Google Analytics is a fundamental part of any online outreach campaign for nonprofits. The tool can help your team understand which marketing efforts are worth further investment, and which efforts can be left behind.
Google Analytics 4 is the successor to what is now called Universal Analytics. As of October 2021, Google is encouraging users to rely on Google Analytics 4 as their primary web analytics tool.
So, is it worth switching your nonprofit team to Google Analytics 4?
The Case for Google Analytics 4 for Nonprofits
While I can’t predict the future, I can make an informed hypothesis that Google will eventually cease support for Universal Analytics, and the tool will become obsolete. This event may be years into the future, but it follows Google’s behavior towards other software projects. The switch is coming, sooner or later.
The core difference between Universal Analytics and Google Analytics 4 is the method that each uses to collect and track interactions. Universal Analytics relies on browser cookies and tracks interactions based upon sessions. This method is outdated in a world of cookie-blocking browsers and concerns about online privacy.
Google Analytics 4 relies on “multiple identity spaces, including marketer-provided User IDs and unique Google signals from users opted into ads personalization” and tracks interactions based upon events. This method provides more accurate tracking in a world where users move seamlessly between their mobile device, tablet and/or desktop computer. Specifically for nonprofits, this updated method of tracking makes it easier to understand how users are moving between your main site and any other domains or subdomains that your organization owns.
Over the last year, Google has overhauled several signature tools (ex: Google Search Console) and even its core product, the search algorithm, in service of its profitable Google Ads service. Google Analytics 4 already includes strong integration with Google Ads, with more features planned for future releases. For example, Google Analytics 4 users can create remarketing audiences based upon website interactions and use those audiences to target Google Ads campaigns.
Finally, custom reports will be easier to create in Google Analytics 4, in the long run. The reporting capabilities that once only existed in Google Data Studio can now be found within the Explore area of Google Analytics 4.
The Case Against Google Analytics 4 for Nonprofits
Historical data is not present in Google Analytics 4. Because the tracking mechanisms are so different, there is no upgrade path between Universal Analytics and Google Analytics 4. All Google Analytics 4 accounts start fresh. This alone may be a deal-breaker to a nonprofit fundraising or marketing team.
Some familiar data points are missing altogether in GA4. Bounce Rate is gone and has been replaced with Engagement Rate. (Engagement Rate is defined as “a session that spent 10 seconds or more on the site/app or viewed 2 or more screens/pages or had a conversion event”.) Landing pages are also missing as a default data set. The information is available, but only after creating a custom report to display Entrances.
Is it *really* private? Google insists that the new tool is more “privacy-safe”. It has a browser add-on that allows users to opt-out of being tracked by Google Analytics. It also offers users the ability to control what information is gathered and shared via Google Signals. However, Google also states that GA4 will rely on machine learning, which raises concerns about what information is being collected and used to build these models.
What Nonprofits Should Do in January 2022
I recommend running both Universal Analytics and Google Analytics 4 on your website(s). This will allow you to access information that you’re familiar with, as well as collect information for later analysis in the new tool.
Meanwhile, I also recommend you begin learning about Google Analytics 4. A friendly entry-level class is coming up in February: Introduction to Google Analytics 4