation needs.
Why Universal Analytics doesn’t transfer to GA4
One reason site administrators cannot import the majority of data collected through Universal Analytics is that GA4 tabulates certain data like session counts, late hits and iOS-generated events differently. This also means that the members of your team interpreting data from GA4 may need to adjust their baseline of what qualifies as high-performing, low-performing or standard metrics.
Other changes also include how Google Analytics 4 handles content grouping and aggregation, User IDs, Client IDs, Tracking IDs, event batching and more. Another is that GA4 makes it easier to track users as they switch between desktop and mobile devices—acknowledging that the way people access the internet is more varied, continual and seamless than ever. Google is also exchanging the familiar “bounce rate” metric for an “engagement rate” that focuses more closely on what happens in the short time a user is on a page, rather than on the speed of their exit.
How to prepare for GA4
It’s important for cannabis companies to prep their websites now for the shift away from Google’s current Universal Analytics. Google is going all in on the GA4 system, and after July 1 2023 Universal Analytics will be officially retired. Up until July 1 and for six months after, you can continue to access all the data you’re used to collecting, from organic acquisition to new website visitors to domain authority.
However, Google is serious enough about converting users en masse to GA4 that its Setup Assistant will create a GA4 property for your brand ahead of 2023. In fact, Google indicates that if you signed up for Analytics after October 14, 2020, you may already be converted to Google Analytics 4 and can carry on without missing a beat. If you aren’t sure which camp you fall into, you can check whether you are on Universal Analytics or Google Analytics 4 by verifying your property ID number.
How to set up Google Analytics 4 (GA4) on your website
If you haven’t yet switched or been automatically converted to Google Analytics 4, you can follow Google’s step-by-step instructions on adding GA4 to sites that already have Universal Analytics set up.
If you did not previously have Universal Analytics integrated with your website, there are also instructions on how to start from scratch.
Why is it so urgent to convert to GA4 now?
It’s important and urgent to do this as soon as possible early in 2023 so that you don’t miss a beat on collecting crucial data to inform your marcomms and business development strategies. Getting GA4 installed on your site ahead of that deadline halfway through 2023 ensures you can have seamless data in 2023 that isn’t split between two different reporting models. It also means you have time to troubleshoot with your web development team if necessary.
In addition to setting up Google Analytics 4, now is also the perfect time to export your Universal Analytics data and back up those reports for your recordkeeping. For those using Google Ads, this is also the time to migrate Universal Analytics and Google Ads before the data flow stops on July 1st, 2023. By ensuring GA4 and Google Ads are set up now, you can avoid any frustrating interruptions in your ad campaigns in the coming year.