If you deal with your website’s analytics, you’ve probably heard some buzz about Google Analytics 4, known as “GA4” by all the cool kids.
GA4 is certainly an improvement over the older versions of Google Analytics in many ways, but it is very different. Here are some of the things credit unions need to know.
You can probably try out GA4 now
There are a few different versions of Google Analytics tracking tags out there, but if you’re already using the latest “gtag” code or GTM (Google Tag Manager), you can add a GA4 Property and try it out right away without changing the tracking code on your site.
Just log in to your Google Analytics account, add a new Property, and follow the prompts to use an existing tag. This will add a second Property that uses GA4, but your existing GA3 property will also continue to collect data as usual.
Verify that it’s working and collecting data by changing to the new GA4 Property and looking at the “Real-Time” data. Then come back in a few weeks or a month to look around.
Using an older tracking code? Update pronto!
If you’re still using older Universal Analytics (UA) tracking tags, then you’ll need to work with your website developers to update and/or add gtag code as soon as possible; UA code does not work with GA4, and Google plans to phase it out entirely next summer, on July 1, 2023.
GA4 has lots of good stuff for CUs
Unified device, app, and cross-domain tracking.
This is potentially huge for credit unions. Of course, app tracking will need support from your app developers, but you will be better able to follow users across devices and collect app data alongside website data.
GA4 also offers the promise of improved cross-domain tracking while preserving privacy. Again, you’ll need vendor support, but this could help you gain a much deeper understanding of the entire member journey including other systems, like appointments, applications, locators, member support, and others.
Better data visualization.
The built-in dashboards are more user-friendly for newbies and experienced users, more complete, and you can quickly customize and work with your data.
Better tools for exploring and experimenting.
The “Explorations” and “Comparisons” are easy-n-fun ways to play around with your data, and a lot more intuitive.
Easier Conversion and Event tracking.
You can designate specific Events as “Conversions”, and set up Event tracking far more easily. Many types of Events (like file downloads, scrolling, etc.) are now tracked automatically, and more can be easily added.
More focus on user journeys and engagement.
The idea here is to give you improved insights into user behavior and interactions like scrolling, form and video interactions, downloads, etc. and not just time on page.
Better user privacy, less dependence on cookies.
The long-term future of cookies is uncertain, but in a nutshell, GA4 uses AI and other tracking methods to “fill in the blanks” when cookies aren’t available. It’s the best way to make sure you’re ready for a cookie-free future.
AI-powered insights and forecasts.
The “Insights” section starts out blank, but over time will start displaying various insights into your data and even predictions and custom reports generated by Google’s AI. It’s still very basic right now, but over time this feature should become a lot smarter and more useful.
No more “bounce rate”. Whatever that was.
Seriously, did anyone ever actually understand what “bounce rate” meant? The focus is now on more useful measures of engagement and user journeys.
The bad news: everything is different for power users
If you’re deeply involved in using Analytics, you’ll need plenty of time and practice to adjust.
For example, if you’re using Analytics data to make important decisions, then you’ll need to get some experience using GA4 and GA3 side-by-side, learn how the data compares with the old version, then carefully re-consider your metrics and decision points.
Many types of reports have changed or been removed, and if you use custom reports, you may need to rebuild them. But since the overall model has changed, some things will not be directly comparable. You may have to go all the way back to your overall strategy and re-think what you need to measure, and why.
If you’re using other analytics or analysis tools, most have already adapted to GA4 where needed, although some things may change.
A bright future, but still a work in progress
GA4 has a pretty exciting future; for example, the AI powering insights will get smarter over time and will be able to offer genuinely useful information and generate custom reports.
Like all of Google’s products, GA4 will evolve continuously. It’s at the core of what Google does, so you can be assured that their best minds are working on it. That means a continuous stream of improvements, experiments, and new capabilities. Some will be useful to you, some won’t.
Of course, the downside to continuous evolution is constant change. It can be hard to keep up, and all the cool toys make it easy to get distracted from your core metrics.
The core functions of GA4 will stay free, at least the functions and scale needed by almost all credit unions. More higher-level paid services and features will become available, but these tend to be focused on very large, high traffic sites, and on sites generating direct revenue.
GA4 to-do list for credit unions
- Get GA4 tracking set up pronto, and start playing around with it.
- Re-think your analytics strategy, if you have one.
- If you don’t have an analytics strategy, start simple by just monitoring a few basic things for a few months to learn what’s normal, then think about what can change and where you’d like it to go.
- Talk to your website developers about your goals.
- Keep in mind the fact that credit union websites are a different animal. Many analytics features are focused on monetizing and retail, so you have to pick and choose features and metrics that apply to your site.
- Make analytics a priority. When you’re choosing other services like mobile apps, account opening, appointment setting, etc., ask about data and analytics features, and how these might integrate with your website.
Take this chance to review your site, clean up the cruft, and catch up on website maintenance.