Hey data friends, it’s our favorite time of the year, the birds are singing, the flowers are blooming, you can sip your iced coffee outside and read Benchmarks!

We have a couple of points of note around the transition from Google Analytics 4 (GA4) to Universal Analytics (UA) and how that impacted the website data in Benchmarks this year, but first, for fun, an action item! 

You may remember crunch time last year on July 1, 2023 when GA4 officially replaced UA, and UA stopped processing hits for standard UA properties.

Well the world doesn’t stop turning, and we have another big deadline coming up: as of July 1, 2024 users won’t be able to access any Universal Analytics properties or APIs and all data will be deleted.

So here’s your action item:

If your organization hasn’t already, save any existing UA data before this date for historical tracking! You can use this handy template as a model of relevant UA data to archive (monthly total visitors, organic visitors, pageviews and donations) and follow the Benchmarks instructions on how to pull this data. You may also want to discuss which KPIs are important for your organization to track year over year and save any relevant data so you can continue to compare those KPIs to historical performance.

It’s also a good time to check that any recommended events or custom events you want to track are fully set up in GA4 so that you don’t lose any tracking capabilities (this may require the help of a developer to set up).

And, finally, update your GA4 Explorations data retention settings from the default (2 months) to 14 months so this critical data isn’t being lost. If you’re not sure how to change this setting, you can follow the simple instructions here.

We’ll wait.

Ok, back with us?

Analytics are a critical tool for digital markers, so what’s changed with tracking from GA4 to UA?

UA used “cookie-based” tracking that allowed the platform to record web activity on the site during a user’s session on the site. Instead of tracking sessions, GA4 uses an event-based data model. 

GA4 tracking will still use cookies where they are available (although cookies are generally less and less available), using “Google signals” from users who have opted into ads personalization and Google profiles. When users have not consented to Google tracking or Google signals, GA4 uses data behavioral modeling from machine learning models to estimate the number of unconsented users, sessions, and events. 

What does that mean? The way GA4 is tracking has changed substantially from UA. It’s not accurate to compare UA pageview data to GA4 pageview data since the metric logic has also changed. Even comparing Total Users from UA to GA4 is not an apples-to-apples comparison since the method Google Analytics uses to track users changed from UA to GA4.

TLDR: What’s going on with website data in Benchmarks

The transition from UA to GA4 happened mid-year in 2023 (and with it, all of the changes to tracking between the two systems). This made the Benchmarks’ website data much more difficult to analyze. Many participating organizations also were limited to pulling only the last 2 months worth of GA4 data due to the change in default GA4 data retention settings.

So, this year’s Benchmarks only reports on GA4 data collected at the end of 2023 (November and December).

This allows us to look at Giving Tuesday and Year End trends across participating organizations. But, metrics in this year’s Benchmarks report like “Donation Page Conversion Rate” will likely be higher than the same metric in previous years Benchmarks reports*, as this year is looking at end of year, a very busy time for fundraising, where prior years are looking at the full year.

In past Benchmarks reports we sometimes included year-over-year comparisons for website data. This year we aren’t reporting on YOY comparison metrics, for all the same reasons we’ve mentioned (UA to GA4 changes!).

Despite these major changes, we have a robust website performance analysis in this year’s Benchmarks study. Give it a read here!

*Although we never compare previous Benchmarks studies because data comes from different pools of participants each year.


Lia Mancuso is a Principal Data Analyst at M+R based in Denver, CO. When she’s not analyzing nonprofit organizations’ data, you can find her skiing or hiking in the Rocky Mountains with her dog, Rockie.

Johanna Levy is an Account Supervisor at M+R based in New York City, but not in Brooklyn. When she’s not planning fundraising campaigns, you can find her drinking iced coffee at the beach.